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Be inspired every day with Living North
Meet The Paddleboarding Artist Saving The North Sea ©
May 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

From her home in Whitburn, paddleboarding enthusiast and artist Sally Anderson is running Precious Plastic, a recycling initiative to tackle plastic pollution

Living North find out why this is so important to her, and the North East coast.

For many years Sally was a performance artist (aerial and fire dance) and ‘accidentally retired’ during lockdown when she got into visual art. ‘I’ve always done visual art but during lockdown I went back to uni to study psychology,’ she says. ‘I didn’t initially link the two, but as I became more familiar with art for wellbeing and social prescribing, I realised that actually there’s a definite link there.’ Sally applied for a Santander Seed Fund at University of Sunderland and was granted some start-up funding and membership of the Enterprise Place – a one-stop shop bringing together budding entrepreneurs at all stages.

‘That led to working across the region with different community groups,’ she says. ‘I loved university so much and I stayed on to do a Postgraduate Certificate in Education with a specialism in special educational needs and disabilities. Through that I learned about the UN’s plans for sustainable development. It’s really interesting because it goes beyond things like recycling and climate change to talk about things like gender equality and poverty too, and I really started to think about how that ties into my work. I also started to get a lot of guilt around plastic waste in art materials because, obviously doing community work, I buy a lot of materials and I see a lot passing through my hands into recycling bins – then you don’t really know where it’s headed. So I started looking at ways I could do small-scale recycling with my own plastics and that’s when I found Precious Plastic.’

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The Precious Plastic initiative provides global support to set up small businesses by making use of recycled plastics. ‘It’s all about open-source, sharing and passing plastics between you and your community,’ Sally explains. ‘I applied to do a residency at Buinho in Portugal and I got some support from through University of Sunderland to go out there for two weeks to learn the basics. This is all starting really small to begin with. I’ve bought a shredder and an injection press where you can melt the plastics and shoot them into a mould, so I’m going to be making beads initially and then I have plans to expand into other plastic items like combs, and there’s a surfboard wax comb which fits in well with my theme. I’ve got a good network of schools and wellness groups and I’m hoping to be able to go out to do some outreach work, talking about plastic pollution and the scale but also the limitations of recycling. The dream of plastic recycling is for plastic to be completely out of the ocean and the trees and locked up in items, and not being produced anymore.’

As Sally has been paddleboarding along the North East coast she’s seen discarded plastic bags, tops, and even Barbie dolls. ‘I really see first-hand what the plastic does to the environment,’ she adds. ‘Whilst it’s not specifically the plastic I’m working with at the moment, you find fishing lines, bottle tops and drinks bottles. I know what I’m doing is going to be tiny, and it’s not going to revolutionise anything, but I do think if we start to think about how we can do things locally at a small scale, if there were 10 or 100 of us doing this, could we make a difference? I think a big part of that involves talking to young people too.’ This also encouraged Sally to organise a number of beach cleans.

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‘When I started my artwork, it was purely aesthetic. I like Jim Phillips-style colours and stylised graphics,’ she says. ‘But as I started thinking about how my own work links into sustainability, and then the education side of things, I realised that this almost utopian world of surfing and skating can’t exist separately to taking care of the environment. We all love to see a seal and seabirds so it’s our responsibility as people who use that environment to care for it.’

At the start of this year Sally successfully crowdfunded the money she needed to set up her mini plastic recycling space. As her new project continues, Sally will work primarily with High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) recycling plastic lids and other small items to create bead jewellery, and offering outreach workshops to encourage conversations about plastic pollution.


An artist who inspires you?
Drew Brophy, a California-based surfboard artist.

Favourite place to walk in the North East?

Favourite place to eat and drink in the North East?
Zapatista Burrito Bar in Newcastle.

An item you couldn’t live without.
I travel mostly with my partner but if I travel alone, because I’m really scatter-brained, I have to have a bumbag because otherwise I’ll lose everything. It’s not very glamorous but if I’m by myself I have to have it.

What are your plans for 2024?
I really want to focus on the Precious Plastic project. I’ve hopefully got an exciting photography project coming up too, and I’m actively looking for PhD opportunities but I’m waiting for the right one, so that might not be this year.

Keep up to date with the project and find more of Sally’s art, as well as the dates for upcoming creative workshops, at

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