Office Hour interactive chat with Daniella Russo, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition

Event Date: 
30 July 2013

Hosted by MarineDebris.Info
Held on: Tuesday, 30 July 2013

In this interactive ‘Office Hour’ chat, Daniella Russo took questions on ocean plastics, how Plastic Pollution Coalition addresses this global issue, and its recent ‘Think Beyond Plastic’ innovation competition. Founded in 2009, Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance working on ending plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on people, animals, and the environment.


NoPlastxDani: Good morning everyone. Minor tech glitches here but the valiant team handled that. My name is Daniella Russo, twitter handle is NoPlastixDani and I am a co-founder and the Executive Director of Plastic Pollution Coalition. Glad to be with you this morning.

Blake Rupe: Hello Daniella. My name is Blake Rupe and I am a MA student at the University of Iowa, studying International Conservation. I find the work of preventing plastics in the waste stream very interesting, and I commend Plastic Pollution Coalition for your work in this! But I was wondering, do you forsee PPC getting involved in debris cleanup efforts, either in terrestrial and oceanic environments?

NoPlastxDani: Hi Blake, thanks for your question. Plastic Pollution Coalition has many members who do beach cleanups - in the US, Algalita, Heal The Bay, etc. in Central America and around the world. WE believe that beach cleanups ggive us a great perspective on the issues with plastic pollution and are a great teaching opportunity. Our focus is on source reduction, i.e. getting attention on preventing plastic pollution vs removing it. Make sense?

Guest: What is your strategy for making marine plastic pollution relevant to the public at large?

NoPlastxDani: We are committed to raising the plastic pollution dialog to the forefront of public attention, and have been working on this since 2009. Our strategy has been to work with partners who share the same goal - plastic pollution is the nexus of eco-system degradation, public health issues and environmental justice. Increasingly, plastic pollution is linked to climate change as plastic products are made from fossil fuel.

NoPlastxDani: Thus, sharing the message with like-minded groups has helped raise awareness broadly.

jdavis: Plastic Pollution Coalition recently held a "Think Beyond Plastic" innovation competition. Can you talk a little bit about that, including what innovations emerged from it?

NoPlastxDani: Think Beyond Plastic is a strategic initiative for Plastic Pollution Coalition - we focus on behavior change, youth leadership and innovation and entrepreneurship for solutions. Over 100 businesses from around the world entered the contest, and each has an innovative product that resulted in the measurable reduction of plastic pollution. We seek to empower entrepreneurs and connect them to impact investors, so that real market solutions address this problem. Pls check www.ThinkBeyondPlastic.com for more

AmyWestWrites: Are you finding that the replacements for disposable plastics are without an environmental footprint, too? (e.g. compostable utensils) Which ones are working, and why?

NoPlastxDani: The only replacement for disposable plastic without an environmental footprint is behavior change - using NO straws, drinking tap water etc. Everything else will have some impact - reusable bottles need to be washed, and at some point disposed of. We support composting in places where the collection infrastructure exists - like San Francisco, and hopefully New York soon.

NoPlastxDani: Utensils - we love Aspenware, truly biodegradable.

NoPlastxDani: Plastic bags are a big part of the problem, but not the only problem.

Jenni: So many plastic campaigns focus on single-use plastic grocery bags specifically or exclusively. Do you think these are really the largest part of the problem?

NoPlastxDani: The latest headline was really funny - shoplifting has been purported to increase with the bans on plastic bags. Can you believe it?

Irene Hofmeijer Merkelj: Hi Daniella! We're from Life Out Of Plastic connected from Peru . One of our difficulties here is that there aren't accessible alternatives in the market - for example we haven't begun attacking takeaway polyesterene containers because there are no alternative - how do you tackle issues like that in the economic context of countries like Peru?

NoPlastxDani: Dear Irene, first of all congratulations on the great work you do and your environmental leadership. Our guidance is - start with areas where local solutions are easily available. It may not be polystyrene, it may be refillable bottles. We always start with a problem most easily solves, and move towards creating the local sustainable solutions next.

enviroxpert: Does Plastic Pollution Coalition have plans to significantly increase US EPA's engagement on this topic, and if so, what parts of EPA do you plan to engage and how do you plan to attract their attention and have them engage at a level beyond the status quo?

NoPlastxDani: Hello envirexpert. PPC already has funding from US EPA region 9 for creating three pilots on UC campuses to reduce plastic pollution at the source. We plan to expand this model to other EPA areas, as it proves to be very successful.

Blake Rupe: What are your favorite apps that you and others in PPC are using that promote PPC initiatives? RIPPL? Others? Do you think these are or will be successful?

NoPlastxDani: Hi Blake, you should come and help us with ideas! We use plain old social media (Vine, Twitter, FB, etc). WE are very excited about our partnership wih Causes.com, and we also use TrashOut - a great iPhone app that helps you report plastic and other trash, dumped in various locations around the world.

AmyWestWrites: Have you had any dialog with plastic manufacturers to see if they have ideas/innovations themselves or agree that plastic waste has caused problems? Perhaps it behooves us to work together otherwise it becomes a "Us " versus "them." Admittedly change comes from us demanding it, of course.

NoPlastxDani: There is no question - plastic manufacturers are completely aware of the problem, and interested in resolving it. The problem is pretty obvious so it is hard to deny it exists. Our challenge is how to approach the solution - for the most part they believe the answer is more recycling. We do not believe ANY recycling in the world can take every bit of disposable plastic and process it. I serve on the Executive committee of Trash Free Seas Alliance with Coca Cola.

NoPlastxDani: I firmly believe the answer can only be a partnership between manufacturers and environmental groups, to address the issue - yet our position is, we must reduce consumption of plastic NOT promote recycling.

enviroxpert: NoPlastxDani - EPA Reg 9 seems far ahead of the rest of the nation. Perhaps a way to affect national change would be to engage at the Office level in addition to the region approach. Curious - did the Coalition cause the Reg 9 funding availability initially or respond to an existing announcement?

NoPlastxDani: The EPA demonstrated real leadership - they actually announced a grant for source reduction of plastic pollution, instead of more recycling. And we applied along with other groups. Later, NOAA announced a grant for source reduction, and I understand that they received grant proposals for over 1.2M. This all means the dialog is shifting from reporting on how much is collected, to how much is prevented from entering the environment.

PlasticShore: I'm the director of a non-profit here is B.C called PlasticShore. (www.plasticshore.org) Our mandate is to reduce plastic pollution in communities through community engagement and education. We are conducting a pilot project this summer/fall in association with Encorp Pacific to recycled plastic debris into certified product lines. Our goal is to generating a continual source of funding to reduce plastic pollution by promoting and rewarding corporate social responsibility through a certification mark. Companies that help to sponsor community cleanups can use the recycled plastic debris in their product lines with a certification mark to identify that the product was made with plastic debris collected from the environment. All proceeds go towards supporting environmental charities and community projects.

NoPlastxDani: Dear PlasticShore, thanks for your great work. As I said, we support your commitment to beaches free of plastic, and we encourage you to use the beach cleanup as an opportunity to teach people about behavior change. In the end, you simply cannot clean up beaches all the time, we need to use less.

jdavis: You hosted a TEDx event a couple years ago on ocean plastics. At the event, the XPrize Foundation announced it was planning a prize for development of plastic that would safely decompose in the ocean. Do you know what has come of that prize competition? Did it get off the ground?

NoPlastxDani: The Xprize foundation looked at a prize for plastic that would degrade in the ocean. While we support their commitment to a clean ocean, we discouraged any prize that would perpetuate the notion that the ocean is a garbage dump and that garbage will be found there no matter what. Our goal was to reduce and eliminate the possibility for trash to enter the ocean in the first place.

jdavis: What is the role of youth leadership on this issue, and how do you work with young people?

NoPlastxDani: Young people are very important to the issue of plastic pollution. For many of them, plastic is invisible - it is their baseline. Our goal is to engage their hearts and mind today, make plastic visible and share the problems it presents. We enjoy great support of young environmental leaders through Plastic Free Campuses, a network of over 100 campuses around the world who actively reduce their plastic footprint.

Kristin: I recently did my thesis on the science and policy behind plastic bag policies in the US. What do you think is the best policy to get rid of plastic bags?

NoPlastxDani: Kristin, you ask the tough question! The best policy, in my opinion, is dictated by the needs of the community. In some places, it makes sense to ban - in others, to impose a fee. Either way, plastic bag need to go.

enviroxpert: In the US there hasn't historically been much interest at the federal level for developing national recycling standards - or for even developing non-binding suggested standards. Currently the process whereby each locality comes up with its own standards and policies results in significantly different programs around the coast and tributaries. Previously nobody (govt and NGOs)has seemed very interested in getting into whether we can ultimately make the headway we need on plastics using such a decentralized system. Does the Plastic Pollution Coalition have plans to address the disparity in addressing solid waste that exists between communities in the US?

NoPlastxDani: Plastic Pollution Coalition has many members who work on the federal policy level, and our strategy is to support their work. For example, Clean Water Action, NRDC, Heal The Bay, The Breast cancer Fund and others all work the issues from their viewpoint. Our goal is to keep a common message and goal, and we believe this is the way to achieve more unified results.

jdavis: Daniella, would you characterize your group as the Anti-Plastic Coalition? If not, why not?

NoPlastxDani: Glad you asked! We are not against plastic. Plastic is a wonderful, valuable material, hydrocarbons millions of years in the making. It is eternal, it never goes way - and it must be used in a way that respect these qualities. Our problem with plastic is that it is so valuable, it should never be used for disposable items, made specifically to be discarded. And it is also toxic, so it should never be used for food packaging, or baby toys.

Blake Rupe: I am going to be graduating with my MA soon and honestly don't know where to begin looking for careers in marine debris and conservation. Do you have any advice for those of us just beginning our careers in this growing field?

NoPlastxDani: Blake, congratulations on being so close to the goal. This takes hard work and dedication. I would encourage you to go into innovation. We need people to design new products and materials, to challenge the status-quo on plastic use; to think out of the box. We need entrepreneurs, innovators, designers - because plastic is in everything today. New thinking, new ideas and fresh perspectives.

enviroxpert: Daniella, I understand the power of a common message, but some serious gap analysis would also be a major contribution. IMHO we're in need of thoughtful analysis given the scale and scope of the problem. Could Plastic Pollution Coalition serve that role?

NoPlastxDani: Could not agree more. Lets talk. Id love to know what you have in mind.

PlasticShore: How much of plastic pollution comes from overflowing municipal garbage containers? What if municipalities has sensors on the garbage containers that would indicate how full the garbage was. This information could be accumulated in real time so that workers now when a containers is about to overflow.

NoPlastxDani: It is a great idea, but this addresses a small portion of the problem - plastic that is already collected for recycling. Around the world, that is less than 10%. I would love to see manufacturers responsible for the plastic they produce - every time you see a plastic bottle on the beach, to be able to find who made it and make them responsible for it.

jdavis: Daniella, you've mentioned innovation a few times, including in the context of the Think Beyond Plastic event. Are you focusing on technological solutions to this environmental problem? Or do the solutions need to be more varied than that?

NoPlastxDani: We believe that an environmental problem of the magnitude of plastic pollution can only be addressed by a combination of behavior change and real, well-priced and globally available solutions. Think Beyond Plastic seeks to address this need and support behavior change for individuals and manufacturers through the availability of products, materials and infrastructure services that are price competitive and readily available.

NoPlastxDani: Thanks everyone for your excellent questions. Please do not hesitate to contact me to continue the dialog.

NoPlastxDani: Contact info: daniella [at] plasticpollutioncoalition.org

NoPlastxDani: twitter @NoPlastiXDani and @PlasticPollutes