Transcript: Podship Earth Episode 014: EVERYBODY'S PLASTIC
JARED BLUMENFELD: Welcome to Podship Earth. This is your host, Jared Blumenfeld. Back in 1997, Captain Charles Moore was sailing across the Pacific after completing a yacht race when he discovered huge amounts of plastic waste accumulating in the currents that make up the North Pacific gyre. This gyre is like a large vortex created by winds moving in different directions at the edges of the system. As Captain Moore explains, plastics are different than anything that had ever entered the ocean before.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: Plastic polymers do not biodegrade, so the only thing that makes the plastic get it smaller is ultraviolet radiation from the sun and wave action in the ocean. Now that breaks it into smaller and smaller pieces, but these pieces never go away.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Captain Moore and his team at the Algalita Foundation examined ocean samples from the Pacific garbage patch and found that they contained twice as much
plastic as plankton and that to many sea creatures, this plastic looks like food.
CAPTAIN CHARLES MOORE: That means the bottom of the food web all the way to the top. There's plankton that we find in our trials we can bring them right up on deck and begin dissecting them and find little pieces of plastic fishing line, bits of plastic fragments in their tissue. You can think of these plastic bits as poison pills moving all the toxics around the marine environment.
JARED BLUMENFELD: In this week’s show, we'll look at what can be done to improve our relationship with the world’s ocean. Plastic pollution is happening everywhere and the approaches to tackling the problem share many similarities. Today I'm going to focus on the Pacific Ocean because I live on its doorstep in San Francisco. In future shows, we'll examine the emerging issue of plastic microfibers that come from washing synthetic materials like fleece. Today we'll drill down on the plastic that starts its life as everyday consumer products like bottles, bags, toys, toothbrushes, lighters, and even flip flops. Before we talk with people working to clean up or prevent plastic from reaching the Pacific, our number one goal must be to reduce the consumption of manufacturing of plastics. Since the 1950’s, we've produced a startling 8.3 billion tons of the stuff. Most of this plastic went to make single use disposable products. In fact, only nine percent of all this plastic has been recycled. The rest went to waste. One way to reduce plastic consumption is to simply say no when someone offers you a plastic straw, to bring your own reusable water bottle or grocery bag. Another approach is to help manufacturers switch from plastic to ocean friendly materials like recycled paper. All these avenues require motivating the public and one of the single most galvanizing images of plastic pollution in the oceans was taken by the world-renowned photographer, Chris Jordan. The photo was a Laysan albatross on Midway Island that had died from a stomach full of plastics. Chris, tell us about midway island.
CHRIS JORDAN: Midway island, you might know, is in the very center of the north Pacific Ocean. If you ever see a globe, look at the Pacific Ocean and see how huge it is. It's a quarter of the earth, 6,000 miles wide, 60 million square miles of open sea, and if you put your finger in the very middle, the furthest away from a continent of anywhere on earth, that's right where Midway Island is. And you would think it must be the most incredibly pristine paradise on earth, but the horrific truth is that the island is covered with the bodies of tens of thousands of dead baby albatrosses who stomachs are filled with plastic. And by September, the carcasses have decomposed, so what's left on the ground are the skeletons and the feathers of these dead birds and they're large because they are fledgling albatrosses who have been fed toothbrushes and cigarette lighters and plastic bottle caps and pieces of flip flop sandals and hundreds of other individual shards of plastic unknowingly by their parents. And their bodies literally fill with plastic until they starve to death and they die of toxicity and the ground is covered with tens of thousands of them.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, you have this kind of eerie sense of this dead body decomposing with this plastic that will last forever.
CHRIS JORDAN: It's reflecting back to us our broken relationship with the living world in this incredibly iconic way.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Why are the mother and father albatrosses picking out these pieces of plastic from the ocean and feeding it to their chicks?
CHRIS JORDAN: Albatross don't know what plastic is. It’s just completely outside of their experience and outside of their ability to know. And there's only been plastic in the ocean in the last 50 years and for the tens of millions of years before that, all of the creatures that lived in the ocean, their instinct is to trust what the ocean provides. And they have no ability and no need, up until now, to distinguish what they should eat from what they shouldn't eat. And so, for albatrosses, anything that's bite sized that's in the ocean, they can eat. And what there's more of floating in the oceans now, more than anything else, is our plastic junk.
JARED BLUMENFELD: The images you captured on Midway Island of the dead albatross with their stomachs filled with plastic bottle caps and plastic toys really helps start the movement to stop marine plastic pollution.
CHRIS JORDAN: Those photographs went way more viral than anything else I'd ever done. I came back from that trip devastated by what I had seen. It wasn't until I returned to the island and met the live birds that I started to find a new perspective, a kind of balance and realizing that Midway is not only hell, but it's also paradise. And that our world is not only hell, there is not only bad news, there's also the mystery and the miracle that we're all a part of and that's really what the Midway Project evolved into and what my film called “Albatross” is about. It's about standing between these polar opposites of horror and beauty and containing it all.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Your new film “Albatross” has been a labor of love. When will it be ready for us to watch?
CHRIS JORDAN: Well, I've been working for eight years on this film and it's just finished. Actually, I finished it yesterday.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Congratulations.
CHRIS JORDAN: I've been saying it's finished for about a year and then I keep going and making more edits. It faces the plastic issue, but the energy of “Albatross” is not a sort of like “oh my gosh, a terrible bad news documentary about a horrible phenomenon.” It's an uplifting love story and the reason we feel that sadness is because we love that thing. And so that's what grief is. It's the same as love. Grief is not the same as despair or sadness. It's the same as love. It’s not an informational documentary, like there's very little narration. There's just lots of super beautiful footage, very close up of the birds because they have no fear of humans, and tons of gorgeous music.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, Chris, how can we see your film?
CHRIS JORDAN: All people have to do is go to the website, which is Albatrossthefilm.com and we will send it to you for free.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Chris's images helped raise public consciousness around the issue of plastics in the ocean, but there was very little understanding of the scope and scale of the problem. That changed when Jenna Jambeck, a solid waste engineer, started her PHD, decided to look into the sources of waste going into the oceans. Dr. Jambeck is now an associate professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. Jenna, how did this quest of yours begin?
JENNA JAMBECK: I originally heard about the plastic ending up in our ocean in 2001 when I started my PHD. And at that point in time, as an environmental engineer who works on land, I sort of immediately connected it to land. Why is our trash and garbage ending up in the ocean? And so, at the time though, to be quite honest though, I was literally told that nobody cared about this issue.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So even though no one was interested in plastic pollution in the ocean in 2001, you decided to start exploring the issue.
JENNA JAMBECK: I just heard about it and I just sort of was like, I think this is really important, and it connected my love and passion honestly for solid waste management and also my love with the ocean. And the fact that our trash should not be ending up in the ocean. Yes, people had gone out and looked in the ocean and found plastic here and there and you know, found impacts and the fish and wildlife service had sort of originally started to see plastic and bird colonies and people knew about even Midway at that point. But we backed up and said, well, how much is going into the ocean in the first place? And that jump started that research for me, which ended up in that 2015 publication in Science where we made the estimate of how much plastic is ending up in the ocean every year from mismanaged, solid waste on land.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How'd you go about working out how much of a trash ends up in the ocean?
JENNA JAMBECK: So, we looked at 192 countries around the world that have a coastline. And then we looked at this 50 kilometer buffer of people, so the population density living near that coastline, and then we looked at how much waste they were creating every day, how much of that was plastic, and then how much of that waste was actually mismanaged. And the mismanaged waste was made up of two components, one is inadequately managed waste and one is litter. Inadequately managed waste would be waste that is not managed in a formal system, and this was - you can think about like open dumping, illegal dumping and things like that and what we saw, the influencing factors are where we have this large population growth and actually really rapid economic growth so that consumerism and folks, the ability to buy lots of products has grown. However, the system to manage the waste that comes from those products, we couldn't keep up with it. And now a lot of it is plastic as opposed to historically we didn't have a lot of plastic in our waste stream. So, it's sort of this perfect storm of this population and economic growth. And then the percent of plastic in our waste stream. And then it just was leaking out in many countries, especially in South East Asia.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, Jenna, what did your research show? How much plastic pollution is ending up in the ocean each year?
JENNA JAMBECK: Eight million metric tons of plastic going in from 892 countries every year. So, if you think about all of us standing hand to hand along the entire coastline of the world, each one in front of us would have five grocery bags filled with plastic and then if you kick that into the ocean, that's what's going in every year. With business as usual, with sort of the same trends as we're seeing and no interventions, that, that was expected to double or more than double to 17 million metric tons by 2025.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How did people react to the conclusions of your research? I mean, 8 million tons of waste is a very large figure.
JENNA JAMBECK: People were shocked, and I don't think people had thought about this connection of the waste on land getting into the ocean. Pretty much everybody agrees that plastic shouldn't be going into our ocean when you really look at the impacts that it can have and how we're learning more about those almost every day. And so, everybody agrees on that. I think now we're just trying to -Everyone sort of has some of their own opinion on how you make sure that doesn't happen or how you at least reduce that, but most everybody agrees that it shouldn't be going into the ocean.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, Jenna, what's your next challenge?
JENNA JAMBECK: So, I've actually just become a National Geographic explorer.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Congratulations. That's very cool.
JENNA JAMBECK: It's very exciting. And actually, they just launched a great campaign yesterday called Planet or Plastic, which really kind of emphasizes the choice that we could make here. Most of the us in the US who have the luxury of these choices of refusing single use items, right? We have sort of the ability to say, no, I don't think I need that. I pick the planet.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Jenna’s work helped us understand the amount of plastic waste going from our cities into the world's oceans. Jeff Kirschner, the founder of the trash app, Litterati, gives us a street level view of litter catalog by 80,000 smartphone users in 115 countries. I went to talk to Jeff on the streets of Oakland. Jeff, how did Litterati begin?
JEFF KIRSCHNER: I was on a hike with my two little kids in the woods and my daughter, who was four at the time, she noticed this plastic tub of cat litter in a creek and she just looked at me and said, “Daddy, that doesn't go there.” Like this really innocent, cute comment which for me was a really eye-opening moment. That was how it all kind of started.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, what did you do next, Jeff?
JEFF KIRSCHNER: Oh, to be honest, what happened next was a little bit weird. I took a photograph of a cigarette butt using Instagram and just because. There was no idea at the time. I just did it and then I took another photo, another photo, and I noticed a couple of things happening to me. The first was that litter suddenly became artistic, right? Simply because of the power of Instagram and because it was artistic, it therefore became approachable. Right? It went from being this blight on the ground that I either A, didn't notice or B, wanted nothing to do with to “oh, there's a cool photo opportunity.” The second thing that happened was that at the end of a week, I had like 50 photos on my phone and had picked up every single piece that I'd shot, and I realized, “Oh, wait a minute, I'm kind of keeping a record of the positive impact I'm having on the planet.” That's 50 less things that you're going to see, or she's going to step on, or some bird is going to get tangled up in. That's good. Right? So, I just started telling people what I was doing, and at the time, all I was doing was using Instagram to photograph individual pieces of litter, add this hashtag litterati and then throw out or recycle those items. That one cigarette, that was born on Instagram, has now turned into a community and 115 countries with a Litterati IOS and android APP. And this community is not only crowdsource cleaning the planet, but through that process, collecting a ton of data. That notion of you're not alone in attacking this problem is the root of what I think Litterati is all about. We are community, right? And all of a sudden that feeling of overwhelmed turns in to one of empowerment and I think that's how we really start to solve this problem from a cultural perspective. That underlying data, the material types, the brands, the geo location and a bunch of other information is how we get a lot smarter about solving the problem.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Cleaning up helps you identify what the problem is so that you can hold others accountable.
JEFF KIRSCHNER: I couldn't agree more. I mean, how do you really solve a problem before you understand it? Right? So, our belief is that once you identify the root causes of the problem, you can start to pave a path to the solution.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And what do you see trend wise emerging from the Litterati data? Like do you get a chance to kind of step back and look at what's happening?
JEFF KIRSCHNER: Yeah. And unfortunately, the numbers are pretty scary. So, plastic is as big and as bad as everybody thinks. And you'll see in fact, National Geographic today came out on the cover with a huge story about and I think the title is “Planet or Plastic.” We need more and more people to really to battle it because it's bad and that's what we're seeing with the Litterati community.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What kind of things do you see from other countries?
JEFF KIRSCHNER: What we say is that cities have unique litter fingerprints. Clearly what you see on the streets of Beijing are different than Boston, right? But even on a block by block level, you might see a ton of Starbucks’ napkins on one block that you don't find just one block over.
JARED BLUMENFELD: We're in downtown Oakland, which is actually one of the trash hot spots in the San Francisco Bay. Maybe you can pull out your app and we can take it for a little walk and see what we find.
JEFF KIRSCHNER: I can spot a Wrigley's wrapper from about 25 yards out. This is a packet of Heinz Ketchup, but it's probably one that came from Mcdonald’s or Burger King, I'm assuming, just because I've seen a lot of these, this silver coating, so this probably came from one of those two brands. So, we actually created a taxonomy that we called COMB. It stands for category object material brand. Right? And so, this would be a single use plastic, right? The category would be ketchup. The object would be single use plastic. The material would be this combination of aluminum foil and plastic and the brand would be Heinz. So, the way Litterati works is very simple. It's an APP that anybody can download for free and when you open it, you simply take a photograph, and you add the tag of what that is. And we have a built-in library of tags that you can use as well. A geotag and timestamp are automatically placed. And that's it. That data is shared with the entire Litterati community. And then you pick up the item that you photographed.
JARED BLUMENFELD: When you look at the Litterati data, you can see that there's been a proliferation of disposable plastic products. Our addiction to throw away items like plastic bags, styrofoam, peanuts, plastic cutlery and plastic straws has been met in some countries and cities by legislative action. Bans or fees on single use on plastic items have an immediate impact on their use. When Ireland put a thirty-three cent fee on plastic bags in 2002, their use went down by 94 percent in just a few weeks. Attention is now being focused on plastic straws. I caught up with Kara Woodring, who would drink from Aardvark straws to get the perspective of someone in the industry. Kara, what's the history of the struggle?
KARA WOODRING: Marvin Stone, our founder, invented the patent to make a paper straw by winding it around a pencil.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So that was in 1888. Then in the 1960’s, you switched to making plastic straws. Today there are more than 500 million plastic straws used every day in the United States alone. Then 15 years ago, Ted Turner, the founder of CNN came to you. Why?
KARA WOODRING: He had heard that we had at one point, manufactured paper straws and because of that plastic boom, we had to pretty much put away that side of our business. So, he came to us and asked if we would recreate the paper straw. It took about three years to really figure out how to make the paper stronger, how to wind it so it wouldn't break down within two
or three hours and so it won’t leave any aftertaste or funny bleeding in a customer's drink.
JARED BLUMENFELD: But the main thing, Karima, is that they don't leave a funny aftertaste or bleeding in the ocean, right? Because they compose down quickly and unlike plastic. They are not swirling around in the Pacific for hundreds of years.
KARA WOODRING: Most people switched to a paper straw because they do understand the marine degradability side.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And were you surprised when the Queen said in February that in Buckingham Palace, they’re going to be getting rid of all their plastic straws. Did you see an upsurge in orders?
KARA WOODRING: It was a great face to the issue where she addressed it and we finally got some international press around it and I do see some huge growth in the UK because of that.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Here's a clip from the UK Environment Minister, Michael Gove, who seems to be following Buckingham Palace's lead.
MICHAEL GOVE: Well, I want to do everything we can to restrict the use of plastic straws and we're exploring at the moment if we can ban them. Now, there is some concern that EU laws mean that we can't ban straws at the moment, but I'm doing everything I can to ensure that we eliminate this scourge and I hope to make an announcement shortly.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Seattle's plastic straw ban goes into effect in two months. Kara, who else is taking action?
KARA WOODRING: Primarily California and Florida have actually done the implementation of the bans, but many other cities have started phase out programs where in two years, they plan on phasing it out.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Straws are a great example of how local action can create the momentum for national legislation. Both Britain and Australia have plastic straw bands in the works. In January, Taiwan announced the strictest regulations yet. A blanket ban forbidding all single use plastic bags, straws, and cups. In the United States, both Hawaii and California are voting soon on straw bans. As effective is banning problem plastic products can be, it doesn't solve the problem because so much more plastic is being created every day. The global plastic binge is set to increase dramatically over the next 10 years. Exxon and Shell are among those who have plowed in more than $180 billion since 2010 into new facilities that will produce yet more plastic. If left unchecked, these new factories will lead to a 40 percent increase in plastic production in the next decade.
Study suggests that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the sea than fish. California recently adopted a zero-trash goal. By 2022, California cities will be responsible for ensuring that no litter goes into any river lake or the Pacific Ocean. There are a host of actions that are already being taken from increasing street sweeping to installing trash capture devices. These systems vary in size, but all act to trap litter between the street and the water body. Unfortunately, every year, 2 million tons of plastic waste still does enter the ocean from rivers. I met up with Karima Cherif, who a few months ago, gave up a career in aerospace engineering to build a solar powered trash wheel that can collect litter from estuaries before it gets into the ocean.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Karima is an avid stand up paddle boarder. Karima, how many paddle boards do you have?
KARIMA CHERIF: I'm embarrassed to admit that I've got five of them. I have two inflatables, one for waves and two touring boards.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How often do you get out on the bay?
KARIMA CHERIF: Pretty much every day. When I'm paddle boarding, it's usually about one to two hours.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Tell us about your experience with trash in the water.
KARIMA CHERIF: Oh my God. Well, for one thing there is a, a term that made me really laugh which a lot of the paddle boarders would refer to them as Oakland jellyfish and they would be condoms floating in the water. And so, what we do is we take the handle of our paddle and lift these condoms and put them on the front of the paddle board. And I know that's super disgusting, but that's often something that you see. And sometimes you see floating diapers, the switcher suites, which are the ends of the cigarillos, they are floating and it's disgusting to have to touch the cigarette butts and the chip bags. Some of the garbage is industrial, large plastic, the size of a couch. And to put that on your paddle board is challenging, but if we don't pull it out, it's just going to get sucked out right through the Golden Gate and end up in the North Pacific convergence zone. So that felt like something has to be done about this.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What does it make you feel and what did you think about doing as a result?
KARIMA CHERIF: I have an engineering background. I decided to leave that career and focus on what I could do. So, my project is called A Mr. Trash Wheel Bay Area and it originated in Baltimore in 2014. A gentleman by the name of Mr. Pinette designed a wheel that is solar-powered and the wheel moves with the tidal flow. Water circulates to move the wheel, and in front of it, if you can imagine some googly eyes with a tongue, is the conveyor belt and two extending floating booms on each side to sequester the garbage. And the trash wheel can collect things that are a smallest five millimeters. And so, they roll up onto this conveyor belt and the Mr. Trash Wheel eats it up like a monster, and then behind it there's a dumpster and all of that stuff kind of falls into the dumpster. And then the dumpsters are on a barge that gets taken to shore, and whenever it's filled up, it gets emptied. In Baltimore, since they've put it into place, they've collected 450,000 tons of trash.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Seems like the first line of defense, right, is to stop people from littering. And then the second is an estuary because it hasn't broken down. You still have a chance to get it before it becomes smaller and smaller pieces.
KARIMA CHERIF: I definitely hear so much enthusiasm in peoples’ voice anytime I tell anybody about the Mr. Trash Wheel Bay Area. They're like, oh, this is great. We need to have a clean bay. I'm so excited. And then the other side of it is that, you know, we get $50 in a month.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, this afternoon at tell us about the meeting we're going to have.
KARIMA CHERIF: I've been trying to get a meeting with the port of Oakland since February. We're hopeful that they will be open to supporting the Mr. Trash Wheel Bay Area projects. So, we'll see what happens.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How do you think the meeting went?
KARIMA CHERIF: It just makes me cry for, for them wanting to only do something good for the environment as long as they get credits just infuriated me. It makes my blood boil. I'm really discouraged. I'm definitely not a quitter, but this is not going to be an easy route. We've been ignoring the problem too long and so we'll see what happens next chapter.
JARED BLUMENFELD: So, you came home, you've been feeling really down in the dumps, but you sound like you've got good news.
KARIMA CHERIF: Oh, my goodness, this is such good news. I came home, and I opened an envelope and there was a check for $25,000.
JARED BLUMENFELD: My God, from who?
KARIMA CHERIF: It's from the BF foundation. They're the ones that do Vans and Timberlands and the North Face.
JARED BLUMENFELD: This will allow you to start the project.
KARIMA CHERIF: Exactly. This will allow us to do the feasibility report, get our licensing of Mr. Trash Wheel squared away, and just get the ball rolling so I am beside myself.
JARED BLUMENFELD: I was so thrilled for Karima. Now Mr. Trash Wheel has a fighting chance of getting built and being able to stop thousands of tons of litter from Oakland going into the Pacific Ocean. But what can we do to clean up the trash that is already in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Recent studies show that more than three quarters of all the trash in the Pacific convergent zone is larger than five millimeters in size. Anything smaller is called microplastic. These very small pieces accounted for only eight percent of the massive plastic in the ocean, but they made up 94 percent of the estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the Pacific. Right next door to where Karima paddleboards every day, a massive project is being built around that plastic pollution from the middle of the Pacific. It's aptly named The Ocean Cleanup Project. It's the brainchild of Boyan Slat, a 23-year old Dutchman, who at 16, decided he was going to do something to clean up the Pacific garbage patch. When I arrived at the old naval yard in Alameda, there are cranes, forklifts, large pieces of tubing and engineers getting ready to put a test section of the ocean cleanup device into the water. I meet with the Ocean Cleanup Project’s, Joost Dubois. Joost, how did Boyan Slat come up with the inspiration for this project?
JOOST DUBOIS: Yeah. So, it all started with a young man at the age of sixteen called Boyan Slat, who was on a vacation in Greece and diving near one of the islands and realizing that he saw more plastic bags then fish. And to him, that was a trigger to think, how can we clean this up? And he used that as a high school project which was supposed to take two weeks I think. And it took them a year and that's when it started to get out of hand. So, he came up with an idea to passively clean the oceans and rather than go after the plastic, let the plastic come to us using the currents and the winds that move the plastic and concentrate them in these five accumulation zones in the oceanic gyres. To basically put in a passively moving barrier like an artificial ghost against, with which the plastic and concentrate and then we can come extract, lift up, and bring it back to shore for recycling.
JARED BLUMENFELD: What size pieces will really be able to get?
JOOST DUBOIS: We will be able to get anything over 10 millimeters in size. So that's not the microplastics. And indeed, there is a lot of particles that are microplastic. But if you look at the overall mass amount of plastic that is out there, most of it is in larger parts. About 90 percent of the plastic that is out there can be removed with our technology. After it comes back as being extended to the real first cleanup system, which will be 2000 feet in length, it will be put in operation later this summer. That will just be an operational system to clean the oceans, to bring plastic on shore from the high seas. And then after that we hope to ramp up to go to the full-size system which will be more like a mile in length and with a slightly bigger floater. And of those, we plan to deploy 60 in the North Pacific altogether.
JARED BLUMENFELD: How much did this whole project cost?
JOOST DUBOIS: Well, so far, we have raised about $40,000,000. That is enough to carry us through the first year of operation of the first system. After that we will need quite a bit more to construct 60 systems and deploy those and run the operations.
JARED BLUMENFELD: And what of this criticism from environmental groups, that you should be focusing on the upstream? You should be focusing on, on, you know, stopping litter in the first place…
JOOST DUBOIS: They’re right. If you only clean it up, you are not doing the right thing. So, you need to do something about the influx of plastic. You have to realize that the big stuff that is out there right now will turn into microplastics eventually. So, it's like a ticking time bomb. It's a mine of microplastics that are still there and in a form that we can capture it because once it gets small below five millimeters, it will be there forever, and it will be very hard to, if not impossible, to ever collect that again.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Do you think you'll be able to mine data from the plastic trash that you bring back to shore to work out who is responsible?
JOOST DUBOIS: We all are responsible, so that is very important to realize. We all as consumers are responsible. This is a decision that we as humans made 60 years ago when we started using plastic, and we made some pretty big design failures in how we deal with it. I mean plastic is a valuable product and using it in one-time packaging and throwing it away after we've used it for 10 seconds or less, that is painful. That is wrong. And that awareness definitely needs to grow.
JARED BLUMENFELD: Thanks to Chris Jordan, Jenna Jambeck, Jeff Kirschner, Kara Woodring, Octavio Lugo, Karima Cherif, and Joost Dubois for sharing with us the enormous challenges faced by the ocean because of our addiction to single use plastic. Each of today's guests are working to do something about it, from helping the public understand where the trash in the oceans comes from, to reducing our demand for things we don't need, to cataloging the litter on our streets, to redesigning products so they no longer are made of plastic, to installing grates on city streets that capture the chip bags before they go into the ocean, to building Mr. Trash Wheel himself, to cleaning up the massive plastic pieces in the gyre itself. There's a lot that can be done.
What I took away from today's episode is that we need to stop plastic in its tracks. I was shocked to learn that there are new plastic factories still being built. If we just increase the global recycling rate for plastic from nine percent to a mere 50 percent, we'd never need to make new plastic again. This needs to start by just saying no. No to new plastic straws, plastic bags, no to single use water bottles, no to espresso coffee pods, no to plastic knives and forks, no to single use mustard, ketchup, and hot sauce packets. We don't need that crap. We can then work with our cities and states to make sure each drain is equipped with trash capture devices, and when we do see litter, we can record it on Litterati and then pick it up. Finally, let's help Karima build her trash wheel and support Joost and Boyan by cleaning up the plastic already at sea. I have links to all these great folks on the page to this week's episode. Also check out this month's National Geographic which is on plastic.
Next week, we explore the issue of distraction. Why are we so distracted? What is distracting us and what are we craving distraction from? If you have time, please review our show on Apple's Podship Earth page. Thank you so much for being part of the journey. From the entire Podship Earth crew, sound engineer Rob Spate, producer Nancy Ferranti, executive producer David Kahn, and me, Jared Blumenfeld, have an excellent plastic free week.