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Calling Ecology Into Play: Shore Buddies toys on a mission to reduce ocean plastic

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Malte Niebelschuetz poses with Sammy the Harbor Seal, Shelley the Sea Turtle, Stephen the Seagull and Finn the Dolphin, and the new children’s book that make up the Shore Buddies collection. shore-buddies.com

The first-of-its-kind Shore Buddies line of stuffed animals, based out of Bird Rock, has a surprising secret. The soft, plush, adorable Finn the Dolphin, Stephen the Seagull, Sammy the Harbor Seal and Emma the Whale are made out of recycled plastic bottles. Six bottles each, to be specific.

And starting this month, Shelley the Sea Turtle — and an accompanying children’s book featuring all the creatures — joins the crew.

Shore Buddies founder and Bird Rock resident Malte Niebelschuetz started the company in 2014 and told the Light: “(The company) wants to change the planet, save marine life and keep plastic out of the ocean. We think a stuffed animal is a good vehicle, combined with the children’s book, to reach an audience at a young age.

“I strongly believe you don’t understand what you don’t see. If we show children what plastic really does, we can encourage them to think twice about using it. I feel education and changing behavior is important, and children are so adaptable and learn so quickly, it starts with them. It’s harder to teach an adult to stop using plastic straws because they’ve done so their entire life, but if you teach a child, they ask ‘Why didn’t we stop doing it earlier?’ and don’t develop that habit.”

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To make each Shore Buddies creature, Niebelschuetz outsources to China.

“We collect the plastic bottles from recycling facilities,” he explained. “We started in China because they were the only country with the technology to take the shredded plastic and power wash it to get it super clean, and then make it into pellets that get melted and spun into yard to become like any other clothing fabric.”

That “fabric” is used to make the Shore Buddies exteriors. The interior is filled with everyday stuffing, plus a squeeze-activated voice box for the animals to make their respective sounds.

Priced at $20 each, Niebelschuetz acknowledges: “It’s a little bit more expensive than your typical stuffed animal, but we’re the first ones of this type in business and our process is more expensive. However, the more stuffed animals we can produce, the more plastic we can keep out of the ocean.”

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One- ollar from each purchase goes to ocean-minded non-profit organizations.

Each creature has its own additional “cause,” which is written on its tag, including what the ecological problem is and the small steps that can be taken to reduce it.

For example, Sammy the Seal fights plastic bags ending up in the ocean and suggests not using single-use plastic grocery bags. Shelley the Sea Turtle is focused on raising awareness about abandoned fishing gear (aka ghost nets), which contribute a huge percentage of marine debris.

But of all the animals, Stephen the Sea Gull has a special place in Niebelschuetz’s heart.

“In Southern California, everyone hates sea gulls, we see them as nuisance animals or trash-eaters. For me, having grown up in the middle of Germany, sea gulls were a sign the ocean was near,” he said. “My mom was a teacher, so every summer she would load my brother and I into the car and we would drive for hours and hours. Once we got out of the car and I heard that sound, I knew I had made it to the ocean. It’s the sound of the ocean. When I came up with this stuffed-animal idea, I had to have a sea gull.”

Niebelschuetz said he moved to San Diego in 2011, and was expecting an eco-friendly revolution. Instead, he was greeted was restaurants using single-use plastic straws: “I was disappointed and looking for this green California everyone is talking about.”

Researching companies on the environmental forefront, he found an article about a company making jackets from recycled soda bottles. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever and didn’t even know it was possible,” he said.

After reading the article, he put his laptop down. The first thing in his line of sight: a stuffed animal. “I thought if they could make clothes out of recycled plastic, why not a stuffed animal?” Niebelschuetz posed.

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To continue his ocean advocacy mission, he added the children’s book this year, and has launched a kickstarter campaign to fund their publishing, which ends Dec. 16. The fundraiser has raised $9,046 of its $10,000 goal.