Jay CabozBy Jay Caboz|December 1, 2020|9 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Jewellery Creation That Will Leave A Clean Beach Behind

It’s a problem that poisons the beaches of Africa. The plastic that tumbles from our consumer society that chokes the life out of the sea. But this environmental tragedy has created a business for a determined entrepreneur prepared to fashion beautiful art from the ugly flotsam and jetsam of the beach.

Every morning on the tip of the Cape the roar and crash of the surf combined with the squawk of the gulls wheeling overhead in a blue cloudless sky.  The birds are as free as the spirit of a woman who spends her days picking through plastic for profits.

Stefni Muller casts a cursory eye at the sea gulls overhead at Muizenberg beach, near Cape Town, where she finds inspiration and raw material for her business that turns waste and plastic into a thing of beauty that you can wear around your neck.

The throw away consumer society makes sure there is plenty of raw material with which Muller can do her work.

Every year, between 15,000 and 40,000 tonnes of marine plastic  ends up on South Africa’s beaches. That’s heavier than the Statue of Liberty. It’s a heavy and sobering statistic. Most of it is the legacy of people throwing their empties into rivers that end up downstream in the ocean.

When the rubbish gets out to sea it forms islands that are big enough and ugly enough that will be a hazard to any passing ship.

This is how bad it is. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the City of Cape Town, in partnership with the National Government and the University of Cape Town, spent 10 days in Level 5, picking up litter along 250 meters (m) of beach at Milnerton and at two 400m stretches of beach on the northern False Bay coast, one at Muizenberg and one east of Sunrise Beach.

In just over a kilometre, that’s a drop in the Atlantic Ocean, the researchers found 13,000 pieces of litter on the three beaches. It weighed 78,7 kilograms – about the weight of a stocky rugby player.

That means that in just over a kilometre of coastline an average of 1,367 pieces of litter washed up everyday. What washed up was even more astonishing. Foam plastics and cigarette butts, accounted for between 92% to 99% of the litter. The rest was made up of snack food packets, sweet and ice-cream wrappers and chip packets. The team also found glass, wood, cans, straws, lollipop sticks, bottle caps, and even a soft drink lid made in 1993.

As consumers we have great responsibility, with it comes powerful consequences. What we buy and how we discard it is pivotal.

- Kariuki Gathitu

Where most saw the mountains of junk on the beach as an eyesore, jewellery designer Muller saw a chance to make money and a difference.

Muller is a qualified Goldsmith who has been working with the precious metal for eight years. Her craftsman eye saw how she could turn something not so precious – a pile of waste – into beauty.

“As consumers we have great responsibility, with it comes powerful consequences. What we buy and how we discard it is pivotal.”

Glinting in the late afternoon light, a stone’s throw away from the beach is the fruit of her labour. Wedding bands, necklaces, pins, and pendants hang and sparkle like the surf.  Each piece is delicately crafted by hand and makes them to order for people that want a piece of the

Washed by the ocean and polished by her hands.  It is hard to believe that any of this was once thrown away and washed up on the beach with cigarette butts and hamburger boxes.

“Creating a range of jewellery was the next step in proving that sustainability has a powerful purpose within everything we do,” said Muller.  “As much as this range makes a strong stand about how we approach the discarding of plastic and where it ends up, it celebrates the unconventional – the unconventional solutions to everyday problems that actually exist.”

Muller is no stranger to turning the unconventional into the remarkable. Right from the beginning of her career she’s been using anything she can get her hands on in her art.

“When I started out as a jeweller, I made use of what I had – jewellery tools from university that consisted of a range of files and pliers mostly. I saved up just enough money to buy a second hand, hand operated metal roller for about R6,000. To this day, these are the tools that tell my story.”

“I made jewellery from anything and everything – the brass I used was sourced from guys welding radiators together down the road; my copper came from a plumber that would pass by the studio on his way to the scrap yard to cash in. Honestly, it’s become a way of life.”

A trip to Lake Malawi and a rural village in Northern Mozambique’s in 2015 to set up a sustainable jewellery pilot project helped cement her beliefs.

“We succeeded in making a purely handmade sustainable jewellery range from start to finish with only what we had. Clay from the ground, water from Lake Malawi, string handmade from the bark of the Rope tree, holes dug in the ground with fire made in them as kilns. Returning home my vision was refined and I wanted to bring back that level of handmade sustainability to my everyday jewellery practice here in Cape Town.”

The material was collected as part of beach clean-ups in Cape Town by a dedicated group of researchers and citizen scientists called the Beach Co-Op. The NGO catalogues what washes up on these shores to create data to influence change in the law.

“It’s incredible to be working with Stefni. Firstly, as a female and as us both connecting through our love for surfing. Because we love the ocean there is this need to protect it and care for it. Using our skills as the Beach Co-OP doing beach clean-ups and matching that with Stefni’s skill set of jewellery design and coming up with the Found line. It such a beautiful mix of our love for the ocean, surfing needing to protect it and working together to come up with solutions,” said Aaniyah Omardien, founder and director of The Beach Co-op.

While South Africa continues to grapple its man-made beach waste problem born of selfish carelessness. The activists are trying hard to get changes in the law to make it harder for people to ruin the beauty of the beaches.

“We need to rethink our approach to what waste is and steer it in a direction of what it can be, our approach to instant gratification and our popular discarding culture needs to be taken under the microscope,” said Muller.

Until then every day you will see Muller scouring the sand looking for raw material for her next jewellery creation. Surely, she hopes one fine day the rubbish and raw material will run out.