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Shelby Stranger: Happy Earth Day. To celebrate we decided to drop a bonus episode. This year, the theme of the day is protect our species. You know what species I love? Whales. To me they're gentle giants. They remind me of how small I am and how massive the ocean is. They're also so graceful on the water. Who doesn't love to try to make a whale call every now and again. [imitating sound] [laughs] I'm still working on that one.
This Earth Day I went to Laguna Beach to talk to a handful of experts about how the ocean and the whales are feeling the pain of plastics. I also called up a few professional athletes and activists doing good around the globe, from surfer Rob Machado, to the Girl Scout Shelby O'Neil who got Alaska Airlines to give up plastic straws, to my friends Alison Teal and Becky Mendoza to tell us what they're doing.
I'm Shelby Stanger and this is Wild Ideas Worth Living. I promise this episode won't be all doom and gloom. Yes, it's a heavy subject and I'll be sharing some daunting facts with you. A majority the show will focus on incredible people and organizations that are innovating and making personal changes to lessen the impact our daily habits have on the environment and in particular on the ocean.
Let's get the disheartening stuff out of the way. According to National Geographic's planet or plastic initiative, 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world's oceans from coastal regions. There's already five trillion pieces of plastic floating around in our oceans. Remember those whales I love? There's a horrifying trend these days where they're washing up on the shore with anywhere from 50 to 80 pounds of plastic in their stomachs.
Did you all know that plastic can last anywhere from 450 years to forever? Yes, that's right. Forever. Not breaking down, floating around our ocean, being eaten by whales and other marine animals. It makes me so sad. My friend Alison Teal who won Naked and Afraid, saw firsthand just how much trash and plastic there is floating in our ocean when she was filming in the Maldives. After filming she decided to use her platform as an adventure and activist and filmmaker to raise awareness, educate people and get our leaders to do something to help save our planet. Alison, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do? I know you've traveled all around the world.
Alison Teal: Yes. Reporting to you live from home sweet grass shack Hawaii. I educate through entertainment basically through my online series Alison's Adventures. I'm really on a quest to better our planet. Whether it's reducing plastic pollution in the ocean or sharing cultural significance for our future generations to understand. That's my aim here.
Shelby: What have you seen? You've traveled all over. I know when you did the TV show, you saw some crazy things in the Maldives.
Alison: It's amazing when you're surviving you learn how much you're dependent upon the earth. Every time I would weave a fishnet or carve a fishhook and throw it in the ocean all I would catch was plastic, and I just couldn't believe it. It had labels from all over the world and it made me realize that: A, plastic pollution is a huge issue and: B, it's not one person's fault. It's a global problem. 50% to 85% of our oxygen comes from the ocean. One third of our world's food source. The ocean controls our global temperatures and weather.
It's important body of water and plastic is basically killing our world oceans. I made a pact to come back to the Maldives and was able to get I think the first if not only footage of trash island. It was pretty horrifying. It's like an apocalyptic sea of plastic. It was like really being in that like Wally crazy SciFi Disney movie, with just mountains and mountains of plastic as far as the eye could see. I wanted to make a change so I made a film about it, and then set off for about maybe 10 years around the world having board meetings basically in plastic waste to show what's really happening.
Shelby: Why does all that plastic end up on that particular island?
Alison: Well, there's a few places in the world. Specifically there's things called Gyres, which plastic gathers in these certain areas because of ocean currents. You could be sailing or you could be on a certain beach, for example, in Tulum, there's a beach where plastic comes from all over the world and comes to pollute paradise there. Even in Hawaii. I mean there's studies now showing that-- I think it's 93% of humans age six and older have BPA in their system, which is the toxin found in plastic, and then that's also causing cancer. It's a many-fold thing, whether it's killing the oceans or us or animals, and we really need to find solution and to be the solution ourselves, every day.
Shelby: Well, Alison, you've done an amazing job bringing awareness about it, but also taking action that's caused others to take action. What can people do? What can I do about it?
Alison: What I have been doing is creating content to make change. My voice, I use through social media and content, and have been able to change multiple environmental laws, just by people like you sharing. That's one way is by sharing what I create, or anything you can find out there, like your podcast. This is a great share. People can share this and the more people can learn, because awareness causes change.
Then, I think, as an individual, what we need to do is stop using plastic in our life, as much as we can. Most importantly, is to work with local nonprofits and government officials to ban and make laws against plastic, because 91% of plastic worldwide isn't even recycled. That's why 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our world oceans every year. Recycling isn't the answer and it's really up to each individual to make change.
Shelby: Well, thank you for all your work. I appreciate you sharing what's out there so we can all go do something about it. Where's all this plastic coming from? Well, that's a great question. 448 million tons, tons of plastic was produced in 2015. 40% of that plastic is used only once. While recycling reduces the impact, it's not a global practice, it's not always easy. A lot of the plastic ends up as litter that finds its way back to our oceans anyway. Had enough of the daunting facts? Me too. The bottom line, it's a problem. It's impacting the ocean's health in a serious way. It's Earth Day, which means we need to focus and celebrate the steps people are taking to address the issue.
Shelby: I went up to Laguna Beach to hear from some folks who know this is a problem and want to do something about it. Let's start with surfer, Rob Machado. He created this foundation to start building good environmental habits with kids. Recognizing the overwhelming waste caused by single use water bottles, his foundation has installed over 30 water stations, providing over 600,000 gallons of clean water, and reducing the number of plastic water bottles people bring and toss on the beach.
Rob Machado: My name is Rob Machado. I am a Professional Surfer and Founder of the Rob Machado Foundation.
Shelby: You've done something pretty remarkable on your own. You've started a foundation to just do your part. Can you tell us a little bit about the foundation and what it does? The Rob Machado Foundation.
Rob: Yes, I can. I started it in 2004. I actually went to Cardiff School, to take my daughter to look at the school. I was walking around and I was like, "Huh, that's weird." It was lunchtime, and they had no recycling. Kids were just filling up these trash cans of everything. Nobody was sorting anything. I was like, "Huh, that's weird." Then, I happened to walk by one of the drinking fountains, that I totally remember drinking out of, and I'm like, "Oh." I'm like, "Do you guys still drink out of this?" They're like, "No way. That's disgusting."
Then I started looking and in every kid's backpack, they had a plastic water bottle. I was like, "This is crazy." Out of that one little visit, we started slow. We started with a recycling program, the lunchtime recycling program, which they were filling 850 gallon trash cans, full of just trash. We got that down to two, and then they're recycling everything else. Then, we moved in to a gardening program, which was really cool. We built these gardens, and started a gardening class where the kids would go out and plant and grow. I had parents coming up to me that were literally like, "Thank you so much for helping my child eat lettuce." You know?
Shelby: Yes.
Rob: She was like, "My kid never touched lettuce until he went to Cardiff School and grew his own lettuce." He brought it home in a little bag and was like, "Mom, I want to make a salad." She was baffled like, "You want to do what? Okay." Made a salad. He was so proud that he grew his own lettuce. That was a proud moment for me.
Shelby: That's exciting. Just so you know, the audience knows I actually went to Cardiff Elementary School as well. Rob's mom was one of my teachers in third grade, so we go back a little while.
Rob: I'm going back to the drinking fountain. That triggered an idea and it took a little while, but that's been our focus for the last couple of years was implementing refill stations in a lot of schools. Not only was it on an elementary school level, was high schools now are infiltrated with vending machines. Kids, they have an option to drink out of drinking fountains, which they don't do anymore.
Shelby: Yes, we drink out of them.
Rob: Right, a hose, I'll take anything. Now, they have to buy water out of vending machines. I was pretty baffled by that. We've been putting refill stations into high schools, and even all the way down junior highs and elementary schools. That's been really cool, is educating the kids to lose the single-use plastics, and don't be scared to roll around with your canteen or whatever it is. You have a spot. You have great water that you can refill.
Shelby: Now the Rob Machado Foundation does so much. It does more than just Cardiff School. What else can the average person like me and everybody listening, what else can we do to help combat plastic pollution? Because it's everywhere, single-use items are everywhere.
Rob: I know. I'm pretty positive. I like to think that I see a big shift happening. It's just coming from the people. The people just saying like, "No, thanks. I'm not going to use that product because of the way it's packaged." I can't remember the last time I drank water out of a single-use plastic water bottle. I just won't do it.
Shelby: Your advice is to just, vote with your wallet. Don't buy single-use plastic items. Bring a water bottle.
Rob: Yes. The word will spread. The word spreads and people listen. The consumer wants something else. They do. They're waiting for it. They're looking for it. As long as it doesn't break the wallet and it doesn't feel like they're getting ripped off, as long as it fits in to that world, then that's what's going to push the needle even farther.
Shelby: Rob is doing some incredible work, so is Becky Mendoza from the Changing Tides Foundation. Becky and the Changing Tides Foundation are made up of athletes like sailor, Liz Clark, and surfer, Leah Dawson. They started a Plastic Swear Jar challenge to encourage people in our community to be more mindful about the single-use products they're using. Instead of making people pay up when they drop an F-bomb, the Plastic Swear Jar Challenge gets people to pay up when they grab that single-use plastic they don't need to use, like a coffee cup or a salad container or whatever.
Becky Mendoza: My name is Becky Mendoza. I'm the Executive Director of Changing Tides Foundation.
Shelby: Tell us a little bit about what Changing Tides Foundation does.
Becky: Well, we have a lot of different initiatives, everything from disaster relief to female empowerment, but one of our main focuses is on environmental initiatives.
Shelby: You have this new challenge that launches today, it's Earth Day, called the Plastic Swear Jar Challenge. It just brings up so many funny images, just to think about it. Tell us what it is, why you started it.
Becky: The Plastic Swear Jar Challenge is basically a way for us to create accountability for our own single-use plastic waste and how much we create on a daily basis. The concept is, every time you swear, which is purchase or use an item of single-use plastic, you put a dollar in a jar.
Shelby: That's hard. I buy a lot of plastic without even thinking about it.
Becky: Yes, I think we all do and that's why the challenge is so great, because you're really putting focus on what you're consuming. Because of that, it really makes you more aware of the plastic that creeps into our lives on a day-to-day.
Shelby: What kind of plastic creeps into our lives that we don't even realize?
Becky: Well, there's the basic things like the plastic utensils, the cutlery, plastic bags, all that kind of stuff, and then there's doggy poop bags. If you have a dog, you can't really get around that. If you're a woman and you're--
Shelby: Monthly friend.
Becky: Yes, you have your monthly friend, you're using single-use plastics. If you're a mom, you have a kid, and you're changing diapers, single-use plastics. Really, there's so many ways that plastic does come into our lives, and the Plastic Swear Jar Challenge is just a way for us to pay attention.
Shelby: Instead of like if you drop an F-bomb, you got to put money to the jar, it's if you buy a single use piece of plastic. How long does this challenge go for, and where does the money go?
Becky: It starts today on Earth Day, April 22, and it will go for one week. At the end of the challenge, you can donate your swears to Changing Tides foundation, and we'll put that towards our environmental initiatives, or you can also choose to use that to buy reusables that are going to make you be better to the environment.
Shelby: I love that. Becky, thanks for your work in the world. Where can people find out about this?
Becky: You can register for the Plastic Swear Jar Challenge at, and please follow us on Instagram at Changing Tides Foundation, and if you're participating, #plasticswearjar, so we can see that you're a part of it. You'll get entered into a chance to win a lot of really cool prizes.
Shelby: It's so cool.
Becky: Yes, it's rad.
Shelby: Thanks for your work in the world. We'll definitely check it out. I'll be participating. Last year, I think I definitely put-- You do it for the month, I just kept doing it. I definitely put at least $20 that month in.
Becky: We do it for the week, and the week can get expensive. I think last year I had 23 swears, in total, but 12 of those came on the very last day of the challenge. My boyfriend and I got takeaway Thai food, and we had 12 swears in one go. It's crazy how it happens. Even when you're trying, you don't realize
Shelby: Yes. Well, thank you for this, Becky. We can't wait to see what people come up with and how they can contribute and cut down on their plastic use.
Becky: Thank you so much.
Shelby: The work goes beyond plastic. We've all been to a barbecue or a beach bonfire where someone brings a styrofoam cooler. It's cringe-worthy, but so is warm beer. You shrug it off and you enjoy the moment, trying not to think about where that disposable cooler will end up. Igloo recognized this issue, and they didn't want to shame the people who needed to go cooler for those last minute outdoor gatherings, where priority number one is a cold beverage.
We've all been there. This is why they launched the ReCool cooler. It's 100% biodegradable and made from molded pulp, meaning you can use it and then compost it, innovation for the win. It literally won Best in Show at the 2019 Spring Outdoor Retailer Show by Gear Junkie, the go-to site for Gear reviews.
Brian Garofalow: Hey, this is Brian Garofalow. I'm the Director of Marketing and e-commerce for Igloo Coolers.
Shelby: What prompted you guys to create this cooler? Which is so cool, by the way, and I love the name.
Brian: What prompted us to make it? The absolute need, this is something that's definitely been needed for years and years. Igloo, as the leaders in the cooler space, stepped up to the plate and said, "Look, we're going to address this issue," and we think we've done it with something we're really proud of.
Shelby: Tell me a little bit about it. Why is it so different than all the other coolers?
Brian: Well, if you can see it, you'll know, right out of the gate that it's a different color, but same size and shape, and it's made with completely different materials than your standard EPS foam cooler.
Shelby: It's cardboard brown.
Brian: It looks like a cardboard box. It's made from molded pulp, and it's made from 100% biodegradable materials, completely environmentally friendly.
Shelby: It's dirty because we tried it last night, and you poured water and tons of ice, and I thought it would just turn to mush. Did it all?
Brian: That's the stuff that blew my mind when I saw the first one as well. It can actually keep ice for 12 hours, you can keep water in there for five days before it's going to completely soak through, and it can hold 75 pounds in that cooler.
Shelby: How does this breakdown?
Brian: It's basically made with two ingredients. One is molded paper pulp, the other one is AKD. It's basically a paraffin wax. It will compose either in an industrial compost bin or actually at home backyard compost bin.
Shelby: That is so awesome. Where can people get it, and how much does it cost?
Brian: The first place in the world you'll be able to get this is REI.
Shelby: Yahoo. REI for the win.
Brian: Look, REI makes all the sense in the world. We have a great relationship with REI. They share, obviously, the same ethos around this product, "It's a need, not a want. Let's get it out there to the people that need it."
Shelby: For the first month, is it REI and then?
Brian: REI, exclusively. You'll be able to find it on our website, You'll be able to find it nationwide at Target stores. We're really excited. They stepped up for a product like this as well. This summer, you'll be able to find it everywhere around the country.
Shelby: It's a little bit more expensive than some traditional foam coolers, depending on where you get it. Why is it worth the money?
Brian: Again, I like to say it's because of the need. It's worth the money because our planet needs and deserves it. Your standard EPS foam cooler, we all know the issues that are there. We all know that they're really going to break down and end up in our waterways. We all know that they're going to decimate birds, fish, reefs. This cooler does not, and it actually goes back into the environment in a positive way, where you can compost and grow things with it.
Shelby: It's so great. Thank you for doing this. Thank you for innovating. I hope you inspire other companies to do the same.
Brian: Well, thank you so much for having us. We really appreciate it.
Shelby: It goes beyond these folks. Here are some more silver lining fun facts for you. Over 350 global cities, counties, and states have banned single-use plastic bags. Brands are catching on to the trend and are recycling water bottles to make apparel. I tip my hat to brands like Patagonia, Rothy's, Girlfriend Collective, Sensi Bikinis, Hurley, and all the others who are recycling plastic to make great clothes, boardshorts, bikinis, and shoes.
Who knew a water bottle could be turned into something so soft and comfortable. Even the big guys are getting on to it. Starbucks is committed to removing all plastic straws by 2020. Nike can't keep their plastic water bottle shoes on the shelf. A girl scout named Shelby O'Neil, who has an amazing name, convinced Alaska Airlines to give up plastic straws from all their flights.
Shelby O'Neil: Hi, my name is Shelby O'Neil. I am 18 years old, out of California. I created a nonprofit called, Jr. Ocean Guardians and a challenge called, No Straw November.
Shelby: That sounds awesome. Tell us a little bit about No Straw November and the Jr. Ocean Guardians.
O'Neil: I created Jr. Ocean Guardians out of the intent of educating the youth around me. Being an inland kid from California, you're pretty neglective when it comes to ocean education, so I really wanted to educate all those around me. When I was in the classroom, I realized that these kids who are younger than me had nothing challenging them to make it change with plastic pollution or climate change, so I decided to create a challenge called No Straw November. That blew up and I got to work with a lot of different people, but everything I do is mainly educational.
Shelby: How did you get Alaska Airlines to give up plastic straws? Was that through No Straw November?
O’Neil: Yes. During November, just basically whenever, I send out emails, so I become a little infamous for my emails that I send out to different corporations and leaders of change. I just simply ask them to reevaluate their supply chain in a sense, and I really try to find these small articles of plastic or just any other material that could be forgotten. I emailed Alaska and I was like, "Hey, I don't know if you know this, the straw is really bad for the ocean." I just educated them in a sense of why I was reaching out to them. Yes, they decided to join and that was really exciting.
Shelby: Do they contact you back and say, "Okay, we're on board."
O'Neil: Yes. Contact went on for a little while. Then an organization called Lonely Whale was doing their big Seattle campaign as well, and that's where Alaska is based out of, so we both partners together to work towards Alaska becoming greener.
Shelby: This is amazing. You did this as a 16-year-old girl scout, power to you. Congrats. You must love the outdoors and the ocean?
O'Neil: I do. Whenever I have a chance I'm always outside, everyone's like, "I can't get mud off my pants," and I'm just covered in it. I basically grew up on national parks.
Shelby: Which ones?
O'Neil: Well, Pinnacle's right in my backyard of Hollister, California. We always used to go to Yosemite as well.
Shelby: Yes, Yosemite is pretty magical, but Hollister is also a great area. Good for you. You live in one of the best areas to be a hiker and to go explore some of our best national parks. I think you're a really good testament of what we can do as citizens to actually make change. How can other people get involved at what can we do to do our part in making a difference?
O'Neil: Well, I always say use your voice, social media is a really powerful tool, and you can use it for good. I always enlighten people that just because they are in such a pristine area or just because we don't have plastic pollution washing upon our shores, but that's not the same for Thailand and different areas. It's just, overall, having people have such a broader mindset of their lives and then what they see on a daily basis. I would always tell people to just try their hardest and just use your voice, either that's online or in person, always educate those around you. People will listen and they will appreciate what you're trying to do.
Shelby: What's next for you? You're not 16 anymore. You're a senior. I'm guessing you might be going through a little senioritis? [laughs]
O'Neil: Yes, definitely. Oh, my goodness.
Shelby: I remember that. What's next for you?
O'Neil: I just committed to go to Oregon State University in the fall and there I'll be studying environmental economics and policy.
Shelby: I hope you're feeling inspired. I am too because we can all take part in the solution. One way, head over to the National Geographic Planet or Plastic website and take the pledge. Sometimes committing to something is the best first step to remind yourself to do or not to do something. If you're a competitive type like me, well, take a page from Becky's book. Challenge your friends to a Ban Plastics Challenge, or take the Plastic Swear Jar Challenge.
Collect money from those that slip up and then at the end of the week, month, year, whatever, donate that money to an organization like the Changing Tides Foundation or a foundation working to protect our oceans. Most importantly, let's do our best to avoid using single-use plastics altogether. Just like anything else, it's a matter of shifting your mindset and paying attention to how and when you find yourself using these products. For me, it's not being lazy in carrying a reusable water bottle and coffee mug wherever I go.
There's a new app called Find Tap that let you know where the nearest water stations are. I'll start to just carry my coffee cup with me wherever I go including when I travel. If I don't have a cup, I don't get the coffee. Well, individual changes can sometimes feel small and inconsequential. It makes an impact when a collective group of people recognize the problem and do something together. Will you join me in saying no to single-use plastic? Do it for Earth Day. Do it for the whales.
This show is produced by REI with the help from Annie Fassler and Chelsea Davis. Tune in later this week on Wednesday when we bring you an episode with musician, surfer, and fellow ocean lover, Garrett Dutton aka G. Love of G. Love & the Special Sauce.
[00:25:24] [END OF AUDIO]

Here’s the Wild Idea

In honor of Earth Day 2019, we recorded a bonus episode that dives into the problem of plastic pollution and the impact it’s having on our oceans. With millions of pounds of plastic ending up in our oceans every year, I wanted to draw attention to the problem and give people some tips on how they can reduce their personal waste. 

I recently spent some time in Laguna Beach with a handful of experts that are channeling their creative and innovative brain power to combat the issue of plastic pollution. From professional surfer Rob Machado to the people behind Igloo’s first biodegradable cooler, Alison Teal, and the Girl Scout who got Alaska Airlines to give up plastic straws, I learned more about the issue and what we as consumers can start to do to reduce the pollution. 

For me, the purpose of Earth Day is to remind people of the importance of respecting the natural environment, and doing what we can do to lessen our impact on the planet. While I try and practice this every day in small ways – no to-go cups for me and carrying a reusable straw wherever I go – I figured that Earth Day was a good time to remind people (and myself) to think before you consume. Also, do what you can do reduce the amount of pollution that’s ending up in our oceans. 

Photo above by Mark Tipple.

Presented by REI

Listen to this Episode if

  • You care about the ocean.
  • You want to learn more about plastic pollution.
  • You want to do more to protect our oceans and natural places.
  • You want to hear me attempt to make the sound of a whale.
  • You want to hear from Alison Teal of Alison’s Adventures, Pro Surfer Rob Machado, Becky Mendoza of the Changing Tides Foundation and Shelby O’Neil of Junior Ocean Guardians.
  • You want to commit to making a change. While listening, take the National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic? pledge to reduce the single-use plastic in your everyday life.

Key Takeaways

  • 2:30 – Alison Teal on the trash and plastic she has seen floating in our oceans.
  • 7:30 – Rob Machado’s foundation is educating and empowering young people to make sustainable choices.
  • 12:20 – Why Becky Mendoza started The Changing Tides Foundation and The Plastic Swear Jar Challenge.
  • 16:15 – Igloo decided to make the Recool, a compostable cooler for those backyard barbecues.
  • 19:50 – How Shelby O’Neill convinced Alaska Airline to give up plastic straws.


Connect with the guests

Igloo Coolers: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Rob Machado: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Becky MendozaInstagram
Alison Teal: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Shelby O’NeilInstagram



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