Breaking Free from Plastic Pollution

Greenpeace and 5Gyres team up to fight plastic pollution

by Lauren Reid

October 27, 2017

With a truckload’s worth of trash entering our ocean every minute of every day, it’s not hard to recognize that plastic pollution continues to pose a serious threat to our wildlife, our health and our environment on a whole.

Plastic Bottle in the North Sea

It is nearly impossible to exist today without confronting plastic in almost all aspects of our lives. While so many of us are indeed mindful of our consumption, even with the best of intentions it can be an exceptional challenge to break free from plastic’s grip on a regular basis. With a truckload’s worth of trash entering our ocean every day, it’s not hard to recognize that plastic pollution continues to pose a serious threat to our wildlife, our health and our environment on a whole.

As two citizen scientists with years spent working on ocean-related issues (Lauren Reid and Arlo Hemphill as the two volunteer researchers for this project), we both jumped at the chance to join Greenpeace on a transit through a remote path of the North Atlantic, in an attempt to gain insight around one key question: Could we find plastic in an isolated section of the ocean, hundreds of nautical miles from the nearest port? It was evident that debris would naturally be found around populated areas, but what would we find in the regions where marine life was vast and abundant, yet human life was non-existent?

In collaboration with 5Gyres, an organization focused on eradicating plastic pollution in and around our oceans, we deployed an aluminum trawl multiple times on our journey from The Netherlands to a pier in Brooklyn, New York.

Over the course of three weeks, this little trawl skimmed the surface of the ocean and took in unseen debris to the net attached behind it. While we didn’t know what we were expecting to find each time we heaved it back onto the boat, the results from our samples were nonetheless astonishing to us all. Despite drifting through one of the most remote regions on earth, we found numerous particles of plastic in each and every sample we collected– from Styrofoam to pellets, fibers to microbeads. 

No matter the distance from human activity, plastic has officially invaded almost every part of our environment. Without significant and urgent change on this issue, we face handing the next generation a garbage dump instead of an ocean, unfit for all marine life. 

While it may seem like an insurmountable problem often lacking serious answers, there are a few things to remember as concerned citizens, activists, parents, or anyone just beginning to grapple with the threat plastic poses on our global ecosystem. No movement or sea change, so to speak, ever began with a million people already at the starting line. The fight for innovative solutions, the utilization of reusable and biodegradable materials — this was initiated and grew from a small group who witnessed its damage, continually setting the example for their communities to see. Like that old saying goes — “a succession of small duties, always faithfully done, demands no less than do heroic actions” — for those who keep committing to using (and re-using!) sustainable goods, this is key to not only shifting us out of a plastic world, but in the debate that currently surrounds it.

Our ability as a society to keep working on solutions is helping to bring great awareness around this profoundly dangerous situation, as well as the real potential for legitimate change. In truth, recognizing who the big producers of plastic waste are, and stopping it at the source, will be one of the most effective ways of preventing more litter from choking our oceans, and wreaking havoc on our environment. Greenpeace is committed to amplifying your voice in calling for a total ban on single-use plastic material — and from what we’ve seen in the Atlantic, we couldn’t agree more. We must insist that companies not only recognize the role they play in creating this problem, but also require their immediate action to fix it, for the sake of our five incredible oceans.

Lauren Reid and Arlo Hemphill

(Interested to know more about the 5Gyres trawl share program, and/or in getting involved? Check it out here:


Lauren Reid

By Lauren Reid

Lauren Reid is the International Communications Lead with the Clean Air Now Campaign. She first volunteered with Greenpeace on the Rainbow Warrior in 2015, for a campaign against overfishing and human rights abuses observed at sea. Lauren is based in New Orleans, LA and you can peep her on Twitter @Lo_Pickles.

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