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Anna Cummins

Anna Cummins


Most of what we eat, drink, use every day of our lives comes packaged in petroleum plastic, which is designed to last forever. Only a paltry 5% of the plastic produced is recovered or recycled, a fact certainly not lost on the 5 Gyres Institute, which researches plastic pollution across the world’s oceans and encourages communities to find solutions. You can’t afford to miss this conversation with 5 Gyres Executive Director and Co-Founder Anna Cummins.

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Sandi: Welcome to another edition of The 51%, Conversations with Creative Women. I’m Sandi Klein. Our throw away culture is very much alive and well. Most of what we eat, drink, use, comes to us packaged in petroleum plastic which is designed to last forever. We use billions of bags and bottles, toys, gadgets, you name it which are rarely recycled. Only a paltry 5% of the plastics produced is recovered, roughly 50% winds up in landfills, some remade into durable goods, but much unaccounted for, lost in the environment where it ultimately washes out to sea. That’s where the 5 Gyres Institute comes in, the organization that researches plastic pollution across the world’s oceans, engaging communities in finding solutions. Gyres, by the way, are circular patterns of currents in an ocean basin.

Anna Cummins, my guest today, is executive director of the 5 Gyres Institute. She and her husband, Dr. Marcus Eriksen, co-founded the organization in 2009 after realizing there was a gap in global research on plastic pollution. A year earlier, she was part of a month long, 4,000 mile research expedition studying plastic debris in the North Pacific Gyre and get this, it was there and then, that Dr. Eriksen proposed. They tied the knot during a 2000 mile biking/speaking tour that took them from Vancouver to Mexico. In 2011, 5 Gyres completed the first global survey on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. That same year, Anna was named a fellow of Wings World Quest, a non-profit that serves as the leading resource and advocate for female explorers worldwide.

Anna. Welcome.

Anna: Thank you so much for having me.

Sandi: Let’s start with this really important question. How did you and plastic come together and is our pollution problem worse than ever?

Anna: [Laughing] So, well starting with how I got interested in this issue, I’ve always been an ocean person. I grew up in Santa Monica. My first sort of activism was doing beach clean-ups as a kid in high school. It wasn’t until 2001, I was in graduate school at the time, studying environmental policy, and I heard a talk, a lecture from a man, Captain Charles Moore who is largely credited as the one who discovered The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and I was floored to hear about this massive area of the Pacific Ocean and no one was talking about it in my graduate school program. So that began a thirteen year quest that brings me to where I am today. I began volunteering with his organization. In 2004. I had a chance to go out to Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja. There I saw firsthand what’s happening with our plastic. I saw every single bird, these Laysan Albatross, had stomachs full of plastic pollution. Then in 2007 I met my now husband Dr. Marcus Eriksen. He invited me to cross the Gyre with the Algalita Marine Research Institute. There in the middle, as you mentioned, [Laughing]

Sandi: [Laughing]

Anna: In the beginning, he fished out a little piece of plastic pollution and knit a little blue ring and proposed right then and there.

Sandi: That’s just crazy. [Laughing]

Anna: I thought that was very romantic and that led me to where I am today. I said yes.

Sandi: By the way. Yes of course you said yes. Are you still wearing that plastic ring?

Anna: Actually, this ring is one that he made me out of an old quarter. As you can tell we’re very into recycling. This is a quarter that he beat with a spoon over and over until it flattened out and he was able to scoop out the middle with a knife, and this is my ring.

Sandi: So, you really met your environmental soulmate, didn’t you?

Anna: I did indeed.

Sandi: You two have been on this mission and will continue to, probably, be on this mission for the rest of your lives.

Anna: Absolutely. We now have a toddler, so we’re more committed than ever to a life of sustainability.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: It was on that trip in the middle of the ocean, a couple of things happened to me there, in 2008, crossing the Gyre. For one, it was the first time I’d had a chance to see firsthand

Sandi: How bad it is.

Anna: This vast region.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: What was interesting, is that when you’re out in the middle of the Gyre, it’s actually blue pristine water as far as the eye can see. It’s only when you really look down and start tracking little pieces floating by, it’s not a patch or an island as it’s been conveyed in the media. Every two minutes

Sandi: [geesh]

Anna: There’s a plastic bottle cap or a lighter or a little fragment. It’s relentless.

Sandi: Is that coming from somebody who’s boating there and is just tossing a bottle of water into the water, or is this a much more concentrated effort?

Anna: It’s a mixture. What you’re referring to, there have been some studies, and these range of course widely across the world. But, in the Pacific, roughly 20% is estimated to come from boaters, from cruise ships, from the fishing industry. The rest of it comes from land.

Sandi: The fishing industry? You’re out there trolling,

Anna: You wouldn’t believe, yeah.

Sandi: And you’re tossing your garbage into the water?

Anna: Well, it’s lost nets, its buckets, its buoys, its fishing floats. You name it, we’ve seen it out there. I think we’ve had, until recently, this idea of an infinite ocean. You know, our planet is a water planet and most people, you know it used to be the solution to pollution is dilution.

Sandi: [Laughing] I’ve never heard that.

Anna: We used to believe that our oceans are so vast that any garbage that we toss in is just a drop in the bucket but we are now seeing that that’s not the case. I wanted to share with you something else from that voyage. I had read about and heard about plastic pollution. I knew that it was effecting animals. You’ve seen images, I’m sure, of animals with six pack rings, all that stuff, but what was new for me on that trip was, we actually brought home these small fish. They’re at the base of the food chain. Their called lantern fish or myctophiads. We brought 660 of them back to land and found roughly 1/3 had plastic in their stomachs.

Sandi: Oh my God.

Anna: There have been studies since by Scripps, one that showed 9% of these myctophiads had plastic in their stomachs. The point is that plastic is now getting into the food chain that you and I depend on. That was frightening for me.

Sandi: That was something that beforehand you were unware of?

Anna: I was not aware of it. I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve learned that this is more common than I knew, to find plastics in the stomachs of fish. In that moment, seeing plastics in stomachs of fish, and also having my husband propose with this little piece of garbage.

Sandi: [Laughing]

Anna: We decided to get married, but that we wanted to do something really big first before we got married, that was my husband’s idea to build a boat out of 15,000 plastic bottles which he and a friend of ours sailed then from Long Beach back to Hawaii through the Gyre.

Sandi: Okay. I don’t know where to begin with you.

Anna: [Laughing]

Sandi: How long did it take to build a boat with 15,000 bottles?

Anna: He had done, he had built a few boats. Just a quick word on his story. He is a Gulf War Veteran. He served in the first Gulf War as a marine. It was there he saw the connection between petroleum, the men that we’re sending overseas to fight and securing access to foreign oil. So, that was the click for him. He committed, during that Gulf War, to when he got out, to make a boat and go down the Mississippi River. Which he did, but as a poor graduate student, he had just gotten his PhD, what was readily available was garbage. So, he made his boat out of garbage and that led to making increasingly larger boats. When we met, the idea was to do something shocking to get people’s attention to the issue and really to draw them to the science of what we were seeing on that trip. Plastic in the food chain.

Sandi: Mm Hmm. Did it work?

Anna: Yeah. It was crazy enough and risky enough. In retrospect I had no idea how risky it was at the time, but it took two and a half months to build this boat. It was about the size of a boxing ring if that gives you an image. Maybe about 24×20.

Sandi: Which you slept on, in?

Anna: I was on land. My husband and our friend Joel, Joel Paschal sailed on Junk. We called the boat Junk.

Sandi: [Laughing]

Anna: From Long Beach to Hawaii. The point was to do something outlandish to draw media attention. To draw new eyes and ears to this issue of the fact that plastic is no longer just an aesthetic issue. It’s actually getting into the food chain that we depend on.

Sandi: Mm Hmm. How long did it take them to make the sail?

Anna: It took us two and a half months to build the boat.

Sandi: Boat.

Anna: It took them three months to sail it.

Sandi: And how many miles is that? From California to Hawaii.

Anna: They sailed about, they didn’t do a straight shot, so they sailed about 2800 miles.

Sandi: Did it garner tremendous press?

Anna: It did. We were a small

Sandi: Were they calling it Eriksen’s Folly?

Anna: [Laughing]

Sandi: Did people take it seriously?

Anna: People did. We had CNN do a couple of reports. We were a small scrappy team of three people.

Sandi: Right.

Anna: We’ve grown and learned a lot about PR since then. We had over a million people follow the boat the day it landed. Then what was great, is that Marcus got on Martha Stewart after that to do a little show here in New York.

Sandi: I’m going to do a little bit of jumping around.

Anna: Yes.

Sandi: Because before I did research on you, I have to confess, I never heard the word Gyre. I said what it meant, but I must also confess that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Anna: You’re not alone there.

Sandi: Circular patterns of currents in an ocean basin. What does that mean?

Anna: Yeah. A lot of people are not yet familiar with this word but we’re hoping that as our organization grows and as the issue gets out there, more people will have heard of a gyre. We’re also starting to call them, they’ve been called a lot, garbage patches. Even though that brings up an image of a solid mass, it still is more concentrated within the gyre than without. So, a gyre is just a circular, think of a vortex, it’s a massive circular system comprised of prevailing winds and the earth’s rotation and these currents. They’re thousands of miles wide. The issue is that plastic, floating plastic, because half of plastics sink and that’s a whole other issue we can go into.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: The stuff that floats and gets into our oceans from storm drains, from watersheds, from rivers. It gets swept up into these massive current systems circulating around and around and around and because plastic is not biodegradable it can remain out there for a very long time. What happens is that it’s photodegradable. Sunlight will break it down into these little fragments that are now being mistaken for food by animals.

Sandi: Ah Ha. So, that really exacerbates the problem.

Anna: Absolutely. Yeah. These broken down particles that are very durable.

Sandi: Your institute is 5 Gyres Institute because there are 5 gyres in the world.

Anna: There are 5 sub-tropical gyres, big gyres. There are actually 11 gyres total. They’re smaller gyres. Sub-polar gyres. The big ones are the five major oceans. When I first started getting into this issue, there was a fair amount of research on the North Pacific Gyre, what people call the Texas-sized-island or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. That was the ocean I crossed with my husband and Algalita in 2008.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: When we got back from that trip and we started doing more outreach, people kept asking, what about the other oceans? Is this an issue globally? That was our impetus to start 5 Gyres and really take this issue to a global level.

Sandi: If you’re just joining us, my guest today is Anna Cummins. She is executive director of the 5 Gyres Institute, an organization she and her husband co-founded in 2009 after realizing there was a gap in global research on plastic pollution. What isn’t made of plastic?

Anna: What isn’t?

Sandi: When you think about it, we’re just so surrounded by it.

Anna: Okay. That’s a great point. We often say it’s difficult to go into a supermarket and not find something made of plastic, packaged in plastic, or labeled with plastic.

Sandi: Exactly.

Anna: As a conscious consumer or citizen, a nicer word, we can look for things that are packaged in paper or glass or aluminum. Things that are truly recyclable. All plastics are not created equal either. For example, water bottles, P.E.T. plastic, is more recoverable and recyclable. Some states have redemption programs. The bottle bill as we call it. Globally, you mentioned this, in the U.S. our recovery and recycling rates are abysmally low. They’re something like 5%-8%.

Sandi: Because?

Anna: Part of it is economics. We don’t have a massive market yet for recycled products. P.E.T. is very, very much in demand. The water bottles that we use are very much in demand because those are very easily recycled. But most of our recycling in this country, we actually ship overseas to India, to China. Because it’s expensive and because there isn’t yet a great demand for recycled products.

Sandi: What are they doing with it?

Anna: They’re also, some if it is down-cycled. Some of it is likely winding up in the incinerator or the landfill and some of it is turned into lower grade products, things like carpeting, or fleece or lumber. Things like that.

Sandi: And we can’t be bothered here in the states to do this?

Anna: We’re working on it. [Laughing]

Sandi: Oh boy. Is it that we have to demand zero tolerance for plastic products? For plastic pollution?

Anna: Pollution. Yes. Plastic is an amazing material. I’m not anti-plastic by any means. I’m carrying around in my bag today a computer and a cell phone, and all kinds of things. It’s just that we shouldn’t be using this insanely valuable material to make throw away products. That’s one of the main messages we’re trying to get out with 5 Gyres.

Sandi: So, talk about that.

Anna: So, single use. Our obsession with convenience and single use. This culture of convenience that we’ve created, that’s what we’re trying to address with people. It makes no sense to be taking plastic and making things like plastic bags or plastic straws or water bottles or things like that that we use one time and just throw away.

Sandi: Why can’t we just have paper?

Anna: You’re touching on a couple things here. One is just the need for greater public awareness. Just by having this show and sharing this with your listener, you’re taking a great leap to just educate people about this issue. Education alone, I don’t believe is going to solve the problem though. We need better policies at the municipal level. Even at the state and federal level. We also need more responsibility from producers. We started massively producing plastic in the 50s. It came out of the war effort that we discovered ways to make plastic and this was this boom with the war. Post-war, we needed to find new uses for plastic. That became the average household. Replacing a lot of our durable goods with cheap throwaway disposable products. Really, I think it’s a design issue. I’m going to share one example that I think illustrates that. If companies really designed products to be more recoverable, more recyclable and not have no value at the end of their life cycle.

Sandi: Hmm. Right.

Anna: A plastic bag, you have little incentive to do anything with it. It has not value. Water bottles again, in states where you have a ten cent return on that, you don’t see the kind of pollution from plastic water bottles in states that have a bottle bill. If we could put that sort of incentive for your average person. If there was a nickel or a dime value to plastic waste products, you wouldn’t see them littering our streets.

Sandi: Hmm

Anna: You would see people recovering them.

Sandi: Who are the biggest offenders?

Anna: In this country, we are some of the biggest offenders. You can look to the oceanic gyres to see where’s the biggest problem. We have the biggest problem in the Pacific and that’s because we have huge consumer countries surrounding the Pacific Rim. I would say in this country, we produce upwards of a hundred billion pounds of plastic in the U.S. alone. Our recovery rates, before as we talked about, are in the 5% range. You can see, there’s a huge gap between what we produce and what we recover. One of the places, unfortunately, we’re seeing that gap is in the ocean.

Sandi: You were talking about cosmetics for example, right. Isn’t that a real thorn in your side?

Anna: Yeah. I’m going to share with you an example, and I brought a little visual. We can describe it for your listeners.

Sandi: Mm Hmm. For sure.

Anna: We’ve done all this research in the oceans. We found plastic globally. We started two years ago doing the same research in the Great Lakes. We found in Lake Erie one sample that had more plastic than any of the oceans by count. What we found, under a microscope, is that these almost 1,600 little particles of plastic in this one lake sample were little plastic beads from personal care products. Things like toothpaste, facial scrubs, body washes, products that have exfoliates are now using plastic in them.

Sandi: If I’m putting an exfoliate on my skin, it has little beads of plastic in it?

Anna: Not all of them.

Sandi: No.

Anna: If you look on the label and it says apricot kernels or jojoba beads or something natural, then you’re good.

Sandi: Okay.

Anna: But if you look on the back of those ingredients on your product and it says polyethylene, then that’s plastic. Little tiny plastic beads that we’re using to scrub our face, they go right down the drain into our water system.

Sandi: Who knew?

Anna: We had no idea either. The good news on this, and what I am really encouraged to see how good science can really drive policy, is we took our scientific findings to some big companies, Johnson & Johnson, Proctor & Gamble, L’Oréal, The Body Shoppe. We showed them our results. We got our community to really engage, write them letters and phone calls. Some of those companies, actually, all three of them committed to a phase out. By 2017, 2015. What we’ve done now, and what’s relevant to New York, is that we introduced a bill, we sponsored a bill, to ban the sale of these products outright and New York was the first state to introduce our bill.

Sandi: Wow. Is it in effect today?

Anna: It’s not in effect today. It just, it was just introduced. It still needs to be voted on, so I would love for your listeners, if this resonates, to go to our website and sign our petition. We’re going to be launching a petition for a national bill. We’re trying to gather 100,000 signatures. That will be up in a couple weeks.

Sandi: You hear people say, there’s no such thing as global warming and all of this, do you feel like you’re just, sometimes, pushing this ball up the mountain and wonder if you’ll ever get to the top?

Anna: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to be terribly optimistic all of the time if you’re in the sustainability movement. However examples like the one I just shared, where good science coupled with an engaged grassroots community can actually get corporations to shift, that gives me hope.

Sandi: Do the corporations realize what they were doing? That there were plastic particles in their products? I mean or did they feign ignorance? Oh, I had no idea…

Anna: I don’t think anyone really connected the dots on this one. These little plastic beads were so small that they’re designed to slip right through our water system. Some water treatment systems may capture these beads but we have seen that many of them don’t. There have been studies, actually, our partner on this project was SUNY Fredonia in New York.

Sandi: The State University of New York.

Anna: Yeah. Exactly. Dr. Sam Mason there, has done some of her own research on effluent testing to see if microbeads are escaping and sure enough they are.

Sandi: Once again, if you’re just joining us, my guest today is Anna Cummins who is executive director of the 5Gyres Institute. What’s the simplest thing?

Anna: The simplest thing to do?

Sandi: Yes.

Anna: We’ve talked about a number of things. We talked about single use throw away plastics. Things that people use one time and throw away. That’s the easiest thing that people can shift. Getting rid of, for example, plastic straws. When you go to a restaurant, just ask for your drink with no straw.

Sandi: Right.

Anna: Bringing your own bag. These are just the baby steps, but bring your own bag to the supermarket. Don’t use those plastic bags. Bring your own cup to the coffee shop or just get your cup in a porcelain cup. A lot of coffee shops will allow you to do that. Just taking a look at the things that we use on a daily basis and trying to replace single use disposables with reusable. It’s actually cheaper in many cases.

Sandi: What about Styrofoam?

Anna: Styrofoam is a particularly bad one because it’s very difficult to recycle or it’s often times just not recycled. It’s also, it contains a toxic chemical called styrene, which has been shown to leech into food. But I have a good example of that one too.

Sandi: Great.

Anna: I’m from Los Angles, we do a lot of work with schools. This also keeps me fueled. That young people really get this issue. We worked with a school in Silver Lake for a couple years. They had their food on Styrofoam trays which is common in many cafeterias across the United States.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: These students got really fired up. They did some math. They figured out how much money the school was spending on these trays, throwing them away every day after lunch. They replaced them with reusables, saved the school $12,000 and that got the attention of the entire district of LA which is second only to New York’s public School system.

Sandi: I was going to say, which is huge. Right.

Anna: They banned these district wide in Los Angles. In LA Unified School District. So this gives us a lot of hope too, that when young people get engaged, when communities get engaged, we can make these incremental changes that really have a ripple effect.

Sandi: Talk about 5 Gyres. How did you give birth to this?

Anna: [Laughing] So, my husband and I had met doing this work in the oceans. We decided to spend our lives really engaged working on sustainability. We did an outreach tour in 2009. We brought a bunch of our ocean samples like the one that you see here in this jar.

Sandi: Describe it.

Anna: So, I’m holding here this jar of a sample that we collected in the Pacific Gyre. What you see at the top, what looks like these little pebbles, those are plastic particles.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: That could have been a toothbrush from fifteen years ago. This handful of plastic is mixed in with a lot of marine life, zooplankton and little krill. This is what we are talking about here. This is the plastic soup. We brought a hundred of these jars with us. We hopped on our bicycles in Vancouver Canada and cycled down to Tijuana Mexico and gave a bunch of talks along the way. Every talk we gave, someone would always ask, what about the other oceans? What about the other gyres.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: This is a problem. Then, in Big Sur, we got married. We had met a minister at one of the talks we gave and she came down and married us. We were wearing plastic bag outfits.

Sandi: [Laughing]

Anna: Very classy ones, I’ll have you know, made by an artist. We decided, with our wedding money, to start a new organization called 5 Gyres and to go out and do it ourselves. No one was doing the research south of the Equator. That led to the birth of 5 Gyres with a couple of goals. One was, let’s just see how big this problem is. Let’s go to all 5 gyres, do the scientific research, and publish it.

Sandi: And you’re wedding money is what paid for these trips?

Anna: No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. [Laughing]

Sandi: [Laughing] I was going to say, you must know some pretty wealthy people.

Anna: That would have been quite a wedding.

Sandi: [Laughing]

Anna: No. It was just enough for us to incorporate as a non-profit.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: To start fundraising. In the early, I would say in the early year or two, we were largely funded by corporate partners.

Sandi: Oh!

Anna: Companies like EcoUsable.  Patagonia gave us some support.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: Companies that were, Quicksilver Foundation, companies that were like minded and

Sandi; Who were committed.

Anna: Exactly. We’re now doing more fundraising through family foundations and individual donors and still corporate partners like Klean Kanteen is one of our big partners. They make reusable stainless steel bottles.

Sandi: Have you been to all 5 Gyres?

Anna: I have.

Sandi: Where are the other gyres?

Anna: Okay. So, the North Atlantic was our first expedition. That was our honeymoon.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: From the Bahamas to Bermuda to the Azores off the Coast of Portugal. That’s, that gyre between the United States and Europe, kind of joins those two continents. We’ve got the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: It’s hard to say what is by and large the worst. The Pacific Gyre tends to have more trash in it because of the consumer nations surrounding it. However, we have found plastic across all five oceanic gyres. I don’t want to depress people. I don’t think I fully answered your question about solutions.

Sandi: Okay.

Anna: A couple things that people can do is just A) look at their footprint. Avoid single use disposables. Some of the things I mentioned like the bags and the bottles and straws and utensils. Baby steps. Just pick one of those.

Sandi: But you don’t have to be a lunatic about it?

Anna: No, you can just pick one. If you can pick one behavior change and really stick with it for seven to ten days, then it becomes,

Sandi: I think the straw is just so extraordinary in its simplicity. I mean, who would, I just wouldn’t have thought of that.

Anna: Yeah.

Sandi: Dump the straws.

Anna: Exactly. Exactly. So, you’re listeners can just try that on for a week and a half.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: See how that feels. Go to a restaurant.

Sandi: What a deprivation if you don’t have a straw.

Anna: Ask for your drink with no straw. [Laughing] It’s also a teachable moment if people look at you kind of funny.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: Then there’s what municipalities can do. Things like, bag bans, for example, we’re seeing sweep the nation. Like taking the biggest offenders and either putting fees on them, or outright bans. The fee approach may be a good one to incentivize people for good behavior. People can also vote with their pocketbook by supporting companies who are doing the right thing. Companies like Klean Kanteen or Patagonia. Then companies can take responsibility. There’s a policy mechanism that we’re big in favor of, called Extended Producer Responsibility. EPR. It’s big in Europe and it’s starting to hit the U.S. That’s the idea that why should we the people have to deal with all this waste that companies are producing. They should really have to deal with it. If companies have to deal with what happens to their waste products, after they leave our hands, you can bet they’re going to design products that are smarter. That are better designed, that are easier to recover and that are more recyclable.

Sandi: You just think that there’s some kind of attitude that says they can’t be bothered. A corporation to say that I can’t be on top of you like big brother.

Anna: Yeah. A lot of corporations might say that litter is a people problem. That people litter.

Sandi: Exactly.

Anna: That is true, people litter and we need to really do our part to make sure that our trash goes in the right place. But, it also needs to be part of the design. If products are designed so that they have some value after them, then you’re not going to see as much litter.

Sandi: How many people are on your staff?

Anna: One of the things that we do, we take people out to sea. This is now how we’ve gained most of our staff.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: That first expedition from across the North Atlantic, we funded in part by having people pay a fee to be onboard.

Sandi; Mm Hmm

Anna: One of the people who joined that first expedition is now our Associate Director, Stiv Wilson. He also does a lot of our policy and our social media. He was so fired up by getting out to being in a gyre, work with us side by side, see hands on what are we talking about, that he’s now full time with us. We’re an organization now of five people. Four full time people and two part time people and a board of ten.

Sandi: Describe a day in the life of Anna Cummins and Dr. Marcus Eriksen.

Anna: I wish I could say I was out on the ocean on the front lines all the time. But, these days, for me I would say I spend half of my time, if not more, with development work. Fundraising. This is the, maybe, less fun part of running a nonprofit, but very important.

Sandi: Mm Hmm

Anna: Finding strategic partners. Finding companies that we can align with. Getting our messaging out. What I love doing, is public presentations. Is going and talking to students and talking to people. Really sharing the basics of this issue. I find, when you share just a little bit, people want to know. How can I do more? What can I do to solve this problem?

Sandi: People must be stunned by what you impart. Oh, I had no idea.

Anna: Yeah.

Sandi: That kind of thing.

Anna: I think this is still an issue that most people aren’t really aware of. One of our hopes is that by doing more of this work in the Great Lakes, for example, is that we can start reaching inland communities that might not have such a connection to the ocean, but they connected to their local lake, their local watershed, their local river. Especially for people who are fishing and driving their livelihood. But, what my husband has been doing is a lot more of the front lines research. In about, just shy of a month, he’s going to be sailing from Bermuda to Iceland, crossing the North Atlantic Gyre and the Sub-Polar Gyre.

Sandi: Alone?

Anna: No.

Sandi: In a boat made of bottles?

Anna: No. In a normal boat. We’ve partnered with a group called Pangea Explorations to do a lot of these expeditions. We charter the vessel. We get a crew of other scientists, journalists, filmmakers, artists, musicians to come on board with us. See firsthand and then go back to their communities and share.

Sandi: Now will this be made, for example, into a documentary? This journey, this voyage?

Anna: We’re working on it. Yeah. We have tons of footage from our other expeditions. We have a couple of just short pieces but really what we want to do with these next two expeditions is produce more content. Produce a short documentary and start trying to get the word out there more.

Sandi: You also told me before the tape started to roll, that you’re going to be making a move from one humble abode to another. You got to talk about that.

Anna: Okay. Well, yes. We’re moving into a house in Echo Park

Sandi: In California

Anna: In California. Los Angles. Echo Park. Yes. It’s 610 sq. ft. with our little 21 month old. It’s definitely on the small cozy side, but we’re looking at this as a way to A) downsize a little bit. We’re going from 630 sq. ft. to 610. [Laughing]

Sandi: You didn’t live, you live in far from a mansion in the first place.

Anna: We’re used to living on boats. We’re used to living in small spaces.

Sandi: Okay.

Anna: We’re trying to incorporate as many recycled products as products as possible. We have, for example, thirty-two school bus windows from a junk school bus that we’re incorporating into the house. We want to do grey water, which we did at our last place.

Sandi: That means nothing to me.

Anna: We use a lot of water in our households. For our showers, for our dishwashing.

Sandi: That’s a whole other issue too.

Anna: It’s pretty simple. I don’t know about here in New York, but in LA, where people have little gardens, you can just divert that water right out to your garden. Make sure you’re using not toxic soap and use it as a way to irrigate.

Sandi: Terrific. And what else?

Anna: What else are we doing? Growing as much food as possible. That’s something I’m really passionate about.

Sandi: It’s easy, isn’t it? People sometimes must think, this is just too much work, I can’t be bothered.

Anna: Again, it’s about taking on simple things. Whether your simple thing is just eating less meat, or avoiding plastic straws, or riding your bike and walking to work. Taking on little actions that we know can make a difference. Inspiring people around you and getting excited about taking on maybe bigger things.

Sandi: That’s a great way to end because you really inspired me.

Anna: Well, thank you.

Sandi: I’m sure that you will inspire just everyone that you come in contact with. You and your husband, what wonderful works you two are doing.

Anna: Well thank you. If people are excited they can go to our website They can see how to get involved in this microbeads campaign. How to volunteer and just educate themselves a bit more.

Sandi: Spell gyres. Just for the uninitiated.

Anna: Good point.  G Y R E S.

Sandi: So, it’s the number 5 gyres and thank you so much for opening our eyes and for the wonderful work that you do. You and your organization does. You really are inspirational.

Anna: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Sandi: Join us again for another edition of the 51% Conversations with Creative Women. I’m Sandi Klein.

Narrator: Thanks for listening to The 51% Conversations with Creative Women. For show comments and suggestions please follow us on Twitter at sandikleinshow. You can also find us on Facebook at The 51% Conversations. The show is produced and recorded by Chad Dougatz at the Hangar studios in New York City. Sandy Klein is our executive producer.



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