Going topless for oceans

on June 21, 2017

This spring, social media influencers like Ashlan Cousteau and Anna Getty went topless. But it wasn’t just for fun—their posts were part of a campaign by one of our nonprofit partners in support a new environmental action campaign: #foamfree.

When The 5 Gyres Institute surveyed their community, the nonprofit assumed these environmentalists would be more educated and proactive about polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam—better known as Styrofoam. But results were surprising.

“Only half of the individuals we surveyed were able to properly identify these plastics by the recycling number six,” said Executive Director Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff. “And less than 20% said they would use social media to promote a polystyrene ban.”

In response, 5 Gyres launched the #foamfree Action Campaign. A 1% for the Planet nonprofit partner since 2011, the organization first identified plastic microbead pollution in 2012 and then campaigned for a successful federal ban in 2015.

Facts on Foam

“Polystyrene products are made from styrene, a known carcinogen, which can leach into food and drinks,” said 5 Gyres Co-Founder & Research Director Dr. Marcus Eriksen. “But people don’t recognize that these products go beyond Styrofoam cups—to lids, cutlery, and tableware. It’s a human health issue.”

#foamfree is designed to raise awareness about the facts on polystyrene, encourage people to pledge to refuse these plastics, connect individuals with polystyrene bans through an interactive map, deliver the tools they need to start a ban, and amplify through direct action to elected representatives through email, phone call, or tweet. Those concerned about the problem—including many in the 1% for the Planet network—have taken action, yielding more than 1,200 pledges at this writing.

A tongue-in-cheek take on the issue is delivered through the campaign’s video. Influencers like David Stover of Bureo Skateboards and sports broadcaster Angela Sun from the Oakland A’s challenge viewers to “go topless” by refusing a polystyrene lid, and demonstrate an athletic feat—completed with cup in hand—while asking, “If I can do this without spilling—you can walk, right?” In response, the 5 Gyres community began posting #topless4oceans photos and videos on social media.

Photo Courtesy of 5 Gyres

Photo Courtesy of 5 Gyres

Activists Unite!

This fall, #foamfree will expand through the release of the first-ever analysis of styrene leaching from polystyrene plastic (versus expanded polystyrene foam) into food and drinks, conducted by Chelsea Rochman at the University of Toronto.

“We believe that raising awareness can do for polystyrene what we did for microbeads,” said 5 Gyres Co-Founder & Global Strategy Director Anna Cummins. “Polystyrene is this year’s plastic bag. Let’s get it banned!”

PollutionUS- California and Hawaii Water

Katherine Williams