As the waste and recycling industry continues efforts to innovate in order to deal with new realities, National Geographic is embarking on a scientific endeavor to understand the flow of plastic from its source to the world’s oceans. The two co-leaders of the National Geographic Society’s “Source to Sea” plastic initiative are Jenna Jambeck and Heather Koldewey. The two will lead an international, interdisciplinary team to document, understand, and determine unknowns on how plastic waste winds up in the ocean. Their discoveries could be instrumental and impactful in our efforts to manage and recycle waste.
When asked what inspired her to work in the field, Jambeck says, “I have been continuously inspired by the human component of the solid waste (trash, rubbish) management field. From the people that work every day to collect our waste from the curb, sort it, and dispose of it at facilities, to the millions of pickers working in often horrific conditions around the world, to the fact that you and I make choices every single day that impact our wastestream.”
Koldewey says, “This project is important as it is addressing a major gap in scientific knowledge to address a globally significant conservation issue, which appeals to my quest for science-based solutions. It’s novel because it’s interdisciplinary, with environmental engineers working alongside ecologists, social scientists, tech experts, educators, and communicators, who bring new approaches, insights, and perspectives.”
National Geographic outlines the “Source to Sea” project on its website as:
A GLOBAL CHALLENGE
Approximately nine million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year—the equivalent of five plastic grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash on every foot of coastline around the world. Plastic pollution in the ocean has dire implications for all marine life as well as humans, indeed our entire planet. National Geographic Society is working to tackle this issue in the following ways.
Through our grants program, the National Geographic Society is investigating how plastic moves through watersheds and supporting solutions to keep plastics from ever reaching the ocean. We are also leading a river expedition to understand the types and pathways of plastic in a river system to provide science-based information that will engage citizens and help policymakers, businesses, and NGOs implement solutions to this growing crisis.
In partnership with Sky, we are supporting and highlighting solutions that dramatically reduce the destructive flow of plastic waste in our ocean. Through a series of innovation challenges, this partnership aims to champion projects and technologies that reduce the input and impacts of plastic waste. We will also support events with government and policy leaders as well as foundations, inspiring them to help solve the marine plastic pollution problem.
Today’s students are tomorrow’s decision makers. National Geographic Education offers resources for teachers to enrich students’ understanding of our global interconnectedness and how individual actions impact the planet. Materials are designed to empower students to make a difference and collaborate with others to solve problems.
My hope is that the project can make some revelations that lead to future technologies and practices.