Q & A with 5 Gyres Co-Founder and Mother, Anna Cummins

More Oceans Less Plastic 5 Gyres

As you may have read, we strive to make every day Earth Day. So, throughout April, we’ve been sharing about how Bumbleride families eco in regards to these categories: Gear, Feed, Nursery and Play. By using some of these types of products you can take small steps to reduce your family’s footprint. To further show our commitment to How We Eco, we are donating 1% of April sales to 5 Gyres. The 5 Gyres Institute’s mission is to empower action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, art, education, and adventure. We love that their vision is a planet free of plastic pollution!

 

We talked to Anna Cummins, Co-Founder and Global Strategy Director of the 5 Gyres Institute about founding 5 Gyres, plastic pollution, her recommendations for new parents and more. We thought you’d love what she has to say:

 

Tell us about yourself and why you founded 5 Gyres with your husband Marcus?

Most children are instantly drawn to the outdoors – true in my case. My first love was the creek near my parent’s home in Rustic Canyon, Santa Monica, where I spent long hours catching tadpoles, climbing up sewer holes, and starting to notice water quality issues without having a name for it yet.

Years later, during my graduate school years at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, I first learned about plastic in the North Pacific Gyre, and vowed to get more involved. I then met Marcus Eriksen through his work with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, and joined Algalita’s 2008 expedition across the Gyre. This trip sealed the deal for my involvement in plastic pollution  – we saw a significant increase in plastic pollution, and also saw alarming levels of plastic in the stomachs of fish. Halfway into the journey, Marcus proposed with a ring made from derelict fishing gear. I was hooked – literally – and we decided we needed to expand the research and awareness on plastic pollution beyond the North Pacific.

This was the impetus for founding 5 Gyres in 2009, to research plastic in the world’s oceans, and leverage our scientific findings to drive change on land. Thanks to a committed team, and a growing community of ambassadors around the world, we are finding new ways to get our message out!

 

You place a big effort in educating youth about plastic pollution.  Give us some insight on how we can teach our children about the impact of single use plastics.

There are so many ways to engage children about single use plastics – through artwork, stories, films, beach cleanups – but whenever possible, I’d start by bringing children to the nearest waterbody to play. Young people have an innate sense of fascination with the natural world, and when nurtured, this can more easily blossom into a desire to be good stewards. Once this value is supported,  it makes much more sense to talk about what we can do to protect natural resources.

 

Children are also magnetically drawn to animals, so sharing with them positive examples of how they can protect turtles, dolphins, and whales is also a great way to inspire more awareness around single use plastics. Finally, I believe its important to share with them that their voice and actions truly matters – even seemingly small actions can have a ripple effect that in some cases can change policy, and even shift corporate responsibility!

 

How does plastic pollution affect your health?

While it’s difficult to show a direct cause and effect, there is a growing body of research linking chemicals from plastic to a host of health problems – from cancers to early onset puberty to obesity. Plastic products are often made with synthetic additives – “plasticizers” – that can be highly toxic, and have been shown to migrate out of products, and into our food, water, etc. Additionally, plastic particles in the ocean can absorb toxic chemicals such as PCBs and DDT at high concentrations, transferring these chemicals into the tissues of animals through ingestion, and becoming more concentrated as they travel up the food chain.

 

On a personal note, I had my “body burden” analyzed before becoming pregnant – we found trace levels of PCBs, DDT, PFCs and PBDEs in my blood serum – chemicals that I may have passed onto my little daughter through childbirth and breastfeeding. While we don’t know if these chemicals in my body came from plastic, we do know that plastic is one way that certain chemicals can be transported from the environment into our food chain. Much research still remains to show how plastic affects our health. The safest bet to protect your family’s health is to use safer materials like glass, stainless steel, and other “bio-benign” materials that wont expose us to unnecessary risk!

 

How can families decrease their dependence on plastic and foam?

The good news here is that it’s very easy to reduce your “plastic footprint” and go #plasticfree! I find that taking on one big change at a time makes it less daunting, starting with the obvious ones – refusing plastic bags, bottles, and straws. Our Plastic-Free Shopping guide  has great resources and suggestions here to get you going, and I’m a big fan of searching your local Goodwill first! Could your family commit to a week without a plastic bag, a plastic straw, or a plastic bottle? Once you adopt a few simple changes, getting more deeply involved becomes easier!

 

Why is the act of ‘recycling’ not enough?  

While recycling may make us feel like we’re off the hook, unfortunately the truth is much more complicated. Firstly, most of the plastics we “recycle” here in the US are actually being exported overseas to countries where it is cheaper to convert waste into lower grade products, or worse – incinerate or landfill it. Globally, we “recover” a paltry 14% of our plastic packaging, and according to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, only 2% of this is truly recycled in a closed loop fashion. In addition to being a waste of our precious resources, it’s also a tremendous waste of money. We lose an estimated $80-140 billion in plastic packaging that isn’t recovered. The market for recycled plastic products can’t compete with the artificially low cost of oil. And since most plastics are made from fossil fuel feedstocks, herein lies the problem!

Much has been written on this topic – our website has a bit more on the Truth About Recycling here  In short: we teach young children to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. The best thing we can do is reduce our dependence on single use plastics by switching to products that are reusable, or truly recyclable!

 

Please feel free to include any other tips or recommendations for new parents below. 

I remember as a new mom, I agonized over the diaper dilemma, as well as how to raise a “plastic-free baby”. I was thrilled to learn about “Elimination Communication” which took some up front work, but allowed me to get my little one out of diapers a good year and a half earlier than I thought possible! And on other things like baby bottles, toys, etc, I found many safer alternatives – glass, metal, and organic products.

But I think what helped me the most was to try be gentle with myself. Raising a child is hard, albeit joyful work! Finding a network of other new parents who are supportive, and can help us navigate through the morass of information available online was a godsend for me. If anyone wants to chat more about their plastic free baby dilemmas or ideas, we are happy to help!

With more than 20 years experience in environmental non-profit work—including marine conservation, coastal watershed management, community relations, and bilingual and sustainability education—Anna Cummins is an expert in the field. Her “Synthetic Sea, Synthetic Me” TEDx talk has been viewed and shared by thousands. Anna received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University, and a MA in Environmental Policy from the Middlebury Institute for International Studies.

 

microbeads and nurdles

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