CANADIAN CONSERVATION CORPS
Developing a line of guitar picks manufactured from recycled plastics is the focus of a new Orillia-based business recently launched by Brock Gouweloos, a local musician and alumni member of the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s (CWF) Canadian Service Corps initiative.
Gouweloos was inspired to launch his Tuffocean company while volunteering at a shoreline cleanup in Tofino organized to honour former Orillia resident and CCC member Angela Rehhorn. The 24-year-old Rehhorn was one of 18 Canadians aboard the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed after take-off in 2019 taking the lives of all 157 on board.
“I was part of a cleanup while volunteering at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island,” said Gouweloos, who was in the area as part of his placement with the CCC, a CWF-led program funded by the Government of Canada as part of its Canada Service Corps initiative.
“I was taken aback by the amount of marine debris and plastic that washed up on the beaches daily. As a guitar player I knew that guitar picks were made primarily from various plastics. I thought, ‘why create new plastic to make guitar picks where there is so much plastic that is never recycled.’ And so the idea for Tuffocean was born.”
Gouweloos has been playing guitar since age 13 – which, as he mentions, represents more than half his life.
“My favourite guitarist has always been Slash from Guns N' Roses,” said Gouweloos. “His solos speak to me in terms of their emotion and skill. As a young teenager I wanted to learn how to play Sweet Child O' Mine, so I picked up my dad's old guitar and an instructional book and off I went. Since then I always knew music would be part of my life.”
Conservation and concern for the environment is also an important aspect of his life, which is why Gouweloos joined the Canadian Conservation Corps.
“I joined the CCC program to broaden my understanding of environmental protection and conservation field work," said Gouweloos. "My master's degree and career so far have focused on environmental policy, but I was curious about field work and felt a little restless after working in a cubicle since I graduated from university.
"I decided to take a leave of absence from my role at Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, and Parks to participate in the CCC program, and it was well worth the effort! I've met people and had experiences that I will remember forever.”
As part of his Stage 2 field learning experience with Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island, Gouweloos found himself participating in that shoreline clean up. This is where his idea found its genesis.
Originally, Gouweloos wanted to make the picks directly out of reprocessed plastic from the ocean. However, after speaking to dozens of plastic recyclers, compounders, and ocean cleanup organizations, he discovered that the marketization of ocean plastic is still in its beginning stages.
In addition, the ocean plastics that he was finding so far were not strong enough to meet the demands of a guitar pick.
“I use medium gauge guitar picks, which must be able to bend and flex before returning to their original position,” he said. “So that really narrowed the options in terms of which plastic resins we could use. I source all my plastic from Canadian companies that specialize in recycling plastic into reprocessed resins.“
Gouweloos worked with a few different manufacturers and tested seven different types of plastic before landing on the right thickness and material for the picks.
Eventually he found a manufacturer in Barrie who was willing to take on this project long-term and together they have completed their first full production run of picks.
After the picks are made, they are sent to a pad printing company to put the logo on them. With the first run now available, Gouweloos hopes to generate funds to help in marine cleanups.
“Deciding to donate a portion of all revenues to ocean conservation and cleanup was easy,” he said.
“Tuffocean is an environmental social enterprise and contributing to healthier oceans and the circular economy has always been part of the plan. We would like to demonstrate, as other businesses have done, that environmental stewardship and successful business can go hand in hand," he explained.
"The Surfrider Foundation (Pacific Rim Chapter) helped with the beach cleanup near Tofino I participated in by providing all the bags and taking all the marine debris for sorting and processing at one of their partner facilities," he added.
"I also attended one of their community events. I was impressed by the breadth of initiatives they take on primarily with volunteers, everything from beach cleanups, youth programming, events, education, and advocacy to protect the ocean," said Gouweloos.
"As of today, Surfrider Pacific Rim is my first donation partner, but I am currently in the process of adding others," he said. “Our mission is to provide musicians with environmentally responsible products made from reprocessed materials, while maintaining high quality and performance.
"Our long-term vision is a world where oceans are healthy and free of plastic, and guitar equipment is made from recycled materials wherever possible," said Gouweloos.
"We are starting with guitar picks, and we plan to add other products as we grow. Step by step, we are striving for a more environmentally responsible music industry. Thank you to everyone for the overwhelming support so far," he said.
Tuffocean is an environmental social enterprise. It’s mission is to provide musicians with environmentally responsible products made from reprocessed materials while donating a portion of revenues to ocean cleanup and conservation. Learn more here.