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The Responsible Runner

Date: 19-Mar-13

Justin Bonsey - Responsible Runners © Jess McCallum

Waste warrior and litter loather Justin Bonsey is the heart and mind behind the hugely popular and rapidly growing organisation Responsible Runners - a team of volunteers sweeping Aussie beaches of rubbish and recycling, and disposing of it responsibly. We were lucky enough to chat to Justin about his thoughts and motivations behind Responsible Runners, and we couldn't wait to share it with you! Here's what this great guy had to say...

Planet Ark: What motivated you to start up Responsible Runners?

Justin Bonsey: As a frequent beach runner in constant awe of the beauty and power of nature, I have always made it a point to leave only footprints, which includes picking up whatever I see along the way, no matter how much. With the first pre-summer trashing of Bondi Beach in September of last year, never in my life had I seen such a beautiful place trashed so completely in the span of a single day. Regardless of who was to blame, I just couldn't let it happen on my watch, so set out that evening in the dark to pick it all up myself. When another runner stopped to help, I knew we were onto something. Given the tremendous amount of human-generated single-use waste such as plastic bags, bottles, straws, and packaging that ends up in the ocean each year, our ocean needs as many advocates as it can get to prevent further plastic pollution, starvation (cause by ingestion of plastic), and entanglement of marine life.

Planet Ark: What has the reaction been like?

Justin Bonsey: The response from the community, media, and fellow beach-goers in Australia and around the world has been spectacular, which goes to show just how much people want to do the right thing but might need that initial spark of solidarity to get the ball rolling. While publicity from TV, radio, and print media have been essential for getting the word out, what has inspired us most is the 130 volunteers and 9 ambassadors who have stepped up to be a part of the solution to fight marine debris and disposable waste. Every time we hear from people around the world inspired by our initiative, it demonstrates just how quickly the momentum for a resilient planet is growing and the very important role of local action in creating this change.

Planet Ark: What is one piece of advice you would give someone thinking of setting up a Responsible Runners group on their local beach?

Justin Bonsey: Do it! Whether on a beach, waterway, forest, or even your own street, you'll be surprised how fun and satisfying it can be to connect with family and friends while reconnecting with nature. We remind each of our ambassadors that not only are they doing a great thing for their local environment, but they are becoming leaders and change-makers helping their communities transition to a more sustainable future. Fun, fitness, friends, and a cleaner planet - what better way to spend 30 minutes a week?

Planet Ark: What strategies do you use to help prevent the litter in the first place?

Justin Bonsey: Working with local council, residents, and companies, we strongly advocate for resilient container deposit legislation (10c refund on bottles and cans) and the phasing out single-use disposable waste, particularly plastic, in favour of reusable alternatives, such as reusable shopping bags, water bottles, coffee cups, and takeaway packaging, and of course refusing straws and other harmful non-recyclables. Funnily enough, one of the most important tools for preventing litter is a cleanup itself. Once you pick it up, it's hard to go back. In addition, through direct engagement and educational infographics, we encourage people to use only secondhand goods, grow their own food, buy in bulk at food co-ops, support their local farmers markets, and cycle or take public transportation, as well as empower them to positively engage with those who do litter, especially smokers, who often do not realise the extreme environmental hazards posed by irresponsible disposal of cigarette butts. We have also introduced cafes to the many environmental and financial benefits of offering a discount to customers who bring in their own coffee cups - a concept that is catching on fast. We even started a free coffee mug library at a takeaway coffee stand a few months back to provide customers with an alternative to using disposable cups and lids. Above all, the ability to change rests in individual lifestyle choices. By acting responsibly with future generations in mind, we all have the power to create a more sustainable future.

To find out more about Justin and the Responsible Runners, including which beaches and areas they're currently at and how to get involved, visit the Responsible Runners Facebook group or email justin@responsiblerunners.org.

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