I’m at The Ecology Center – a nonprofit eco-educational center and farmland in San Juan Capistrano, California – for the launch of RECOOL by Igloo, the world’s first cooler made from 100% biodegradable materials.
We’re about to enjoy a wonderful sunset farm-to-table dinner just outside the property’s centerpiece, a farmhouse built in 1878. It’s a beautiful setting – long farmhouse tables set beneath a canopy of lights, geodesic domes that provide shade to gardens lush with herbs, vegetables and other flora, and dozens of smiling earth-conscious guests ready to enjoy a special meal serenaded by the soothing sounds of instrumentalist (and former professional skateboarder) Ray Barbee.
Seated on 28 acres of organic farm, every day at The Ecology Center is Earth Day. But tonight is extra special. Professional surfer and environmentalist, Rob Machado, is here as brand ambassador for RECOOL to share his passion for environmentalism and reasoning for supporting the brand.
“Those Styrofoam coolers that you see in many liquor stores need to go away, and this new biodegradable cooler will lead to that,” Machado tells ASN. “I’ve spent a good portion of my life on beaches, and I’ve seen all the trash firsthand. People want to take ice, drinks and food to the beach, and this is the perfect product for that.”
RECOOL was created to provide customers with an economical ($9.95) and environmentally conscious alternative to single-use foam coolers. It’s designed to carry ice, food and drinks for up to four people, claims to hold ice for 12 hours and hold water for up to five days without leaking. These eco-friendly alternates will be available at REI brick-and-mortar stores nationwide beginning May 1. And while the focus of the product is its biodegradability, RECOOL is also reusable.
Machado, also founder of the Rob Machado Foundation (RMF), is a renowned advocate for the elimination of single-use products. “I believe it all starts with inspiring the youth and changing the way they think about reusable versus single-use,” he tells ASN.
Since its beginnings, RMF has installed 30 refill stations in 22 public places, supplying to this date a volume of water that would replace an estimated half-million plastic water bottles. They also work closely with coastal music festivals including Beach Life Festival, the Bro-Am and Ohana Fest to help eliminate single-use plastic waste onsite by offering refill stations.
ASN chatted with Machado about his foundation’s latest successes, why he focuses on the youth, and how he became ambassador for the first-ever eco-sensitive cooler.
What was the catalyst that inspired you to dedicate your life to creating environmental and social change?
I started my foundation in 2004, and my first daughter was born in 2001, and that was a big turning point in my life. Bringing a child into the world really changes your perspective. From being a professional athlete, you take a step back and your focus changes in a positive way.
I really stepped away and started looking at what I was doing and what I could do differently and better. As my daughter got older, and when school came into the picture, I started visiting elementary schools beginning with the elementary school I went to myself – Cardiff Elementary School.
I walked around the campus and saw that they had drinking fountains not being used, no recycling, a lot of the kids were walking around with single-use plastic water bottles. I knew these things were simple fixes. That’s what sparked my interest in a foundation for social change.
What were your environmental initiatives for Cardiff Elementary School?
We’ve done recycling programs, gardening programs, installed recycling cans on the sports fields that get used over the weekends. You can imagine how much plastic gets tossed out during weekend sports activities.
But when I first revisited Cardiff Elementary, it seemed like every kid had a single-use plastic bottle in their bag. Now, since we’ve installed clean-water refilling stations, and distributed stainless-steel water bottles to the students, I’ll stop in and proudly see every kid with a reusable bottle clipped to his or her backpack. You can immediately see the achievement we set out for.
And so our primary goal has become to encourage the youth to help eliminate single-use plastics in school and ultimately in their homes.
How are Rob Machado Foundation projects primarily funded?
We have a few ways, including donations. But right now, our big fundraiser is an annual benefit concert held at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, California. It’s a very intimate show for about 600 attendees. We’ve had acoustic sets from The Offspring, Jason Mraz, Goo Goo Dolls, and so many amazing artists.
We want people to feel like they are sitting in a living room with these incredible musicians, just very loose and fun, and we encourage the artists to get up and play songs together, do cover songs and make it a fun, unique and memorable experience that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
We also auction off guitars, surfboards, and other autographed items to help raise money for our cause.
How did you become a brand ambassador for RECOOL by Igloo and what does this biodegradable cooler represent to you?
I actually have another Igloo cooler with artwork by Andy Davis that I keep in my van for beach days with my kids. I posted about it on Instagram and Igloo responded, eventually inviting me to have a look at this new product. I was blown away and it immediately resonated with me because I grew up in the era of single-use Styrofoam, boogie boards and coolers that get left down on the beaches – that stuff gives me the heebie jeebies.
Change needs to happen and this cooler is that change. Single-use coolers should simply not exist anymore. I’m super proud to be a part of this movement and I’m excited to see the reaction that it will have. Even in the little circle of friends that I run with, as I’ve shared the assets that we’ve built together, all my friends are blown away.
What’s the long-term goal for your foundation and environmental efforts?
The programs we’ve designed and implemented are working, and those kids are going home to their parents and questioning why they are buying cases of single-use plastic bottles. They question their parents as to why they don’t have reusable water bottles and just fill them up. I’ve seen this happen over and over — that’s the real inspiration that keeps us driven to continue.
With RECOOL, I’m proud to represent a real game changer. It’s not often that you see something and you just say “YES.” I want all my friends to know about this. And nowadays, with social media, I feel that it’s my duty to share things that are important to me and that I truly believe in. And this is one of those things that is going to change people’s perspective, and we’ll see it happen.
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