144 • pearls around the neck
My three children have always enjoyed the “Trash and Treasure Hunts” I’ve organized for them since
they were little. We started this family tradition in Amagansett, Long Island, and have continued it on
every beach we’ve visited since, on both the east and west coasts of the U.S. But as our kids have grown
older, our little beach adventures have lost their magic: Trash has prevailed.
I’m no eco-evangelist. I’m not part of the radical fringe.
I’m just an everyday mom who’s concerned about the health of her children and the beautiful world they
live in. I believe we should actively commit to keeping our world clean.
A “Treasure Hunt” is a thrilling experience that lingers in the imagination of a child. A “Trash Hunt”,
on the other hand, is a disheartening encounter with litter and mostly plastic debris. It lingers as well, but
not in our imagination: inevitably, it remains in nature if we don’t recycle it.
There’s a smarter and a safer alternative to plastic: organic, biodegradable, and chemical-free products.
Yes, I know plastic is a useful material. I’m a “plastic addict” myself! But I’m going through “detox” right
now—and if I can do it, we can all do it!
Plastic creates toxins at every stage: when it’s manufactured, when it’s used, and when it’s disposed of.
It’s made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource we have a nasty habit of fighting wars over. Most
plastic leaches toxic chemicals like BPA and phthalates into our bodies—those chemicals are now present
in the blood and tissue of almost every person on earth, including newborns. And plastic never really
goes away: Even after hundreds of years, it will only break down into smaller particles that continue to
kill marine birds, turtles, and fish—and poison our environment.
A few years ago, I started researching the topic of bioplastics and became very excited about their
potential. Then it hit me: Why not make biodegradable beach toys—toys that break down and disappear
if they’re left behind and wash out to sea? I started dreaming of little, patch-eyed pirates picking up dried
kelp and seashells and carrying their bounty in eco-friendly pails! I put this idea into practice and created
“Fantastic Anti-Plastic Beach Toys”. I also produced a line of biodegradable, “Fantastic Anti-Plastic”
dishes for kids, and more products are in the works!
Soon I wanted to go further and see the plastic pollution in our oceans with my own two eyes. That
meant traveling by boat to the middle of the Pacific—a place so remote, that few human beings have
actually seen it. I should mention that I’ve never been comfortable on the water: I’m prone to motion
sickness. I also knew it would be tough to be away from our three children—ages 4, 8, and 9. But if I
wanted to change the world even a little bit, I first had to leave my own comfort zone.
So on May 3, 2012, the research boat Sea Dragon set sail from Majuro in the Marshall Islands with a crew
of 14, including me. We embarked on a 19-day, 2,600-mile research expedition organized by Algalita
Marine Research Institute and 5 Gyres to study plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre—or “Western
Pacific Garbage Patch”—on our way to Tokyo.
What I learned:
• It was not fun or easy, but I can overcome seasickness!
• Out of sight, out of mind. People can’t see the effects of trash on marine life and the ecosystems
that are affected. 70% of the trash we found was plastic.