Published in the Huffington Post
In 2007, I heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and my first response was, "Oh my gosh! We have got to go out there and clean this thing up!," which I described in a TED Talk on Mission Blue in 2010.
We now know that the entire ocean has become a "plastic soup" and filled with particles so tiny that some describe it as "plastic smog."
With more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing more than 250,000 tons afloat at sea, we have a disaster on our hands.
Plastic pollution is an urgent problem, and unless we intend to live in a garbage dump, constantly exposing ourselves to the chemicals (which leach from plastics) and to eat seafood (which has also ingested these plastics), the time has arrived to address this issue.
The Plastic Pollution Coalition was founded in late 2009 and since then, we've grown to include more than 400 organizations and businesses around the world, working to stop plastic pollution, to educate and to raise awareness of the toxic impact of plastic and the chemicals that leach from plastic on humans, animals, the ocean and the environment. Our first, and what continues to be our most successful campaign, is the REFUSE campaign. We've adapted the three "R" model of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -- and added a fourth "R" onto the front, which is to Refuse; whenever possible, refuse single-use plastic.
While cleaning up this mess in the ocean is important and, in fact plastic and micro-plastics have now been discovered in every ocean in the world, including in the Arctic ice, the truth is that we must become part of the solution by putting energy toward source reduction.
So, let's talk about solutions and alternatives and look at what's working right now. This a tremendous time for innovation -- to take a look at what was used in the past and what we are developing. It's important to identify alternative products, which exist right now and can be utilized in place of disposable single-use plastic.
Plastic is a valuable material, which we are using in an irresponsible way when it's designed with intended obsolescence in mind. In other words, designed to be used for a short amount of time.
Plastic Free Schools: The goal of Plastic Free Schools is to invite and encourage schools to conduct a single-use and disposable plastic audit and then proceed to measurably reduce plastic pollution on their campuses around the world, with a special focus on the reduction and ultimately the elimination of plastic bottles, straws, utensils, bags, and food packaging. This means different things for different schools, from hosting a plastic free sporting event, to ending bottled water sales across the campus.
Plastic Free Towns: Part of the PPC network of communities around the globe, we share best practices across the range of coalition members and provide tools to support their efforts to eliminate disposable plastic and measurably reduce their overall plastic footprint.
Plastic Free Events: We encourage touring performers to reduce their plastic footprint on the road, and suggest best practices and ways to do so. We continue to expand the Refill Revolution this year at Bonnaroo 2015, originally launched in 2014 at Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee, an outdoor music and camping festival that hosts more than 80,000 people each June.
Plastic Free Island: Started on the island of Kefalonia, Greece in the Ionian Sea, the primary objective of this multi-year pilot program is to shrink the island of Kefalonia's own disposable plastic footprint by offering strategies for measurably reduction. By the end of the PPC's 10-year commitment to this project, Kefalonia will be able to share a "road-tested" template for integrating active-learning programming, engaged community research, and public-art activist projects, all directed at raising awareness of the ecological crisis, and creating the public will to combat it.
So For this World Oceans Day, let us say this: The ocean is in peril due to many factors, but the growing amount of plastic pollution and micro-plastics currently being released into the sea and waterways must stop. We can be a part of the solution by making smarter daily choices and always thinking reusable rather than disposable. The simplest actions can make a world of difference: bring your own bag to the market, take a reusable stainless steel or glass bottle with you when you're on the go, choose real utensils over plastic ones, and say no to plastic pollution.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Oceans Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost's "What's Working" initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that are solutions oriented. To read all the posts in the series, read here.