(Photo Credit Bryan Liscinsky)

 

The phrase, “we’re all in the same boat” has new meaning for me after taking part in the inaugural Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit. As a first-of-its-kind expedition, SoulBuffalo compiled more than 150 leaders from the largest chemical companies, plastic producers, and environmental groups from around the globe. The group met out at sea for four days on a 400 foot ship in one of the highest concentrations of ocean plastic.

 

As Outside Magazine reported, “Recycling is broken. The oceans are trashed. As the plastics crisis spirals out of control, an unlikely collection of executives and environmentalists set sail for the North Atlantic Gyre in a desperate attempt to find common ground.Outside Magazine

 

(Photo Credit Bryan Liscinsky)

 

The purpose of the expedition was to explore new avenues that would eliminate the 14 million tons of plastic that makes its way to the ocean every year. One of the primary focuses was the reduction or elimination of the biggest culprit, single-use plastic. Leading product companies, including Dow Chemical, Coca Cola, Nestle Waters, G.E., Clorox, Mary Kay, and Hasbro, were all on board with several, often anti-corporate environmental groups including Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Upstream, and the 5 Gyres Institute. Everyone had one goal in common: to bring about positive change, no matter how challenging. Publications including National Geographic and Outside Magazine documented the summit and created transparency and accountability. I was fortunate enough to be part of the facilitation team comprised of HATCH alumni to work through the occasionally uncomfortable conversation, brainstorm solutions for this global issue, and get commitments for actionable items from industry leaders. 

 

(Photo Credit Bryan Liscinsky)

 

Floating in the Bermuda Triangle was far from the normal boardroom meeting, especially considering that part of the expedition involved putting on wetsuits and snorkels, piling into zodiacs, and swimming with trash in the Sargasso Sea. There we learned that there are higher concentrations of trash in the convergences of the ocean currents, called gyres. To my surprise, the problem is not an isolated floating island of trash, but rather billions of small pieces of plastic that are mixed into the whole. Yes, we did find things like toilet seats, shoes, and toothbrushes, but the small parts that cannot be removed are the true problem. Sadly, plastic has become the new sand, which releases toxins in the water and can often be found in the wildlife. On the expedition, we drug trawling nets behind the zodiac rafts, collecting specimens and examining them on the ship in the mobile lab. We counted the plastic pieces in the fishes’ stomachs and gathered plastic readings for the gyre research. We broke into our lab groups comprised of people with various points-of-view, from production to environmental. These conversations could have easily escalated without any positive outcome, but with the common goal in mind, we pinpointed tangible actions to implement. Although there is not a single switch to flip that fixes the problem, the sum of many single actions makes an enormous difference. It was no accident that the manifest was comprised of people in the position to affect change in their companies.

 

The goal, as highlighted in a Forbes interview, was "to more tightly integrate the areas of leadership, sustainability and innovation.” FORBES That is exactly what happened. Companies made measurable commitments, such as using 50% recycled plastic by 2030 to eliminate plastic waste in packaging. 

 (photo credit Tom Gruber) 

 

(Photo Credit Yarrow Kraner)

 

As a toy and game inventor, wondering how to affect change from the inside, I asked, “what if we, as inventors, make one of our licensing terms, ‘no single-use plastic in the packaging.' Would companies consider it?” Hasbro, which had representatives on the boat, unofficially responded that they were exploring how to be more environmentally responsible and that they wanted to continue the conversation. I was more than happy to see this playful trendsetter make this announcement only a few months later, 

 

“Beginning in 2020, Hasbro will begin phasing out plastic from new toy and game packaging across its portfolio of iconic brands like NERF, MY LITTLE PONY, MONOPOLY, MAGIC: THE GATHERING and POWER RANGERS.”  Hasbro