The people looking for a solution to plastic pollution

Over the past two weeks Kathi Heusel and Bart Delember, creators of the first global online summit A Solution to Plastic Pollution, have released a series of interviews with people from all over the globe concerned with plastic pollution and what they are doing about it. We’ve put together a little summary of our key takeaways from the interviews which have been very inspiring, from seeing 9 year old Ryan Hickman set up his own recycling company to hearing all about ‘Action Nan’ Pat Smith and her campaigns against plastic waste. Be sure to check out the links throughout, there are some super informative and inspiring Ted Talks!

Dianna Cohen, CEO and Co-founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition, a Californian based non-profit organisation which is active worldwide. Since its beginnings in 2009 PPC has been on a mission to stop plastic pollution and raise awareness of its toxic impact. They have 800 organisations and businesses signed up from all around the world creating a global movement towards reducing plastic pollution. Dianna believes we need a massive systems shift and that we are passing the tipping point where companies are now realising that if they want to be leaders they have to change their ways and attitudes towards plastics. She wants businesses to make major system changes, see extended plastic producer responsibility and emphases the need to create circular models, where we mimic nature in not creating waste.

Dianna points out that we are finding plastic everywhere, it is a total disaster and we’ve caused an amazing amount of damage in 50 years. She highlights the Ellen McCarthur Foundation study that found with the current rate of plastic production and projected growth, by weight we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. She also highlights the recent issue of recycling rates and how it has been projected that the already low recycling rate of 9% for all plastic in the USA will drop to 2.6% with China no longer taking recycling from the states.

Dianna herself also creates visual art with plastic. She has always enjoyed making things and sees art as a form of communication and believes that communication is important in creating awareness of the plastics issue. She started working with plastics in the early 90s, learning a lot about the material through working with it. Seeing how her art aged she also became aware of how it broke down and the issue of micro-plastics. She remembers the shift to plastics in the 70s and 80s with marketing being around saving natural resources. As an active diver and surfer she saw first hand the effects of plastic in remote and marine protected areas. She points out that plastic knows no boundaries and this is an urgent global crisis we are faced with. She encourages people to take a few steps towards reducing their single-use plastic use.

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Taylor Leigh Cannizzaro, Chief Alliance Officer at Plastic Bank, an economic development firm on a mission to stop ocean plastic and reduce poverty. Set up in 2013 looking to tackle the issue of how we disregard the value of plastic and waste. They operate in areas of extreme poverty, understanding that relieving poverty is a key part of the solution to plastic pollution. They create a waste management system where local people can earn a living by collecting plastic waste. Plastic Bank then process the plastic in location and sell on to various companies looking to invest in recycled plastic. They believe there is no need to produce new plastic, with 8.3 trillion kilos of plastic on Earth, they believe we need to do something with this and as founder David Katz says ‘ turn off the tap’. They believe the key to solving plastic pollution is to create a working infrastructure for collection of plastic waste, invest in circular systems and ideally look for in country bottle to bottle solutions, creating a never ending loop.


Melati Wijsen, inspirational 12 year who set up Bye Bye Plastic Bags in 2013 together with her sister and school friends to campaign for the ban of plastic bags in Bali. Describing herself as a 'change maker’ Malati had seen first hand the negative impacts of plastic and having learnt that 40 other countries had already banned plastic bags set off on a mission to do the same in Bali. She talks about the importance of team and working together. Through Bye Bye Plastic Bags she brought people together and collaborated with businesses and government to achieve the ban in 2018. She emphasised how every single choice and decision creates an impact and that in tackling a problem you need to inform yourself, do research and ask questions. Bye Bye Plastic Bags has spread to 29 countries, with Malati positive about the future of plastic pollution believing we live in a time of possibility, where we get to decide but we need to act now.

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Susan Kim-Chomicka is co-founder and CEO of Handerek Technologies, who turn plastic waste into fuel. They focus on waste that can’t be mechanically recycled and chemically recycle it instead. In a process that uses no water, creates no emissions and uses little outside energy they produce 1 litre of fuel for every kilogram of waste recycled. They believe they are creating a commercial, self-sustaining solution, where waste is processed and used in location, and are hoping to create an industrial scale solution to really make a difference. Susan explains how they know they are still producing a petrochemical product but the carbon footprint of this fuel is considerably less than virgin extraction. Through their chemical recycling they are creating better energy than seen via incineration where the energy conversion is low.

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Natalie Fee, founder of ReFill and City to Sea, became concerned about plastic pollution after watching Chris Jordans film Albatross. She believes we have power as citizens and consumers to act on plastic pollution.

The ReFill campaign began in 2015 when Natalie learnt that in the UK alone 16 million bottles are discarded a day, that’s 16 million not recycled but instead sent to landfill, incineration or littered. In 2016 an app was developed and there are now over 16000 refill stations with 100,000 people having downloaded the app.

Through City to Sea Natalie has launched a number of campaigns tackling plastic pollution. There has been ‘Switch the Stick’ petitioning to stop plastic cotton buds, ‘Bog Standard’ promoting positive toilet behaviour to stop ‘unflushables’ going down the loo and ‘Plastic-free Periods’ highlighting plastic in menstrual products.

Natalie believes we need a break-free from plastic movement, refusing and reusing, switching from a disposable to a reusable society. She has seen how actions do make a difference and how all small steps add up. We need to challenge industry to change their investment in plastic and we can use our power as a citizen and consumer to do this.

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Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff began her blog Mommy Greenest in 2008. She uses her blog as a way to share information. She advises to try to stop using so much plastic, investigate waste management systems, look to stay informed of new legislations and to let your local mp/councillor know what you support to get wider government action.

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Jo Ruxton created A Plastic Ocean to talk about the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. As a lover of the ocean, a diver and having been involved in ocean documentaries such as Blue Planet she had seen a lot of changes in our oceans and felt that the original Blue Planet series didn’t show the true picture of what was going on. Together with the film she also set up charity Plastic Oceans who produce evidence based, scientific reports to educate on the plastics issue.

She believes the biggest solution is understanding and behaviour change. Moving away from our wasteful habits and getting rid of disposable single-use items. She advises looking at our own plastic footprint and asking if you really need it, start with changes that you can make and go from there. If we each make changes, tell 3 people, share the knowledge so it spreads, we are all responsible.

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Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation grew up around the ocean and has seen the effect of plastic on our oceans since its widespread use in the 50s. In 1997 in his self-built research vessel he discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by accident. Having previously been monitoring coastal pollution he was amazed that the issue was so far away from human population and through research made the connection with currents and the movement of ocean pollution. His research in 1999 found that there was 6 times more plastic than plankton in the ocean. He believes science is the key in sharing the message and for it to be taken seriously.

Having not seen positive change in 20 years he explains how we live in a system that cannot take us where we need to go but explains how history shows us systems do change. He thinks the solution is inside each of us, that we need to raise consciousness and awareness. Having found plastic all around us he advises that the real solution is reduction, less is more and that we need to figure out how to survive with less stuff and come together as a community and share.

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Maren Hoval went to volunteer with Maldivian project Marine Savers which plants corals and rescues Sea Turtles. She explained how turtles show the health of the oceans and how during her time at Marine Savers each turtle rescued had plastic in its digestive system. All 7 species of sea turtles are facing extinction with plastic pollution effecting the turtles in numerous ways, she encouraged everyone to collect rubbish they come across to prevent it from entering the ocean.

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Ben Lecomte learnt to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and had become aware of plastic pollution over the years, to raise awareness of the issue he plans to swim from Tokyo to San Francisco. Having already attempted this in 2018 the swim is offering so much more. During the trip Ben and his team observe plastic debris, trawl to collect micro plastics and record the data found. During his first attempt over their 6 month collection they collected an average of 2-3 pieces of micro-plastic every minuet, with the biggest collection being 600 pieces in 30 minuets. 80% of the plastic found was everyday plastic items such as food wrappers, cleaning product bottles etc. He believes we need to change our habits and move to a more natural way of living but we need a critical mass of change. He advises looking at what plastic you use and questioning if you need to use it and make a change if possible. Share the changes you have made so to educate and encourage others. The swim relaunches June 2019.

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At age 4 Ryan Hickman noticed ocean plastic, learnt about recycling and then decided he wanted to set up his own recycling company Ryans Recycling. Since its launch in 2012 he has recycled half a million cans and bottles, encouraging first friends and neighbours to save their recyclable waste so he could take to the recycling centre. Ryan also does beach cleans, finding 1-2 buckets of trash at a time with common items being cigarette butts, zip ties and bottle tops. He encourages everyone to recycle!

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Dr Federica Bertocchini is a molecular biologist at the Institute of Bio-medicine and Biotechnology at the University of Cantabria in Spain currently working on a study ‘Plasticentropy’. Over 7 years of research and observation of wax worms has found that they are biodegrading polyethylene, a type of plastic commonly used for single-use items such as plastic bags. Research has shown they are changing the chemical structure of the molecule but researchers still have to investigate what bi-product is created.

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Pat Smith, aka ‘Action Nan’ who founded Final Straw Cornwall was inspired and pulled into action after watching Jo Ruxtons A Plastic Ocean. Her mission is to make Cornwall Plastic Straw Free and in 18 months of the campaign 600 businesses in Cornwall signed up to stop using plastic straws. She advises us to look at nature and the beauty that surrounds us, learn about it, look after it and love it. A change in our behaviour is a start, raising awareness from the grassroots but she recognises that Government needs to act to make huge change. Pat herself is looking to embrace the old school habits of her childhood, driving less, shopping local, looking to refill where she can and always taking reusables out and about with her to avoid single-use plastic.

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Madison Stewart, known as ‘Shark Girl’ creates conservation films about sharks. As an ocean dwelling creature sharks have been impacted by plastic pollution via their habitat and food source. Madison encourages people to find out what they are good at and passionate about and use that to help, starting with local issues. She herself finds avoiding plastic hard as she travels a lot with her work and it can be all about convenience when you are on the road but says that people can start anywhere and have the mentality of trying rather than looking for perfection/success, not now, nor has it ever been impossible for one person to make a difference.

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Molly Steer started the #StrawNoMore movement in Australia after watching A Plastic Ocean. Completely shocked by the film she wanted to do something about plastic pollution and decided to start small and focus on straws. Since launching the campaign 900,000 people have taken the pledge to stop using plastic straws as well as 850 schools, 600 businesses and 6 local governments. As the campaign has grown Molly has widened the focus to include all single-use plastic items. She counts the success of the project down to talking and thinks conversation is key. She doesn’t think we need single-use plastic and alternatives are available as a solution.

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Dr Colin Janssen, Professor of Ecotoxicology at Ghent University in Belgium explains how plastic is the first time people have been visibly confronted with the pollution they are causing. He explains that plastic pollution has become an issue because we have produced it in enormous amounts, 345 million tonnes per year, which is huge, to visualise it Dr Janssen measured that if you filled trucks with plastic and put them around the equator the trucks would go around 6 times bumper to bumper. Of that 5 - 12 million tonnes ends up in the ocean. With plastic simply breaking up rather than breaking down we are continuously adding to the issue.

Plastic is now known to breakdown into micro particles not visible to the naked eye, entering our food chain, effecting organisms, with microplastics being found in every sea creature studied. He explains how there are even microplastics in the air, how we are probably breathing it and possibly eating it. Scientific studies have established that microplastics can transgress from gut to the underlying tissue but studies have yet to establish how much this will harm us.

He covered the banning of BPA in the 90s over leaching issues and studies revealing hormone disruption but he said based on the scientific research the amounts coming out where very low and based on his knowledge he didn’t think the ban was scientifically justified.

On plant based plastics he explained how they are still a polymer and not necessarily better for the environment. With the term biodegradable not having a legal value to it and most needing high temperatures to breakdown which requires a machine.

His advice would be to use less and that plastic should not be seen as something to waste.

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Hugo Tagholm, chief executive at Surfers Against Sewage has always had a love for nature. Through SAS Hugo is hoping to drive change forward, being an authentic voice for ocean conservation. Beach clean data is used to contribute to government legislation and hold companies and industries accountable to drive change. Through SAS campaigns people can be empowered, with individual voices coming together. Hugo believes we are in a plastics emergency, with plastic and climate having the same parents, the oil industry. He believes systemic change is needed and we need to find a way to live more sustainably with the planet. Radical action is needed, with Hugo citing bottled water sales rising by 7% last year despite increased awareness of plastic pollution and the need to reduce single-use plastic consumption. He advises that our individual choices and actions matter, we must live lighter on this planet and use every action we can to call for that change. Make sure your voice is part of the bigger conversations, call on governments and do what you can, every bit counts.

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Christian Weigand of Blue Awareness believes that emotions are needed to trigger action. For his master thesis he tested the assumption that increased awareness lead to increased sustainable actions and found that in fact we were going in the opposite direction. He found that everyone knew the issues, plastics, over-fishing, climate etc but that somehow we haven’t been acting as expected. He believes that due to being given scientific data and logical information of numbers, figures and facts we find it hard to relate to the issues and instead we need topics to touch our heart, to feel the emotions to prompt us into action. Through his work with Blue Awareness he collects stories to share to get people to connect to their emotions about the problem, getting people to become a part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. He advises doing what you can, when you can and to avoid an all or nothing attitude .

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Maria Westerbos is the founder and director of the Plastic Soup Foundation. Having become aware of the ocean plastic issue she has been focused on exposing the issue and looking at ways to stop it at source. During the interview she explained about microfibers caused by our clothing. With 65% of our clothing being made from synthetic, plastic based materials 35% of microplastics are from our clothing, exposed to the natural environment through our washing machines. With an expected growth from 2 billion washing machines worldwide to 5 billion in the next decade she believes we need to look at ways to stop these microplastics from entering our environment via filter systems. She wants to hold the fashion industry and washing machine companies accountable and believes they need to find a solution. During the interview she recommended Planet Care Filter which reduces 80% of shedding and offers a service where you return the fibres caught for recycling.

She is also concerned about the associated health impacts of plastics and together with a team of researchers produces scientific reports through the Plastic Health Coalition.

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Cassia Patel works for non-profit organisation Oceanic Global who have three main aims, the first being to organise grassroots action, bringing together individuals through beach cleans and film screenings to encourage responsible consumption of plastic and to raise awareness. The second is to target businesses and industry through The Oceanic Standard, working with companies to help them rethink and reduce their single-use plastic use, creating useful guides, such as this Greenwashing guide outlining the current different types of plastic. And the third is to offer creative communication to help encourage us all to be environmentalists. As an organisation they believe that our choices matter and we should all look to be a part of the solution and become conscious consumers.

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Aurora Robson is a multi media artist that founded Project Vortex, a platform for artists working with plastic debris. Aurora wanted to create a community for artists highlighting the issue of plastic pollution, she sees working with plastic waste as a great tool for education around the issue of plastic pollution. She advises budding artists to collect, sort, clean and organise their plastic waste, inviting them to slow down, notice and learn about plastic and plastic pollution.

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Angela Haseltine Pozzi is founder and Artistic Director of Washed Ashore, whose mission is to build and exhibit aesthetically powerful art that educates a global audience about plastic pollution in the ocean and waterways and to spark positive consumer action. They build large scale art sculptures depicting animals affected by plastic pollution, giving these animals a voice. Due to their size people can’t ignore them and are drawn to them. Made completely from plastic waste wired to large steel frames, from a distance they look beautiful however when you come close viewers are confronted with plastic pollution. To date they have used 22 tonnes of plastic waste in their artworks, waste found along the Oregon coast where they are based, a small dent in the huge quantities found in the ocean but Washed Ashore is concerned with not only re-purposing plastic waste but also raising awareness of the issue and proving that everything you do matters.

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Katt Andryskova started her blog and website My Vegan Experiment to log her journey of making the most environmentally friendly choices. Her journey began 3 years ago after watching Cowspiracy which inspired her to start testing and researching veganism. Her inspiration for going plastic-free was Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers. She was horrified by her own waste and has since looked to reduce, reuse, repair and borrow, buy secondhand and overall reduce her consumption. She believes convenience is the biggest challenge and the enemy of sustainability. She also produces a podcast called The Ocean Pancake Podcast

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Tracey Read sailed across the Pacific Ocean with Captain Charles Moore in 2012 and was horrified by what she discovered. On returning to Hong Kong she set up charity Plastic Free Seas with the aim to get people talking and to educate. As a twist of fate at the same time there was a huge nurdle spill in Hong Kong where a container ship lost 6 containers full of the virgin plastic pellets used in the manufacture of plastic goods, known as nurdles. Springing into action through the charity she mobilised 8000 people and helped clear 108 tonnes from Hong Kong shores. Her focus for the charity is to think global but to act local. The plastic crisis can be overwhelming but by acting local you can focus on different localised problems and find solutions. She advises running with you own passion, doing your own plastic footprint investigation so you can see how much you accumulate and see what changes you need to make to reduce it, look to get in touch with brands about their packaging and push for change and to research recycling systems in your area, asking questions such as where does it go and what happens to it.

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Well done for making it to the end of this mega blog! We found it very inspirational and motivating hearing about all the different stories and actions these individuals are taking towards finding a solution to plastic pollution. A common theme throughout is the belief that we can all do something and that all our actions count. Plastic pollution is a huge global crisis but due to it being everywhere we can all do something about it in our own locality, using our own skills and passion to drive us to make changes that together will add up and hopefully provide a solution.

Find out more about A Solution To Plastic Pollution