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United By Blue


Turning consumers into volunteers to keep water fresh.

by Tim Neville | photograph Kelly Smith

“Maybe they were murder weapons,” shrugs United By Blue Founder Brian Linton. “But there they were, eight handguns in a river.”

The Glocks, along with pinpricked voodoo dolls and severed doll heads, figure among the ickier items that Linton and his troop of eco-conscious employees, volunteers, and customers have found while working to rid waterways of rubbish. The flotsam and jetsam show is all part of an effort by United By Blue, an outdoor lifestyle company, to make good on a promise to its clients: For every item you buy—from specialty coffee to buffalo wool socks to gorgeous, Minnesota-made canoe paddles—volunteers will lug a pound of trash from rivers, lakes, and oceans. “Pollution is universal,” says Linton, 29, who learned to scuba dive in dirty water off of Singapore’s coast. “These cleanups have a direct, measurable impact.”

Business—and therefore the scale of the restoration projects—is growing. United By Blue sells its wares through two Philadelphia flagship stores, its website, and 400 retailers, including Nordstrom. Each location serves as a recruiting venue for volunteers, who collected 250,000 pounds of gunk from waterways across 23 states and Canada from 2010 through 2015. These wetlands include the Delaware River near Philadelphia (home of that jettisoned arsenal), and the Cooper River in Pennsauken, New Jersey, (the voodoo dolls). In 2015, United By Blue’s sales are projected to hit more than 150,000 items, which means the total trash haul will almost double.

Despite the effort, Linton knows the work will never be done; especially if we continue to buy water in plastic bottles: “We can pick up all the trash we want,” he says, “but it won’t ever end until we tackle the problem at the source.”

From the Deep Winter 2016 issue.

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