Werewolves and Silver Bullets

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Plastic Pollution
Mark Wystrach

Prepare for the 10-year-old in you to be absolutely stunned


From “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse” jingles to Captain Planet and the Planeteers, most of us were indoctrinated with the importance of recycling in grade school. If “showing you care” was a category on Family Feud, the number one answer would be “having a separate bin for recycling.”

Ironically enough, the concept of recycling has perpetrated the misuse of plastic as much, if not more than, it has mitigated its impact. Spokespeople for the plastic industry commonly speak about recycling as the comprehensive solution to the plastic pollution problem. Fortunately for the plastic industry (and very unfortunately for planet earth), their loud, consistent voice on the issue has defined consumer perception more so than the truth. Their creativity, coupled with our collective ignorance, has transformed the recycling triangle from a symbol of responsibility to an enabler of dangerous complacency.

Approximately 30 million tons of plastic waste are generated in the U.S. every year, representing 12.3 percent of total municipal solid waste - that of which only 8% was recycled.

Interestingly, the recycling triangle leaves out a few “little nuances” of the issue like not all plastics are recyclable and the recycling process can be incredibly energy intensive and wasteful. If it’s hard to conceptually grasp how all of these things are a major cause of concern, the sheer volume of the problem should bring some sobering clarity. Approximately 30 million tons of plastic waste are generated in the U.S. every year, representing 12.3 percent of total municipal solid waste - that of which only 8% was recycled.

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Even if we are recycling, it’s often not having the ideal impact we are led to believe. For example, shoppers worldwide use 500 billion plastic bags a year. It can take anywhere between 20-1000 years for a plastic bag to break up organically (here’s to hoping it’s closer to 20). Even if we recycled every plastic bag, it costs $4,000/ton to recycle and is sold on the commodities market for only $32. No MBA needed to see that, as a business, recycling plastic bags is utter lunacy. If that weren’t enough, the impact plastic pollution has on marine life is equally frightening.

There are believed to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean (~6.4 trillion pieces in total) causing the death of 100,000 marine animals and over 1 million seabirds per year. The urgency of this issue is real, the scope of the challenge is huge and complex, and there are forces hard at work seeking to sustain the status quo. We can do better and there are fantastic examples of how to do it.

Ireland introduced a 15 cent plastic bag tax and reduced their usage by 90% in one year. It is now 22 cents. More people are carrying water bottles everywhere they go. In addition, leaders have emerged that have infused the passion and creativity necessary to make and sustain real impact.

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Enter Mark Wystrach of the People’s Movement. In 2002 Mark suffered a heart-attack from a bacterial infection while surfing in dirty water in Bali. From that day on, he has dedicated his life to eliminating the use of single use plastics and while simultaneously upcycling existing plastics into useable products through his company, The People’s Movement. The People’s Movement creates stylish, eco-conscious footwear from organic, eco-conscious materials and upcycled plastic bags cleaned from Bali and California with hopes of creating a greater movement of conversation about how we manufacture things and how we consume them, like shifting the paradigm from “Recycle, Reduce, Reuse” to “Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.” A portion of sales is contributed to 5 Gyres, a nonprofit that enables systematic reduction of plastics through oceanic research, collaboration and action.

To learn more about The People’s Movement visit: www.thepeoplesmovement.com


What keeps you up at night?

Knowing that mankind is on a dangerous collision course with the consequences of our convenience.

What caused you to start? What was your aha! moment and what were the circumstances surrounding it?

It really started with my first trip to Bali where I saw what was
until very recently a tropical paradise that had been severely altered in a very short period of time. Along with unsustainable development, the introduction of motorized vehicles, I saw that the greatest offender was single use plastics. This was the one element in the equation to me that seemed ridiculous as it was an unnecessary piece of the equation. What I mean by this is that the societal harm being caused by this aggressor comes nowhere close to the societal benefit it provides and there are other options available now. I saw that what is happening in Bali is really a microcosm for what is happening globally. I realized that Single Use Plastics was arguably the largest, but most fixable threat to the natural world.

In 50 years, I hope the world....

Comes to grips with the fact that man cannot operate sustainably outside of the basic laws of nature and science and will have achieved a new industrial revolution based upon the Cradle to Cradle concept. I hope that man will have contained our population growth and reassimilated itself with nature instead of trying to isolate itself from it.

When you’re completely overwhelmed, what do you do to reorient, recharge or reinspire yourself?

I like to get out into nature and utilize the greatest gift I have. My physical body and the good health I am blessed to have. I like to surf, run, hike and take my motorcycle up into the canyons and get going fast. When I'm home, I play music and sing. This is my therapy.

The urgency of this issue is real, the scope of the challenge is huge and complex, and there are forces hard at work seeking to sustain the status quo.

At least two thirds of the world’s fish stocks are suffering from plastic ingestion.

92 percent of the plastic generated in 2011 was not recycled.

12 million barrels of oil are required to make a year’s worth of plastic bags in the US.

32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2011, representing 12.7 percent of total MSW.

Take Action

The solution to plastic pollution begins with you. Everyday we make decisions; decisions that have the potential to reshape how we think about our role on this planet and how we continue the fight against Single Use Plastics.

In partnership with the 5 Gyres, we present the Plastic Promise:

I Will
  • Bring my own water bottle, mug, utensils and reusable bag.
  • Say ‘No Plastic Straw Please” when I dine out.
  • Buy what’s in the least amount of plastic packaging.
  • Pick up 5 pieces of plastic pollution I see littered whenever I’m out.
  • Engage family, businesses and co-workers to make this promise too.

Thank You for Taking the Pledge

We can stop the downward spiral of Merica through the reduction of single use plastics. Please take a moment to share with your friends and together we take over the world!

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