A sailboat traveling across the pacific is inspiring everyone from children to governments to join in the fight against plastics.
Here’s the thing about really big numbers: when you hear a statistic like eight million tons, it’s tough to properly understand just how big that number really is. To put it in perspective, if you were to combine the weight of the Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower, and Golden Gate Bridge—and then for good measure add the largest Egyptian pyramid—you’d still need to add a million tons until you reached eight million.
Now if I told you that monumental figure was the weight of something in the ocean, you might be surprised that the number isn’t for fish, but for something that’s much worse: Plastic.
hat’s eight million tons of un-recycled plastic that’s entering the ocean each year, and researchers estimate it’s only adding to the 240 million tons of plastic that’s already there. Much of that is from single-use sources like bags, cutlery, and drink bottles – but every industry, from cosmetics to toy-makers, is playing a part in this crisis. Fortunately the world is starting to wake up to the intense seriousness of this issue, and if the first step is recognising the severity of problem, the next is trying to find a way to stop it before it’s too late.
That’s the mission Phil Somerville is on as he spends six months sailing from Los Angeles to Auckland on a voyage dubbed Eat Less Plastic. The name is derived from the fact that plastics are literally entering our food chain, and by taking action we can reverse this course, at least with hopes for our children.
As a surfer and sailor who was raised on an island (Somerville hails from New Zealand), he says the ocean “is literally a life force, and I want my children to experience it as I have, but at the rate things are going, they won’t.” That honest motive has led the Hollywood actor to embark on a trans-Pacific journey unlike any in recent memory.
He’s captaining a crew of businessmen, scientists, actors, and athletes across six different countries and seven thousand miles on a mission to raise awareness about plastics, and also gather data, push for legislation, and work toward educating our next generation on minimising plastic consumption.
“For me it’s all about teaching the kids,” says Somerville. “They’re the voices of reason, and ultimately it’s through them that changes will come. Education is key, and these kids need to know what they’re about to face so they can make better choices—and maybe teach their parents.”
That’s why, in addition to collecting micro-plastic data through the 5 Gyres TrawlShare Program, and participating in cleanups from French Polynesia to beaches in Tonga and Fiji, the crew has been spending their time on land with as many school groups as possible. In the Cook Islands, about halfway through this journey, a school principal was so moved by this effort that he vowed to eliminate single-use plastics from all of the school’s operations.
There have been meetings with Ocean Ambassadors, a group that works on implementing solutions in Island nations such as plastic to oil, closed loop apparel recycling and local small processing applications. They have as well developed “Pirate Pack” a subscription box to minimise your personal plastic footprint from home, and support their field operation. This will re-launch to offer reduced international shipping in November 2018. Add in partnerships with NGOs and businesses from Niue to Auckland and Maui and Eat Less Plastic is building a network of proactive peoples across the Pacific who are bound and connected by water. Chief among those is Love The Sea, a Maui-based non-profit run by Campbell Farrell that's serving as the voyage's non-profit partner and official fiscal sponsor.
The journey comes at a turning point in the global fight against plastics, as many nations, including New Zealand and Fiji, have enacted legislation against plastic bags and other single use plastics. In Tahiti the crew took part in a cleanup with Nana Sac Plastique, and helped petition the French Polynesian government to move in the same direction. The really big numbers and data are there, and the next step is taking the fight into the field, or in this case into the sea.
You don’t need to have a sailboat, however, to help in solving this problem, as all of us are armed with the way we consume, and the choices we make every day. “We have alternatives to single-use plastics,” says Somerville. “So it’s simple - let’s start choosing them.”