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| be Waste Wise | September 30, 2023

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Can one person really make a difference to plastic pollution?

Can one person really make a difference to plastic pollution?

When people see you do it, it becomes part of the norm. So, take your own bag to the store and bring your own bottles. - Beth Terry


Full-length article and recording

Managing Plastic Waste and Mitigating the Garbage Patches

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Thanks to the Earth Engineering Center for making this knowledge sharing possible


Presented by:

Daniella Russo, Plastic Pollution Coalition;

Katrina Mitchell, be Waste Wise


Beth Terry (Author, Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too);

Dr. Bill Francis (President, Algalita Marine Research Institute);

Dr. Nicholas Mallos (Marine Debris Specialist, Ocean Conservancy)


Do you think that one person can really make a difference in the world of plastic pollution?

Beth Terry (Plastic Free book): Well, I am trying but I’m not just one person. My personal actions have an impact on other people and my actions are magnified by the examples I set for other people. So, it’s important for me because I feel I am doing the right thing to reduce the amount of plastic that I’m using. But it’s even more important for me to speak out and to explain this to my family and friends, without nagging them. That is the reason that I have a website and a blog to connect with other organizations and people.

The problem is bigger than one person. But I think that most us of can start with ourselves and it’s really important for each of us to look at our own personal plastic equipment and ask ourselves, “What am I doing to contribute to this problem and how can I stop that and start being part of the solution?”


Dr. Bill Francis (Algalita): I’d like to jump on that just a little bit. I had a chance to give a talk a couple of years back and one of the people in the audience, who were actually not present during the live broadcast, but they were in a position of power. To make a long story short, they were able to convert a large industrial campus with over 4,000 employees from plastic water bottles to hydration stations. Now I have no idea, I didn’t hear about that for about a year after that occurrence. But one person in this case (I just happened to hear the talk) can impact an awful lot of people in a very positive way, if you are giving good information so that people can make good decisions.


Beth Terry (Plastic Free book): It doesn’t have to be giving a talk. Not everybody is capable or wants to stand up and speak in front of strangers. But, taking your own bag with you to the store, taking your own containers to bulk bins and bringing your own bottle- if other people see you perform those actions, it becomes part of the norm. I want to mention a really cool new app called “Trax action”! You can find it on facebook (it is only on facebook so far). And it is where people can get rewarded for bringing a bag or bottle or straw (reusable straw) when they go out. I think it is really cool because it is even getting people who do not necessarily consider themselves to be environmentalists to get involved. Really, it is just about peer pressure. So, that is another way that our individual actions can make a greater difference.


Dr. Nicholas Mallos (Ocean Conservancy): I just like to add one point. I think our individual actions which might be inspiring others around us, are absolutely imperative. Both Dr. Bill and Beth touched on to it. Beyond this, our individual actions when taken collectively give real benefits. We should not forget that we as consumers, each of our decisions that we make in the market place send very real messages to retailers and the larger industry. We may take a conscious decision not to buy something, because of the waste package or because of the excess materials used. That is a direct economic signal we send. So it is not just about the feel-good or inspiring messages we’re sending to others, (which are absolutely critical) but we can also send a very real economic message through our decisions in the market place.


Beth Terry (Plastic Free book): Yes, I want to say that regarding the market place we are not only sending messages to companies that might be producing things that are less environmentally friendly, but we are also supporting the companies that are trying to make a positive change. And a lot of those companies are small businesses, not giant corporations. So, the more we can support them with our dollars, the more we can support innovation and people who think in a different way.



Book: Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (buying options)

Websites: Plastic Pollution Coalition;

My Plastic Free Life;

Algalita Marine Research Institute;

Ocean Conservancy


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