The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive area of plastic waste fragments collected by the swirling natural currents of the Pacific, is a real eye-opener. Few people have seen this eternal resting place for our non-biodegradable waste that washes from land through rivers, streams and storm drains to a watery grave far from shore. But those who study this phenomenon in the Pacific and the similar plastic garbage patches in every ocean, have been busy opening the eyes of the world to the growing crisis. The garbage patches in our oceans have become a wake up call to those who hear the reports or see evidence brought back from expeditions. Like the discovery of a cancerous blemish, knowledge about the garbage patches tends to activate people to learn more and to take prescriptive action.
I was one of those people who felt my eyes suddenly opened by seeing Charles Moore speak about his primary research in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I had worked on plastic pollution issues as part of my environmental work for many years, but nothing prepared me for the discovery of the vast amount of disposable plastics that go unaccounted for after production, never making it to a landfill or a recycling facility. And the research, though startling, was not nearly as impactful for me as the simple visual of Charles Moore's glass jar full of plastic confetti from 1000 miles off our California coast in the middle of the Pacific. Now I had seen with my own eyes where all that plastic we toss ends its journey: the detritus of consumerism, our plastic waste, is not just filling our landfills, it is filling our oceans.
Soon I was seeking as much information as I could find on plastic pollution and potential remedies. I was invited to a salon at Laurie David's house featuring my hero Charles Moore. Charlie brought me up with him to talk about legislative solutions being instituted around the globe. Afterwards, I met artist Dianna Cohen as we waited for our cars. She shared with me a small book of her artwork made from old plastic bags stitched artfully together. We began a conversation that continued over months and intersected with two others who were also working on plastics issues, Daniella Russo, a visionary filmmaker at Sea Studios (now Executive Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition), and Manuel Maqueda, a pioneer in using social media to activate around ocean protection and plastic pollution reduction. Soon we were meeting at my house to form Plastic Pollution Coalition, a way to bring together all the great minds and organizations working on plastic pollution worldwide to share information and resources for strategic action to measurably reduce global plastic pollution.
Plastic Pollution Coalition had its official launch on October 24th, 2009 at the home of Irmelin DiCaprio with a glorious view of the Pacific Ocean that had served to inspire us. Irmelin herself had collected plastic trash that washed up on the beach during her daily walks, and we used that trash to decorate the doorway and prepare our guests for the serious nature of the day's presentation. From that small gathering of friends, scientists and environmental activists, we have grown in just over a year to a global non-profit based at Earth Island Institute in Berkeley with more than 100 member organizations devoted to every aspect of plastic pollution from its health impacts (e.g. Environmental Working Group, Breast Cancer Fund) to impacts on wildlife (e.g. Greenpeace), to ocean impacts (e.g. Oceana, Heal the Bay) to sustainability issues (e.g. Californians Against Waste).
A first year of many achievements on the communications, coalition building, and legislative fronts, concluded with Plastic Pollution Coalition producing and hosting a TEDx Conference on plastic pollution on November 6, 2010, dedicated to the that horrible eye-opener The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (TEDx refers to an independently organized conference associated with the nonprofit TED. ) Held at the Annenberg Beach Community House in Santa Monica, again with a great view of the glorious Pacific, this conference was webcast live around the globe to 120 countries and recorded in HD for you to watch now. Prepare yourself to hear from the world's experts on plastic pollution, including Charles Moore, Sylvia Earle, Fabien Cousteau, and Van Jones. I'm in there too, and if you have patience to click on each speaker, you will get a real education. Prepare to have your eyes opened wide. And when you are ready to take action, join us at www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org.