Each year, an estimated 8 tons of plastic waste enters the world's oceans, according to the UN's Environmental Programme. By 2050, it is estimated the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish. That's why this year, on World Environment Day, held on June 5 annually, the UN is urging everyone to eliminate single-use plastics from their lives.
India, the nation hosting this year's World Environment Day, plans to outlaw single-use plastics entirely by 2022, according to an announcement made Tuesday morning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is a big step in the right direction for the UN's initiative because the country is home to 1.3 billion people and has the fastest growing economy in the world. India joins others who have already adopted these types of bans, like Kenya and Great Britain.
UN Goodwill Ambassador, actor, producer and activist Adrian Grenier has been using the hashtags #StopSucking and #StrawlessSkies in his social media campaign to get his followers and others to quit using plastic straws.
"It's really incumbent on the ambassador to make of this role what they will, and I see it as a great opportunity to expand my message," Grenier said. "I'm trying to make a big dent in the plastic problems in our oceans."
There has been an uptick in policy aimed at reducing the use of plastic straws, lately. Lonely Whale, an incubator co-founded by Grenier aimed at creating market-based change on behalf of the ocean, partnered with Alaska Airlines to remove straws from their flights, and there is more legislation of this nature on the horizon worldwide.
Aidan Gallagher, designated as the youngest UN Goodwill Ambassador ever at just 14 years old, urges his 742,000 Instagram followers to quit using single-use plastics at all. The "Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn" actor thinks educating his young fans and encouraging them to take action for the environment is important because of the influence they can have in the digital age.
"What I try to do on my Instagram is provoke discussion and share environmental and sustainability messages," Gallagher said. "Because of social media today, the youth have more power in their hands than they've ever had."
Grenier said he admires the work that Gallagher is doing to better the oceans and the environment as a whole at such a young age.
"In a capitalist culture, when you have the young guys come in and start to encroach on your space you get nervous," he said. "But in conservation, there is no competition, we're doing it all together and it makes you feel excited to see such a young man able to articulate his passion and share it and inspire other young people to feel like they have agency as well."
Gallagher and Grenier were chosen as Goodwill Ambassadors because of the work they were already doing as conservationists to protect marine life, reduce the amount of plastic in the earth's oceans, and stymie the effects of climate change. The two have worked together recently as a part of Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, a weekend designed to help kids from 11 to 18 gain the knowledge and skills to create a campaign to reduce plastic pollution. Those campaigns will then be presented to world leaders at the G7 Summit this summer.
They each also stress an individual capability and responsibility to make changes that benefit the environment. Both avoid single-use plastics, and Gallagher now follows a vegan diet. It started with his family's commitment to meatless Mondays and evolved as a sort of challenge to see who could last the longest as a vegan. Then he just decided to stick with it, he said.
"I found out that the animal agriculture business has a huge impact on our climate, so by cutting down on your meat and dairy consumption, you can have a huge impact and help the environment," he said. "One hamburger uses a ton of energy as well as a lot of water to create, so by eliminating that from your diet you're affecting a lot of change."
Grenier agreed that, though plastic in our oceans is a huge environmental concern, it is far from the only one. He said that he feels there are a lot of issues to be dealt with that are all intertwined.
To try to separate one issue out from the others is to uncover another issue," he said. "You just have to start somewhere. I would never try to diminish all the other issues that need to be addressed, this is just one place to start."
He also said that all of these issues are intersectional, spanning topics like race, inequality, poverty and the environment.
"Everything is intertwined and connected and nature has been trying to tell us that for a long time," Grenier said. "It's when we start thinking that things are disposable and people are disposable that we create a host of problems. And that's been the true root of all environmental woes: our country's belief that we can somehow have dominion over nature, exploit it with impunity and get away with it."
On World Environment Day, Grenier and Gallagher want people to take advantage of the community and collaboration that comes with environmentalism. Gallagher said he wants people to use the day as a reminder to make positive change.
"You should cut down on your plastic consumption. Go get a reusable water bottle. When you go out to eat, bring a fork from home instead of using a plastic single-use utensil and ask them to hold the straw or use a reusable one. And affect change by sharing this message on your social media," he said.