5 Gyres: #beadfree

5 Gyres: #beadfree

About the Project

5 Gyres Microbeads Action Campaign, #beadfree, is the final phase of a 3 year, collaborative journey to eliminate plastic microbeads from consumer products through policy, design change, and community engagement.  The Campaign began with a scientific discovery in the Great Lakes. After surveying all 5 of the world’s subtropical gyres and finding microplastics consistently across our seas, they ventured into the Great Lakes, in collaboration with Dr. Sam Mason from SUNY Fredonia. Sampling the surface waters of Lake Erie, they found high levels of microplastics that were traced back to personal care products. As most of the microplastics found at sea are impossible to source, this provided a rare, scientific “smoking gun” to support a 2-year legislative campaign that recently culminated in a national bill banning microbeads from US commerce by 2018. Public awareness however remains low, and trillions of microbeads continue contaminating our waters daily.

To engage the community in action, prevent further microplastic contamination, and develop a network of stronger leaders for future efforts, 5 Gyres developed a public facing awareness campaign currently in its final phase. They are working hard to build a community of leaders, people inspired and supported to step up, take action, and engage beyond a simple click or a like. The campaign centers around a digital action kit containing tools/resources; a series of community- building webinars; an art piece with action and data capture iPad for display at major “millennial” festivals; and video assets. Participants who sign up for the campaign are invited to download the action kit, including graphics, communications sharing tools, and a clear call to action. Several of the components are now available in Spanish, and will soon be available in Chinese and German.  While they are finalizing this campaign, they are simultaneously looking toward the next plastic design change initiative – and hope that community members are ready to keep pushing for a planet free of plastic pollution!

About the Grantee

Anna Cummins received her undergraduate degree in History from Stanford University, and her Masters in International Environmental Policy from the Middlebury Institute for International Studies.  Anna spent much of her early youth playing in Santa Monica storm drains and exploring beaches, experiences that sparked her interest in the land-sea connection. Anna has spent the last 20 years working in the environmental field, in marine conservation, coastal watershed management, bilingual outreach, and sustainability education.

In 2008, Anna completed a month long, 4,000-mile research expedition studying plastic debris in the North Pacific Gyre. The journey inspired her and her husband Dr. Marcus Eriksen to co-found 5 Gyres in 2009, with a goal of communicating marine plastic pollution on a global level, and engaging communities in solutions. In 2014, 5 Gyres published the first scientific estimate on plastic in the world’s oceans, based on data collection from 14 expeditions, as well as additional data from 6 other scientists around the world. These scientific findings provide the backbone for their land-based advocacy campaigns, and underscore the importance of upstream solutions.

The 5 Gyres Institute (5 Gyres) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, California, with a global network of supporters, dedicated to a planet free of plastic pollution. 5 Gyres mission is to empower people to become leaders in combating the global health crisis of plastic pollution. In 2011, 5 Gyres completed the first global survey of plastic pollution through a series of oceanic research expeditions, finding evidence of plastic across all five subtropical gyres - oceanic current systems where plastic waste accumulates. In 2012 and 2013, 5 Gyres’ research in the Great Lakes found tiny particles of plastic, known as microbeads that were traced back to personal care products including facial scrubs, exfoliating body washes and toothpastes. Too small to be filtered out by wastewater treatment plants, these microplastic particles wash down our drains and directly into our waters. Once in the environment microplastics are impossible to clean up, and absorb toxic chemicals such as DDT and other pesticides, which pass onto the tissues of organisms that eat plastic, including fish. These chemicals work their way up the food chain, becoming increasingly concentrated, and ultimately winding up on our dinner plate.
In 2014, 5 Gyres published the culmination of five years of data, engaging six other scientists from around the world in publishing the first global estimate of all plastics in all oceans. These findings changed the way we describe the ocean plastic problem: 270,000 metric tons of plastic made up of 5.25 trillion particles, 92% of which were microplastics. Rather than a garbage patch or plastic soup, we’ve turned our oceans into plastic smog, which reflects three things: 1) global distribution, 2) high toxicity, 3) micro and nanoparticle size. No at sea technology or device can be deployed to clean plastic smog, rather the solutions must focus on source reduction, through smarter product design, producer responsibility, waste management infrastructure, and policies that support these.
In 2015, 5 Gyres celebrated the success of a two-year campaign to stop the flow of toxic plastic microbeads into our waters when California passed the strongest microbeads ban in the country. A few months later President Obama signed the national Microbead-Free Waters Act. This victory was the result of a multi-pronged action campaign, to promote statewide, and then national policy, to change the design formulation of cosmetics, and stop a toxic pollutant at the source. 5 Gyres’ work to eliminate plastic microbeads from personal care products underscores our belief in the importance of design change and policy to address plastic pollution, and illustrates a new framework they are developing to better determine how, when, and what products must be targeted to prevent further plastic pollution contamination.

Project Updates and Milestones

Please check back for updates on this project!

Photo Credit / Captions:

-Anna Cummins

-5 Gyres Microplastics on Beach

-Plastic bitten by fish in the North Atlantic Ocean during the 5 Gyres SEAChange Expedition