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Sustainability Videos & Lecture Series

Tough Truths about Plastic Pollution

October 5, 2015 | In this talk, Dianna Cohen, CEO/Co-Founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, raises awareness of ocean waste – the majority of which is nondegradable plastic – and everyday strategies to cut down the amount of plastic we use and throw away.

Related Events: Tough Truths about Plastic Pollution



This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and a generous investment by Julie Ann Wrigley. Wrigley lecture series-- world-renowned thinkers and problem solvers engage the community in dialogues to address sustainability challenges.

Lauren Kuby: Good afternoon, everyone. Is that rather loud? So welcome everybody. My name is Lauren Kuby, and I manage events and community engagement for the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. And I'm so thrilled to welcome you all to our first Wrigley talk in the semester, in the academic year and beyond excited that our very first Wrigley speaker this year is Dianna Cohen, who's a local to global activist in the fight against plastic pollution.

So our weekly lecture series on sustainability, in case you haven't heard, is funded through the generous support of Julie Ann Wrigley. And it brings world-renowned-- not just thinkers, but doers and problem solvers, to ASU's campus. And Wrigley speakers are chosen not by some committee on high. They're chosen by students and staff, faculty, and undergraduate and graduate students. In the case of Dianna, Caitlyn Seppi, who's a graduate student in the school of sustainability approached us and gave a full-throttled recommendation for Dianna, wanting her to appear-- had seen her TED Talk and was so inspired. So we're delighted to have Dianna here today.

But as part of our Wrigley series, we bring the speakers here to engage the community in sustainable solutions, and to kind of ground truth our program, our educational and research program and business practices program. And they do more than just concluding one hour speech with question and answer followed by a delicious reception. They do a lot more than that. They meet with students and activists and faculty, and Dianna has been doing that. The past 24 hours, it's been a rather whirlwind. Last night we had this wonderful dinner at Nush, which is an incredible restaurant. And there's the local owner, Nona Savari, and we had this wonderful meal outdoors. The flowers and music and incredible vegan food and we were celebrating Deanna's visit.

But also celebrating businesses like Nona's, who have refused plastic since they were conceived, since their business was conceived. So we salute you, the champion, you in the community who are doing the right thing. So on Wrigley days, though, our speakers meet informally with faculty members, students. You've met with student leaders last night and student leaders in the afternoon. And we met with the Walton Sustainable Solutions folks. It's been a really full day. And tomorrow you're going to go to Charlie's lab and learn more about microbead research here. So we're just thrilled that there's been such direct engagement with so many people.

So I invite you to stay after her talk for question and answers from the audience, and we'll have a lovely reception. And please note this event is zero waste, so make sure that you know that your napkin, your food's all compostable, the plates are compostable. And please observe the compost signs. Now I'd like to introduce Alana Levine-- Levine, excuse me-- where you are, Alana? There you are. ASU's recycling program manager and assistant director of the Zero Waste Project at ASU, and she's going to introduce to us our very special speaker, Dianna Cohen.


Alana Levine: I'm so glad everybody could make it this afternoon. Welcome to ASU if you haven't been here before. So I'd like to start with a quote from Jimmy Carter, and that is, "Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political and social boundaries." And Dianna, I'd like to think that your art actually is doing both, transcending and also creating the markers for what we need to pay attention to. And with that, I would like to introduce our very special guest, Dianna Cohen. Dianna Is a multimedia visual artist, a painter and a curator. She has her bachelor of arts from UCLA. She's a TED speaker, and I would highly recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.

She's also co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition which is working to help end our cycle of plastic use. They increase awareness and understanding of the problem and sustainable solutions. And they empower action to eliminate the negative impact of plastics. Dianna is actually best known for her two and three dimensional works using recycled plastic bags. And I highly recommend Googling her, so I did that. Some really amazing stuff. So with that, I welcome Dianna.


Dianna Cohen: Hi, you guys. I actually feel embarrassed by you saying that you Googled me. I think there's something about that that sounds kind of intimate.


So I'm not really in the habit of giving particularly canned talks, and it's been a whirlwind since I landed yesterday afternoon of conversations with students and faculty here, which has been incredibly enlightening for me and I'm so grateful and very honored to be invited to come and speak to you guys. And I hope that in these 45 minutes I can convey something that I'm incredibly passionate about to you, but also that I can talk about for about a week and a half straight. And I actually think that I work on it in my sleep. So actually I can attest to the fact that I do work on it in my sleep. That said, I think if I press this arrow it will take us to the next picture.

I'm not only going to talk about what was just on the screen. This idea of bans and campaigns, etc. But for me, everything is interconnected. So I might also walk around a little bit we might have to stretch in the middle. This is an image that I just shot at a beach in Taiwan. It's near Taipei, and I was just there for an ocean conference. And there were two interesting things about that ocean conference. One was to be in Taiwan for the first time. There's a very large amount of plastic pollution washed up on all of the beaches that I was taken to see. And I'm not sure for people who are based here in Phoenix, Arizona or Tempe. And in Arizona, if you feel that you have a strong connection to the ocean and to the sea or not.

I'm actually kind of curious if you guys would raise your hands. How many people in the room actually feel like they're connected to the ocean? That's a good amount. So that's wonderful if you are. Plastic pollution is obviously an issue that not only affects the ocean, but it affects our rivers, our lakes, it affects the environment that we live in, our natural environment around us. And it also affects and impacts animals, and it affects us and human health. I'd like to talk about the problem for a second and you guys can just look at me and give me a signal if I'm telling you something that you all already know.

But part of the problem is that we live in this world and we've become used to a certain kind of convenience and consumption, and this idea that single use and disposable items make our lives easier and give us more time to do other things. And I think that with regards to, in particular, plastic and polystyrene, what is becoming apparent is that that convenience comes at a cost. And I don't know that we've really yet calculated what the cost of that is, again, to our health, animal health, the environment, the ocean. But it's really something to consider. This is an image that I shot at breakfast last year at the first ever international Zero Waste Conference that I was invited to.

This wasn't at the actual conference, in all fairness. The people who put on the conference did a great job. This was with a group of about 15 people who were speaking and presenting at the conference on our way to the convention center where we were doing the conference. We stopped at a local breakfast place, and this was my neighbor who was sitting next to me. This was the leftover from their breakfast experience. I kind of went the extra mile, went up, and with my not too perfect Spanish had a conversation with the bartender and the people working behind the counter and explained to them that I am allergic to plastic, and I was really wondering if it might be possible for them to give me a real ceramic cup for my coffee and a ceramic plate.

And then I pulled out some bamboo utensils that I carry everywhere with me like my wah-wah blanket that I have augmented with a reusable, stainless steel straw. So I am like always ready, basically. I am a camper. I'm a camper of the world. I included this one image. It's just a detail from an art piece that I made that the actual piece is about two by three feet, and the title of the piece is "Recycle Man." and Recycle Man is an own image that I found printed on a plastic bag. I started working with plastic bags to make my artwork as my primary material in 1990 or 1989. No, earlier than that. 19-- yeah. 1989. I think I've been working with this as my material for about 25 years, maybe a little bit longer.

When I first started working with plastic it was because I was really excited about plastic and plastic bags. Plastic bags come in all these awesome colors, and there are all these cool things printed on them-- interesting fonts and words and language. And a lot of times, images. Oftentimes images of plants or animals. I was really fascinated by some bags that I found in Belgium that have botanical images of plants printed on them. And you get them from the homeopathic pharmacy. And they had the Latin name of the plant on each one. I thought those were really, really cool. So I had already been working with brown paper bags prior to that and kind of deconstructing them and gluing them and sewing them back together and using the stitching in the pieces as a kind of drawing element.

And so when I got this idea to combine plastic with them, I had this total Eureka moment where I was like, wow plastic. It's such a cool loaded material. It represents the future. And I started thinking about that sequence in The Graduate when Dustin Hoffman gets pulled aside by the man at the end at this party, it's the last sequence in the film, who says to him son, I've got one word for you.

Yes sir, he says. Yes sir? What is it? Yes, sir? He says plastic. There's a great future in plastics. So yes, there is a great future in plastic, and I would just like to clarify two things to this group. One, I am not a scientist. I'm a visual artist. And two, I think plastic is a completely remarkable material.

I think plastic is a very valuable material. And I think that when we use it and design things with it which are intended to become obsolete 5 or 10 minutes after we've used them that we are using a valuable material and an incredibly irresponsible way. Thank you. This is another image that I took on the beach in Taiwan three weeks ago. And this is after a beach cleanup that was conducted by 46 nonprofits and a bunch of students. And this is what they didn't collect that was on the beach. And as I walked along the beach there were multiple tide lines that were just full of this kind of plastic confetti.

Now in all fairness to the people in Taiwan, who are incredible, they have a very large fishing fleet. It's a big industry for them there, and so oftentimes a lot of the plastic that you see will be generated by their fishing fleet, the fishing boats, or by like aqua culture projects that they're doing just off the coast or coastally. But I like this picture and it's interesting to me because there was polystyrene in that picture, there's all different kinds of plastics. What I learned, and this was called the Cross Straits Ocean Cleanup Conference, is that a lot of the plastic things that are washing up-- again, mainly single use and disposable plastic items-- are generated not just from Taiwan, but they're also coming from China and they're coming from South Korea and they're coming from Japan. And it's kind of what's going on with the currents and the systems there.

I'm a co-founder of plastic pollution coalition and I'd just like to say that although I feel that I'm trying to convey a lot of stuff and talk about it with you guys, in working with plastic as my material for my artwork I was very slow on the uptake to get the messages that I began to learn from working with the material. And I say this because I'd say some of my work started fissuring or breaking into smaller pieces-- some of the bags that I used after about the first eight years. And at that point I thought oh, awesome. It's ephemeral. It's organic. It's like us. It's like a plant, it's like a flower, it's like a puppy dog, it's like a cat. And so I started looking into it and realized that's in fact not what happens with plastic. Plastic may photo degrade or heat degrade into smaller bits, or by being chewed up or churned or within nature slammed against rocks, dragged on coral systems, etc.

But it actually is still plastic and it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. I'm really excited to go to [? Charley's ?] lab tomorrow because just in the last two years I've come to learn a lot of new information about microplastics and microbeads, and I'll share some of that with you guys. Anyway, we co-founded Plastic Pollution Coalition in the end of 2009. We're a global coalition. We're working to stop plastic pollution. Our focus is on single use and disposable plastics. And we have grown to be over 400 other organizations and businesses around the world who are all looking at this issue.

And one of my proudest moments so far in my involvement in helping create the organization was the day that we received an email from the Girl Scouts of America and the Teamsters. And they both joined the coalition the same day. So how many people in the room have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? OK, for those of you who haven't, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a naturally occurring ocean gyre system. It's created by currents and wind currents and ocean currents. And it is also referred to as the Northeastern Pacific Gyre. It is not an island of trash that we can sail out to as I originally believed that it was. In fact, it is in all of the water strata. It is on the ocean floor. A study just came out at the beginning of this year, the plus one study, which estimated the amount of plastic that is now being found in the ocean. But we don't have a complete number yet. That is just really an approximation based on the evidence that exists.

When I first heard about the grapes of a Garbage Patch my original reaction to that was we've gotta go out there and clean this thing up. And I began to ask people who had actually been sailing through it, or-- you can't actually sail because part of it is the doldrums, but motoring through it, taking trawl samples, doing visual observations. And now we work with about 12 different groups that are part of the coalition that do do regular trawl samples and are studying plastic pollution in the ocean. Five Gyres and [? Algolita ?] are probably two of the most well-known known groups that are part of the coalition. They have now done trawl samples and studies in the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean. They've gone through all five major oceans.

But there are 11 gyre systems on the face of the earth, and they all have plastic in them. We've actually also now found plastic and plastic particulate in ice core samples. So plastic is pretty much everywhere. And unfortunately, This as Sue Cohn Rockefeller, who's a documentary filmmaker. And this is a presentation she gave earlier this year at a women's conference in China in Beijing talking, as well, about plastic pollution in the ocean. But this is the mouth of the Los Angeles River. I live in Los Angeles, California, and the Vice Mayor of the city of Long Beach said that they spend $2 million a year trying to stop all of this plastic pollution from washing out into the Pacific Ocean. You can see a lot of it is also Styrofoam, well polystyrene. She said she would much rather spend that money on infrastructure for their city, including their schools and their fire department and their police department. But at the moment they spend it on machinery and netting to try and catch this stuff and stop it from going out to sea. Again, our single use plastics are not only a problem in terms of ingestion for animals, but they're also a problem for entanglement of animals. And animals on land and animals in the ocean.

This is a photograph from the Mediterranean. It's from Dubrovnik in former Yugoslavia. I guess it's Croatia now, which is a beautiful place where people go to vacation, and it was sent to me by a friend on a family vacation last summer with his family. This is an image that was taken by Robert Simmons, he's a professor and a scientist at Georgia State University. This is a more recent image, and he's been tailing these kind of microscopic photographic images where he's documenting microfibers and microplastics. Let me just take a moment actually to talk about plastics, because when I first started learning about this issue a few years ago, we would refer to microplastics. And when we did, what we were really talking about is we were talking about pre-consumer plastic nurdles, which are tiny little balls or pellets of plastic.

At this point, I've come to realize that we're actually talking about several different kinds of micro plastics and microbeads, so what we're really talking about is the pre-consumer plastic nurdle, so that's before the plastic has been shaped or molded or formed into something. A lot of those escape and they end up in the ocean. They end up in rivers. They end up on around train tracks and places where trucks are moving cargo and things like that. But we're also talking about microfibers which rinse out when we wash our clothing if we have any synthetics in our clothing. So those, it's turning out, are a problem. They're really big problem, actually. I think they may actually be the most common type of microplastic that is being seen when people are doing sampling of microplastics.

We're also seeing microbeads, which you may have heard about. I think it might have an image. These are microbeads. So Microbeads are teeny, tin-- almost imperceptible to the eye-- little bits of plastic which are used in a number of different toothpastes and facial scrubs as a kind of abrasive ingredient. And I'm really proud to say that students-- I may actually have included them a little later-- but students at UCLA in Los Angeles just got the campus to agree to ban products with microbeads in them on campus. So they're about to phase those out, which I think is really exciting and attests to the power of a small group of students on a campus to actually bring about some change.

And by the way, these microbeads are being found in Lake Erie and the Great Lakes-- they're being found everywhere. And again, they're being ingested by the entire marine chain, as well. So if anybody here eats seafood or enjoys-- yeah, basically anything from the sea. Bivalves, mussels, oysters, clams, lobsters, crabs, you can be pretty sure that there is some uptake of these into those animals. I wanted to talk a little bit about the success of bans, because-- have you guys heard about what's going on with microbead bans? We were just able, actually, to ban microbeads for the state of California, which is super exciting.

There is an international campaign called the Beat the Bead Campaign. It was started by another one of our coalition members that is based in the Netherlands. They're called the Plastic Soup Foundation. And they have been very active, but part of what they do is they go directly to L'Oreal and to these different big product companies, beauty product companies, and present them with this information and science and ask them I think in a very kind way if they would consider removing these things from their products. And they have gotten some buy in from them, but now they're also talking with the EU about a straight out ban.

This was an exciting day, it was about two months ago, I think. Right Sandy? Yeah.

Let's talk about bag bans for a second. So it's interesting, because the last time I was here in Phoenix was actually just a couple days before some language slipped into an energy bill that caused a preemptive ban of plastic bag bans for the state of Arizona. We're not really sure how that happened so quickly. People were paying attention to it, but it just snuck up and it happened really fast. I'm just going to say to you guys I also had this happen when I was in Atlanta, Georgia in March.

Actually, it was voted on the day that we were conducting a two day symposium called the Plastic Gyre at Georgia State University and at the Center for Disease Control, which was so ironic. I don't think we could have timed it more perfectly. But due to a lot of letter writing and calls and anger from people who were part of the symposium that we were part of producing, we were able to actually block that bill and defeat it. This is a tactic that-- oh, first I think I should just ask. Is there anyone who works for the plastic industry who's here? Raise your hand. No? OK. Usually they sit in the back row.


This is an image, actually, from Raja Ampat that my friend my friend Greg Stone took, and he's the head of the Marine Division for Conservation International. Raja Ampat is a beautiful, pristine ecosystem where people go to have like exotic beautiful diving experiences, and he came across a chewed up plastic bag floating by him on a dive, and he also sent me an image of a plastic cup with a plastic top and a purple plastic straw that looked like it had come like from Starbucks or something down the road. So I usually include this image just to remind me that it's not just this idea of a gyre of plastic that's out somewhere in the ocean that I'm concerned about, but it's the gyre of plastic that I see when I go to the supermarket.

And it's the jar of plastic that I see when I look in my own refrigerator or at a friend's house in the refrigerator. And it's the gyre of plastic and the chemicals that are used to manufacture plastic, the plasticizers, the additives, the bisphenols, the BPA, the BPD, the BPZ, the phtalates, these chemicals that are added to manufacture the plastic which leach into our foods, and potentially into our bodies and have been linked to a slew of human illnesses, including obesity and diabetes, lower sexual function, sterility, infertility, and the list goes on. I'll talk about it a little bit more. But that the gyre that I'm worried about. It's the gyre that's potentially in you and in me.

So there are all these amazing groups that are starting, these different things. Plastic-free July and Plastic Bag Free World. And there's a wonderful young anti-plastic pollution activist named Activist Abby. That's what she calls herself. And she lives in Lakeside, Illinois. And she makes these little means all the time. Not that I'm suggesting that anyone or any young people should put plastic bags over their head, because I'm not. But she makes these kind of memes and puts them out in her social media. And I like that she is motivated in this way, and she's really kind of taking it on herself. She's 13.

And she has ended up speaking in front of their city hall, and she is now working with the mayor of the town that she lives in to develop a proclamation to make a declaration that their city is going to become plastic bag free. And she's 13. And I also really have seen good results with incentivization programs where people are rewarded for behavior change. So people are rewarded for showing up with a reusable bag. They're rewarded when they go to Starbucks or somewhere and bring their own cup and say, hi, I'd like to order a coffee or a drink. Could you please put it in my own cup?

I've seen very good results with that-- or we have. And I hope to encourage-- we do, as Plastic Pollution Coalition, hope to encourage and help empower more people to bring about incentivization programs so that we're really rewarding people for this kind of behavior change that we're looking for, which is basically massive viral behavioral change on a world-- a global scale. That's what we're looking for.

I liked this sign, which is also part of what you need to do when you want to change something, which is educate people and do some outreach and have some kind of campaign or notice to let people know that something is going to be changing. And perhaps why, why it's going to be changing, and figure out smart ways to engage them so that people can feel like they're contributing to the solution.

Because I think we live in a world where we wake up every day and there's so much bad news about everything. And I feel like a pretty empathic person, so I'm sure many people in this room get upset about things that I learn about, like global warming climate change I find very upsetting. The question is what can you do about it? And I feel like when it comes to the issue of plastic pollution, and particularly, single use and disposable plastics, we all have the power at whatever level we want to be part of the solution to get involved and to make a change, even if it's a small change a personal change.

I also think I'm a perfect example of a person who didn't even get it right away. It took me a long time just to get messages from them the medium that I was working with and my own materials to begin to use reusable bags or to think to myself, you know I should make a point of always bringing some kind of reusable water bottle with me when I'm traveling, when I'm out somewhere. And now I find that one of the easiest things I can do is bring a reusable cup with me. And I do that all the time. Sometimes I'll tuck it in my purse or my bag. Sometimes I'll even bring it out to art openings or to gatherings or parties at people's homes. Because you just never know, and I don't really want to be rude if I go to someone else's house. I'd rather just have my own cup. And if they're serving everything in plastic I'd rather just pull out my own cup and have it in that.

So again, it's a little bit like camping. This has been a campaign that we were running in California, but it's totally applicable to the rest of the world. And it was just people photographing their own reusable bags or baskets and posting them on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, Instagram with the hashtag #mybag. Super simple campaign. It's something that we used when we were fighting for the third time since I've woken up to this issue to try and ban plastic bags in the state of California. I think you guys might be aware that we did ban plastic bags for the state of California, but what you might not be aware of is that the plastic industry spent about $3 million gathering 800,000 signatures to get a referendum up on the bill. And they were able to block the implementation of our bag ban which was supposed to go into effect July 1st, they blocked it for 14 months.

So it will be voted on again even though we passed it as a law and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. It will be voted on again in November I included these just for fun because I was really impressed that the city of Palm Springs had some messaging that they were using to encourage people to bring their own bags. That Brooklyn was doing that, about bringing a reusable bags with you. And the image at the top on the right is from Trader Joe's. So Trader Joe's and Whole Foods and a few other companies that have markets are actually trying to incentivize people bringing their own reasonable bags by giving you a $0.05 discount.

It's not very much, but if you bring a lot of bags with you it can add up. I usually bring like 10 bags with me because I use little bags to put produce and things like that in. If I go to those kinds of markets my own produce bags and they give me $0.05 off on every single one, so I save $1. Kind of feels good. I like to include this image of my friend Charlotte. She just turned 11, but in this picture she's 7. And she was the youngest speaker at our TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch Great that we put together in the end of 2010. She had been living on a boat with her family for a couple years and she just really wanted to get up and talk about how much plastic pollution she had seen on different beaches and coastal areas around the world. It's kind of amazing because she had just turned seven at the time.

So now I want to talk about solutions. One of the solutions that we found that's very interesting is a pilot project that we started, and the idea is refill programs. So the initial one that we started is on the left hand side and we started it with Bonnaroo. I don't know how many people are familiar with Bonnaroo, but it's the largest music festival in the United States. It takes place in Manchester, Tennessee. It's about an hour and a half outside of Nashville. It's usually sometime in early June. They've got this huge expanse, like a big park and area where people camp for, I think, four or five days. And they decided to launch a pilot project with us. So even though 80,000 people attend, when we began the project last year, which is called Refill Revolution, they purchased 7,500 food grade stainless steel cups, kind of like this one, and branded them. They were green, that kind of chartreuse green color, and they said Refill Revolution on them.

And they offered them for sale at every point of sale where they had beer on top. I did have some kids complain to me who were underage and were not able to buy those because they could only get them with a beer, and I thought that seemed a little bit unfair. But they had a very good response to the program. And what ended up happening is they sold all the cups out in about a day and a half and then people started stealing them from each other. Sandy, do you have that little strappy thing? Yes. I just wanted to show you guys-- actually, can you give it to me with your cup? So this is what they ended up using for Bonnaroo. They made a little strap like this. It's a little kind of neoprene strap, and you can put your reusable cup in it. And then it has a carabiner.

And so you could hook it on to your jeans, you could hook it on to your shorts, you could attach it to your backpack or your fanny pack or whatever you had at the festival and then have it with you. Unless you have a top on your cup I do not recommend doing this when you have liquid in the cup. But anyway, this was a very successful program and people really liked it. So for this year, 2015, in June they scaled it up. And they scaled it up and they ordered this year 13,500 stainless steel cups. Still not that much when you think about 80,000 people going to a music festival, but we have very great aspirations in hopes that they eventually will scale it up so that it becomes either part of the ticket price or something like that, and then everyone coming in will use one.

When they did it last year-- we don't have the numbers from this year yet-- they were able to save 40,000 plastic compostable cups by offering these reusable cups. And they also offered these kind of small versions of the steel bottles that are about half the size of this one. And by using those-- they offered 13,000 last year for sale-- they were able to save 300,000 plastic water bottles. The kind of cool thing about this is Rolling Stone actually wrote an article about it. So it was a way to share it with more people. And at the same time that Bonnaroo was happening last year-- there's a really big music festival in England, I'm spacing out on the name. I'll remember in a minute. And they actually made an announcement that they were going to design a food grade stainless steel pint cup and begin to offer it and that they wanted to work towards making their music festival zero waste, which I think is remarkable.

What happened just recently-- I can't see the date on the Selfridges article, but just in the last couple months, Selfridges, which is a big department store in Great Britain and based in London, they made a commitment and decided that they were going to stop offering plastic bottled water for sale. So in my opinion, these are all exciting things. This is the cup that Bonnaroo offered this year, so they changed it to a new color. And again, was a very successful program this year. Although I don't have the numbers, but they did scale it up. This is a program called My Pint and Me. It was originally called My Cup and Me, now it's called My Pint and Me, which was launched by the Santa Barbara Bowl in Santa Barbara, California, through, I believe, a grant.

It was started with the musician Jack Johnson and his wife Kim Johnson, and they installed a hydration station that had multiple spigots so that people could refill their bottles or cups and then they began offering these special steel cups at shows and even co-branding some of them with artists that were performing at the Bowl. And they've had very good response to this so far. So things like this give me hope. Now I'd like to talk about art and communication, because I think that's really important when we're at a university campus, particularly a school like this that has a whole sustainability program and all of these tremendous clubs, and students and faculty that are really championing sustainability and are working on ways to stave off and remedy and alleviate and lessen climate change.

Art can be a very important tool that we can use. So this is an art exhibition. I have one piece in the show. But it's a traveling / it opened originally in Alaska at the beginning of last year at the Anchorage Museum of Art. It was based on a group of artists and scientists who went out and did an expedition in the fjords of Alaska. And it also made a film which is available that you can see that Nat Geo produced. It's won a couple of awards. I believe the film is also called Gyre-- the Plastic Ocean. And it's a traveling exhibition where all of the work in the show is made by artists who are addressing the issue of plastic pollution. It includes images like, I don't know if you're familiar with Chris Jordan or Susan Middleton's images of albatross, laysan albatross carcasses and juvenile laysan albatross that have died on Midway Atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with their stomachs full of plastic, and literally recognizable pieces of plastic, like Bic lighters.

I mean the brands. The bottle tops of Coca-Cola bottles, toothbrushes, barrettes, combs-- just crazy stuff, that the parent birds who go there to mate and to nest and have their babies every year, literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, fly out around these islands looking for food. They collect this as food and feed it to their babies and their babies die with their stomachs full. And for me these kinds of images are very powerful because they're a metaphor for us. They're a metaphor for the fact that we're stuffing ourselves full of plastic and chemicals that leach from plastic and we don't know that we're doing it.

So art is a very powerful tool. Social media is a very powerful tool. I would say that the reason that we were able to create plastic pollution coalition is not because we had money. It was really just because we had four very passionate people who then reached out to a number of other groups who were also looking at this issue, but you'd be surprised how many different kinds of diverse groups make up the coalition. Natracare, which is a natural organic tampon company that emanated from Great Britain and is also based in Canada, wrote us a letter and joined our coalition the first year that we were formed.

We also have the Breast Cancer Fund and, Nontoxic Revolution, Keep a Breast Foundation, Environmental Working Group, Healthy Child, Healthy World, and then a lot of groups that are working on ocean sustainability, like Mission Blue, Conservation International, Greenpeace Spain, a lot of groups that are working on turtle habitat restoration from Panama, Costa Rica, little islands in the Greek Islands and the Ionian Sea, Turtle Sense-- all these different groups all over the world who, I think, prior to us creating a coalition, a lot of the people that I've spoken to from these groups felt that they were just kind of punching in the dark.

They didn't really realize that this was a global problem, and they didn't realize that there were a lot of other groups working on this as well. So that's something that as a coalition we've been able to help facilitate a lot of connections between different groups. I'll leave you with this image, but I actually have a couple of the things I wanted to talk to you about. One of them is we have a number of different projects that we are focused on, and one is called Plastic Free Schools. And that is a project where we are in the process, I'm actually going to ask my colleague who came with me from the Bay Area, Sandra Curtis, just to stand up. That's Sandy, everybody.


So Sandy is helping oversee what we're doing with Plastic Free Schools. And a part of that project is a project where we invite schools to join our coalition in the same way that we invite all groups and businesses and individuals to join our coalition. Because basically I aim really, really high. And I would, again, like everybody in the world to get on board with this. I feel like we need all hands on deck and that everyone can do something, even if you just go home this evening and decide that you're going to stop buying plastic bottled water at your house and maybe, if you need to filter the water where you live, put a little filter on your kitchen sink or find a portable one.

But just make a small commitment. Maybe you're going to start bringing a reusable bag with you, whatever that is. And if you want to go further with Plastic Free Schools, what we're looking at it, we're in the process of creating a matrix that will allow us to share best practices and curriculum that have been developed by a number of our different coalition members in the spirit of being able to share them with everybody else. Now some of this curriculum is in other languages, and so one of the things we're also working on is how do we find ways to translate that or share it, but to make it available.

And we also have our basic one sheet which is available in English, but we also have it-- I just found a copy of it in Arabic that someone had translated for us. But we have it in Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, and Mandarin. So it's a process and it's come together through the good will and the heart and the work of a lot of different people. Another project is our plastic free events. And part of what we provide on that page are these guides, like the one sheets that I'm describing to you that you can download from our website, which is But we also have been developing basic guidelines. Our most popular is actually called "How to Start a Bag Ban in Your Town."

And I have met a lot of people, actually I met some folks from Ketchum, Idaho who told me that they had launched a project to ban plastic bags in Ketchum. And when I asked them how they got the idea to do that they said that they had seen it on our website. We just last week added how to start a polystyrene ban in your town. And that was through the work of some folks who were doing waste management in New York State and have been helping work on the legislation for New York City.

I can talk about the subject for like literally a week and a half straight. I'm really excited about it because I see the possibility that we can change things, and change them relatively quickly. And I'd just like to make it really clear, I also think that this particular issue and solutions and alternatives to it is like the Wild West right now. I think that there is a lot of money to be made for the person who comes up with a way to replace the black plastic sheeting and white plastic sheeting that's used in Asia for big ag and agriculture. If you can come up with something that actually is biodegradable or that's made with paper, you're going to make a million dollars-- a billion dollars if you can figure out how to really make it work.

I also just think there's a lot of room for different kinds of innovation, but I think that that innovation can come from things that we already use that already exist. And in my childhood growing up in Hollywood the milkman delivered milk. And I lived in an apartment in glass bottles. And we washed those glass bottles and sent them back and then they were refilled again. I don't think that we need to wait for some kind of magic thing that we haven't come up with yet. I feel like there are solutions, maybe some of them are more traditional or old school, maybe it's as simple as storing your food at home in a ceramic bowl and putting a saucer on top of it like my grandma used to do and I now do sometimes.

But I just have to say it's challenging and it's fun to try and figure out how to reduce your personal plastic footprint, how to reduce your plastic footprint at home, at school, at your kid's school, at this campus, in your place of work, in your department, in your office, at your club. It is totally worthwhile to do. And I also would like to tell you that I think that single use plastic is very insidious. It didn't escape my awareness that as the refreshments were being brought out they were being brought out covered with Saran wrap. What could we be using instead of Saran wrap? Could we use, even though it would be plastic, could we use the dense plastic shells or something like that that can be used hundreds and hundreds of times versus covering things with something that basically is instant garbage. The minute it was pulled out that sheet became instant garbage. And I really feel that way about straws, as well.

I don't know how many of you have seen this video that kind of went viral about a month ago where some marine biologists caught a marine turtle. I think they were studying it or tagging it off the coast of Costa Rica and found that it had something lodged in one of its nostrils and began to tug it out and found that it was a straw about this long, and pulled it out of the turtle's head. And we've met people here today and yesterday and just over the last month and young people who have said I will never use a straw again after I saw that video. I know that in my own experience--


Thanks. I know in my own experience it's kind of hard to get a drink without a straw unless you remember to order it that way. You have to literally say hi, I'd like an ice tea. No straw. Please don't put any plastic in my drink to someone-- nicely-- and about 50% of the time it will work. But I think that if everybody starts doing things like that we can actually create some awareness and make a change. On that note, we are working with some different restaurant and hotel restaurant groups who did-- Mario Batali is part of our coalition, and his restaurant group, Batali Bastianich Restaurant Group, which is now 23 different restaurants around the world, just made a decision about a year and a half ago to change their protocol, which meant that they had to teach it to all of their servers and people who worked in the restaurant.

And the change in protocol was when people order something to drink, you serve it to them. And we still have straws, but they're only available upon request. So somebody has to kind of go that extra mile to get a straw, because I don't know how often I'm out with people and we're all served a drink with a straw in it and everybody just takes the straw out and puts it on the side. So I think that little things like that can go a long way and have a large effect. And actually, we're creating a case study with them about what they've saved. And they've seen their straw usage go down substantially by just shift in protocol. So that's quite interesting.

But there are a lot of options and alternatives that are available right now. And I would encourage and invite everybody who is sitting here to look around you and see if there are things that you can change and do today or when you wake up tomorrow that will help contribute to becoming part of the solution. So yeah, thank you.


So I know we were going to have a Q&A. Should we just start? Yes.




Audience: Two quick questions. One is how would you summarize the main arguments of the plastic industry against the ban of plastic, the plastic bans. Your response to those arguments. And the second question is what do you think about the [INAUDIBLE] strategy instead of banning plastic bags, when it's politically unviable — looks like in Arizona it's complicated now — to have a $0.05 punishment or reward like they do in some places in Canada that they use to reduce plastic bags by 70% in the--

Dianna Cohen Yeah, we have seen successful bag taxes, for example, in Washington DC and also in Ireland where they added a fee on to the plastic bag, and that did seem to dissuade people from-- I'm sorry, I'm going to go backwards. I'm going to answer your last question first. That did seem to dissuade people from taking the plastic bags. But what I've seen is if you don't charge enough, people are lazy and they don't think about it. And so I really like the incentivization idea, which is no matter what happens with the plastic bag ban or the ban on plastic bag bans or whatever ends up happening here in Arizona, I would say it would be really wonderful to see some incentivized programs where people are rewarded for bringing reusable bags.

And that can happen no matter what. So that's the answer to your first question. Your second question. Your first question I might actually bring Lauren Kuby, Kuby, up here with me. Am I saying that right? Kuby.

Lauren Kuby up here with me to help answer that. But I would say what is the plastic industry's main argument for ban on plastic bag bans? It's money. It's money. And if they can tie stuff up in fighting and legislation back and forth, it's a drop in the bucket to them. I mean the American Chemistry Council likes to brag on their press releases that they're-- I'm going to quote them, "They are integral to the safety and the security of the United States of America, with an annual revenue of over $455 billion dollars." So to spend a couple million to defeat something is nothing to them. It's nothing.

And it just means that they keep get to keep selling this crap, basically. This garbage and putting it out in the world with no responsibility, no cradle to cradle model, no producer responsibility to them. And they really just immediately shove the onus onto us, onto the consumer and onto the citizen. They're polluting our landscape, they're polluting our waterways. Plastic bags are not something that are really feasible or viable to recycle. And the two funniest arguments that they use over and over again is this idea that a reusable bag may contain E coli. Halloween's coming, so get ready because this reusable bags may contain E coli.

And, you know, I wear socks, I wear underwear. I wash them. Everything may contain E coli. Most things have E coli on them. Vegetables and fruit have E coli on them. We wash them. It's very simple. Plastic bags can also have E coli on them. So it's kind of a ridiculous argument. When they were trying to defeat the bag ban in the state of California they spent $2 million on an ad campaign up in Sacramento. It was before the public was even going to vote on it. It was just a vote of our state legislature. They posted this PSA, this ad, and it said they want to ban these. There was a plastic bag. And they said, that's going to cost teachers their jobs.

So I don't know. Basically, for my art work, I have a complete love/hate relationship with the material that I work with. I'm not sure that it's been good for me to touch it as much as I have for the last 25 years. And frankly, this is another thing I don't know if you guys are aware of this, but thermal paper, which our receipts are printed on, that coating on them that allows it to function as thermal paper is made with bisphenol A, and we absorb it through our fingers and through our skin. And people who work as tellers or work behind counters with registers and are handing those to people all day, I highly recommend that they wash their hands many, many times a day.

And just with soap, not with the antibacterial stuff. But yeah, just with soap. But that's an important thing to note that most people are unaware of. And I only learned about it in last couple years. Yes? Yes?

Audience: I have had success in bringing my own cup to different businesses, but what I'm always concerned about is [INAUDIBLE] bring up these public heath threats. So I'm wondering your approaches to dealing with a county health department in looking at restaurants [INAUDIBLE] that [INAUDIBLE].

Dianna Cohen: I don't have an opinion on that, and I don't have experience with approaching the county health department. I have had people say that to me when I've tried to get takeaway food in my own steel or glass container. Oftentimes the way I got around that is I say if they have a counter or a table or something, I say well OK great order it for here. Oops, I don't have time to stay. I put my own container. I pay and I leave.


Audience: I have a question about compostable material. And I know the ones here are going to be really be composted.

Dianna Cohen: Awesome.

But the problem is that in many restaurants they think they're doing the right thing by switching to compostable cups. But unless you're [INAUDIBLE] disposable cup and then throw it into recycling, and that messes it up. I actually have no idea what happens to compostable cups [INAUDIBLE].

Audience: I actually don't know what happens with the compostable cups, but just because something's compostable doesn't mean it's biodegradable and doesn't mean that it will biodegrade. Normally things that claim to be compostable need to go into an industrial composting facility and be heated to 140 degrees for 10 days. If you've got that, great. If you haven't got that, not so great. But I would say to all of you, because I know that they were starting to serve us-- I'm sorry, I'm the one who's responsible for those cone-shaped paper cups over there. I asked them to remove the plastic, compostable cups that they were putting out earlier. So my apologies in advance.

But the thing about compostable plastic, or I don't even know if they're compostable if they're plant based, if it's a bioplastic cup. I have no idea because I haven't looked at them and I'm not aware of which company is [INAUDIBLE]. They're probably coming from Aramark or whoever supplies the campus. But in order to make those plastic cups, whether the carbon source that was used to make it is petroleum based or bio based, plant based, you have to our plasticizers to it. And those chemicals like this bisphenols, BPA and other bisphenols. Bisphenol replacements for BPA if something's BPA-free.

Or phtalates which are used to make the plastic supple, malleable, rigid, transparent, translucent, are known endocrine disruptors. So whether it's compostable of or not, I don't really care. I just don't want to eat out of it because I want to do it as my body with extra endocrine disruptors. And basically, just for anyone who doesn't know about those endocrine disruptors, are basically like dosing yourself with small tiny micro amounts of estrogen and again, has linked to a lot of different human illnesses.

Just on a very personal note-- my mom died-- she was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 38 and she died when she was 42. The type of breast cancer that she had at the time we were told was estrogen receptive. So basically anything that she was eating and drinking-- we didn't know this back then-- it was more than 30 years ago, was contributing to or potentially feeding her cancer. We now know that these endocrine disruptors have been linked to-- they do feed breast cancer. And they've been linked to brain cancer and prostate cancer as well. They've actually just found in some studies with bisphenol A, they've linked it to liver lesions. It was for another study that they were doing with mice, but they found that it could be linked to liver cancer as well.

So there's a lot of interesting peer-reviewed scientific study and research out there. Even though some other people might argue that these are just micro amounts and there's nothing to be concerned about, and there may be safe levels that are approved, I don't know. I went to college. I have a certain level of education. I'm just going to get an educated decision to try and avoid this stuff and reduce my exposure to it whenever I'm able to, so I would encourage the same of all of you. Yeah?

Audience: Even if the ban on plastic bags does go through [INAUDIBLE] in California, how is California going to keep natural retailers from stocking them?

Dianna Cohen: Well, probably in the same way that, unfortunately, California has been able to sell furniture and pajamas that meet the California flame retardants standard by adding flame retardants to everything since the early 70s. So it just becomes something that's kind of a patch or a designation for anything that's coming into the state of California. Luckily, Jerry Brown just signed a new law that will allow people a choice so now you will be able to buy furniture that the foam inside the furniture is not treated with flame retardants, which are also an endocrine disruptor and have a link to hypothyroid disease.

Audience: So what do you see as a more effective thing than having a ban? Because oversight of bans is costly and probably full of holes.

Dianna Cohen: A more effective thing that ban would be, I think, incentivizing positive behavior change. Yeah. Rewarding people for good behavior, and you're trying to get them to learn something new. How do we learn to do the things that we do? I don't want to say we're like lemmings, but we are kind of monkeys, in a way. And also, if something becomes popular or-- I mean, look. I never imagined in my lifetime that they would prohibit smoking in public places. That's just something I never imagined. But look, here we are. And isn't that wonderful? Makes nice air that people can breathe.

I'm an ex-smoker, too. I have a really strong opinion about it now. And I think that it's really going to be up to the young people and the next generations to decide what kind of world they want to create and live in, and I look at my four-year-old niece and my nine-year-old nephew and I think oh my god, if we don't do something really fast about this, they're going to be living in a garbage dump. There's a film called Idiocracy, I don't know if you guys have ever seen it. It's a kind of one-liner. It's a comedy with Luke Wilson. And it's pretty funny, actually, and incredibly sad. But there are so many aspects of the story in the film, it's kind of imagining a world in the near future where we just live in a giant garbage dump.

But I don't actually see us that far from that, because I've just seen this rise of plastic. And also, when you look at graphs or charts of plastic production, in the next 10 years on a global scale plastic is going to double. The production of plastic is going to double what it was for the entire last century since its inception or invention. This is a real problem. It becomes not really just about cleaning it up, and not really just about using a little bit less of it, and not really about not exposing ourselves to it. It becomes how do we go about and look at it literal source reduction at the source. Who made this packaging decision? Is this something we want to buy? No? Let's all let this company know that we don't want to buy their product.

I got a really wonderful e-mail from a company that makes a lot of difference musical instrument parts. And I've had a couple meetings with them over the last year and a half. And they gave me a bunch of good news which I think we'll be able to share soon about changes that they've made. But one of the changes they made, they're in upstate New York, is that they started learning from some of the news articles that we were sharing with them about these Keurig cups in the coffee machines, the k-cups, and they just got rid of all the k-cups at their whole factory and all their offices and put in like an espresso machines and they can brew their own coffee and they're really excited about it.

So that's a huge savings for them right there, but they're also looking at their packaging for these different products. And we'll just call them accoutrements, like devices that are used that are part of musical instruments, et cetera, where they might slide into a box or something like that and be held in a little plastic clamshell container. They're just looking at ways to replace those with things that are made from paper or recycled paper or pulp or cardboard, and that will have tremendous savings. And then of course the next thing you want to look at is for a truly sustainable world would be the idea of refilling things and using containers over and over and over again.

We see a lot of companies attempting things like that, but taking the water out of their products and selling a more concentrated version where you add your own water. I've seen quite a funny-- I think it's a ridiculous argument of why we should be using disposable plates and dishes and cups and things like that, particularly now in California because we're having a drought. And I just find it almost unimaginable that people don't think to themselves well, in order to manufacture those disposable things, a certain amount of water was used. So not even thinking about that. But it's this idea that you can't-- why wouldn't you want to use a plate that you can use 5,000 times and wash it?

You know, and maybe wash it in a dish washer with a bunch of other plates so that you're also conserving water when you do it that way? I don't really get it, but that argument keeps popping up again and again and again. I find it actually laughable. yes?

Audience: I just learned in the last couple days [INAUDIBLE]. In order to get this ban on bags in Arizona, the Arizona [INAUDIBLE]. That's the exact title. But they actually said we will accept your sheet plastic goods at our grocery store in order to not have this ban happen So I say, hold these people accountable. Take all of your sheet plastic, too. I said, you can't shop without getting [INAUDIBLE] cardboard thing with a plastic bag below it. Take all that plastic, put it in a bigger plastic bag--

Dianna Cohen: And drop it off.

Audience: --back to your grocery store. Because they're the ones who said, we'll take it. Just don't put a ban on bags. So hold them accountable.

Dianna Cohen: This young man is an activist. You are an activist. I agree. I think that's a good idea.

Audience: It's a short-term thing, but let's hold them accountable [INAUDIBLE] negotiations at the [INAUDIBLE].

Dianna Cohen: I think that's a good idea. Did you want add anything, Lauren?

Lauren Kuby: The only problem is there's not really a market for them, [INAUDIBLE] like plastic in the market [INAUDIBLE].

Dianna Cohen: I don't think what he's saying has anything to do with the market. It's just a gesture. Yeah.

Lauren Kuby: --a gesture. But supermarkets collect recycled — they collect single-use plastic bags.

Audience: Well they've changed it. They take all plastic sheet goods now. That was part of the deal they made.

Lauren Kuby: Are you talking about a particular grocery chain, though?

Audience: Everybody is supposed to do that. All of these merchandisers. And as they say, cannot avoid if you buy anything, it's going to come in some type of a plastic.

Dianna Cohen: That's cool, so how would you do that? Would you create a box at your house that says, drop out of the market? Because if I could make your own bin-- that's cool.

[INAUDIBLE] plastic.

Dianna Cohen: I think that's fine.

Audience: Even bags that your house insulation comes in. You take that and you stuff it in there. It's sheet plastic.

Lauren Kuby: I think of TerraCycle. TerraCycle is a company that collects it. [INAUDIBLE] sustainability [INAUDIBLE], wrappers, all sorts of plastic wrappers. You can take them to a specific place and they supposedly recycle it.

A lot of the problem is that it's cheaper to use virgin plastic, and the plastic market is falling through the floor. A lot of it [INAUDIBLE].

Dianna Cohen: Well, also my understanding, and maybe this has changed since I learned about it, but the polymer chain, in order to help be strong enough to use it for things, they can only take up to 30% recycled content, and the other 70% needs to be virgin.

Audience: I think some applications like decking, the plastic decking and the park benches and stuff-- I'm not an expert, but my understanding is that that can be a lot higher percentage of recycled. And [INAUDIBLE] I think it's better to use or reuse plastic in that [INAUDIBLE].

Dianna Cohen: Yeah, I think it's not a bad idea. I have seen it break, though, at parks and at beaches. It does break. It becomes brittle in the sun and it will break apart, and then it ends up in the ocean again. Even recycling, reusing plastic for reuse, if it's not upcycled into something more refined and fine that people are going to keep in use forever-- just extending the life of it a little bit more before it ends up in the same place, which is a landfill or getting shipped to China or incinerated or in the environment. But-- Yeah?

Audience: Short-term though, what's the alternative to throwing it in the trash?

Dianna Cohen: I like your idea about-- no I like your idea about dropping it off. I'd love to know how that goes. Yeah. I think it's a good idea. Yes?

Audience: I have two questions. The first one is, what about not single-use plastic, like [INAUDIBLE]? The second question is I feel like a lot of your efforts have to do with trying to change behavior. How do you find a balance between that and [INAUDIBLE]?

Dianna Cohen: So you're right. It's unfair of me-- I'm going to answer your second question first. It's unfair of me not to acknowledge that we do have a lot of coalition members who are working on solutions and innovation and alternative products, developing in R&D. You may have heard of Boyan Slat, he's the young man who when he was 17 gave a TED talk in Delft in Holland with this idea of an image he put up with a passive machine that would clean up the ocean.

He's been busy raising about-- he raised $2 million very quickly in order to do a-- sorry, forgetting what it's called-- a study that would allow him to know whether they should proceed with pursuing that. A feasibility study, sorry.

And now he's in the process of, I think, raising about $80 million to implement first versions of it. From having spent a lot of time in the ocean, and I live near to the Pacific Ocean, I actually think that cleaning it up is not going to solve the problem at all. It particularly won't solve the problem when you look at how much we're producing. I think that even if we took every boat in the world and every person in the world and took them to the coast and out on islands and out on boats to try and pick it up and basically sift the ocean and sift our rivers and our lakes, we would not clean it up.

And it would be a drop in the bucket compared to how much we're producing daily. So I don't see that necessarily as the solution. I think what he's working on is a component of the solution, and he is certainly-- he's about 20 now-- has certainly helped raise awareness around the issue, particularly with my friend's teenage kids. But all around the world, which is fantastic. So I really think, although there are these great ideas like companies working on recycling plastic in the same way from the ocean and turning it into stitching on your shoes or your jeans or whatever they're trying to do-- again, I don't think that's a solution, but it is definitely helping raise awareness. And for that I value it.

Sorry, your first question about plastics. You were holding up your plastic bottle. I would actually discourage you from using that. I would not encourage you to throw it out. I made the mistake of throwing out a bunch of really wonderful Tupperware and stuff. I didn't throw it in the garbage, I gave it to Goodwill. In retrospect, I should have kept it and just used it to store things in my office and my garage, because I think you can just use things like that to store non-edible and the non-beverage things in them. But I would really encourage you to consider glass, ceramics, or food-grade stainless steel instead as your daily water bottle or cup, only because even the plastic vessels that say they are BPA are made with other bisphenols.

And the two times that I've met with the head of the endocrine disruption department, her name is Antonia Calafat, at the Center for Disease Control, she has said to me that they cannot track what the BPA is being replaced with BPA free things quickly enough to identify the markers on them. They know that some of it's BPD, BPZ, others bisphenols. And she said that what they found is that they are equally bad, if not worse, to BPA. And they are estrogenic. So I would encourage you to select-- try something else. Yeah. Yes?

Audience:[INAUDIBLE] a lot of the stainless steel bottles [INAUDIBLE].

Dianna Cohen: Plastic tubs, oh plastic liners.

Audience: --which will have [INAUDIBLE].

Dianna Cohen: Yeah, they might or they might not. I don't know. So again, when you go to buy something if you need to buy it, I would open it up and look inside of it and try to choose things that are still also steel or glass or wood or ceramic on the interior. I know that most of the bottles do have a silicon O-ring. I am not an expert on silicon. We were talking about earlier today. I don't know what the ramification of silicon are. I know that it's being offered for sale to people to bake things in and all kinds of things having to do with food. Again, I'm not a scientist. I don't know. So I would say if you can use metal.

I mean, I have some cast iron pans that I use. Frying pans. And I have one that was my mom's. And actually my boyfriend also has one that was his mom's, and we kind of treasure them. And we take really good care them and we put oil on them. I think that there are beautiful things that can be used for many, many generations. So I prefer-- I like old stuff that's well-made and good. Yeah?

Audience: You may have already addressed this, but I was wondering if you knew what sort of plastic lines the inside of the to-go cups that you might get at Starbucks--

Dianna Cohen: So plastic to-go cups. That's fun. I think I had seen somebody who came in with one. I was going to have him hold it up. There you go. There it is. So plastic to-go cups. What you have to know about-- sorry, paper to-go cups.

What need to know is that they are made with a certain percentage of plastic. And it turns out that they have to be because, otherwise they would leak. I also just learned in the last year, and I was pretty shocked by this, but the tops-- can you hold that up again for a second? The to-go tops on these are not just made out of plastic, they're made out of compressed polystyrene.

And polystyrene, or as it's also known as Styrofoam as one of the brand names for it, it gives off a neurotoxin. So I would also encourage you not to take those tops on cups.


Dianna Cohen: Yes?

Audience: Would you talk a little bit more about the brief comment that you made about the fibers from synthetic fabric [INAUDIBLE]?

Dianna Cohen: Sure. Yeah, sure. So it turns out, a lot of our clothing is made from synthetic materials like polyester or modal, or I'm sure I'm totally guilty of it, too. I'm just going to walk out in front of you guys and pull on my jeans right now. So my jeans are stretchy which means that they've got a certain amount of elastic or something, some kind of plastic in them. It turns out that every time we wash our clothing, and our clothing has synthetics in it, it releases microfibers.

I know this is kind of bad news for that awesome company, Patagonia, that makes all the polar fleece tops out of recycled plastic bottles. And I know that it's something that it's something that they're looking at right now, because pretty much every time you wash something you're releasing it. There are a couple different groups and companies that are working on a filter for washing machines that could be something that everybody could attach to their washing machine. But in all fairness, I've been to Mali, I've been to India, I've been to China, I've been to a number of different countries where probably a majority of people are not using a washing machine.

Many people are using a washing machine but many people are not. And in many parts of the world people still are just scrubbing things in the basement and washing them by hand. So again, microfibers are going to be released every time we wash our clothes. So I'm not telling you not to wash your clothes, but it's just something to consider. And then another thing that that got me thinking about is it good for us to wear synthetics on our body. Again, just because our skin, it's our largest organ of our body. And it's porous and we absorb things through our skin. So it's also something to consider.

And I would say there maybe the thing to encourage people to do, and this is something I need to apply to myself as well, would be to make an effort to buy clothing that this is made from natural materials like wool or cotton or hemp or non-synthetic materials. But at this point I would say I feel like I have too much. And if anything I should just be giving things away instead of buying new things.

Lauren Kuby: One more question.

Audience: You gave the example of straws earlier.

Dianna Cohen: Yeah.

Audience: Do you think that alienating people is as effective as positive reinforcement? If you were going to alienate people with some method like making them ask for a straw, do you think that's as effective as positive reinforcement?

Dianna Cohen: Do you feel alienated if you ask for some salt and pepper and you're at a restaurant?

Audience: No.


Audience: But if there was some big deal made about it by the waiter or something like that, do you think that there's any way--

Dianna Cohen:They're not making a big deal, they just don't serve them. And if you really want one you ask them for one. I don't think that's alienating at all.

Audience: I'm saying as a method, do you think that that's something that could be applied to be successful?

Dianna Cohen: The method I'm just describing of changing the protocol and not automatically offering someone a straw or shoving a straw in their drink? Do I think that that's alienating? No. [INAUDIBLE].

Audience: No.

I'm saying, do you think that alienating as a technique would be successful.

Dianna Cohen: Well, one, I don't find my example to be something that's alienating. And two, do I think alienating is a good approach? Nothing that I've been talking about is alienating. If anything, it's asking people for something you like and it's rewarding them for doing something that you'd like them to do instead rather than something else. So I think that those are all really kind and polite gentle ways to bring about behavior change. Yeah?

Audience: So then it's opting in or out. So when you go to a hotel, one of two ways. If you want towels to be replaced every day, you have to put a sign out. That says you have to take an action to get towels every day. Some say if you don't want towels every day put the sign out. So one way makes you do something. The other way, they're going to automatically not give you a towel if you want one. So it's just opting in versus opting out. I don't think it's an alienation, but it's just how you make the human behind it react, what you make them do. You make them make an action to get an action. Just like we should ban-- we shouldn't print receipts.

Receipts should be optional. We have email. How many billions of pounds of paper do we waste annually printing receipts versus not printing one. If the customer wants one, they print him one, or have [INAUDIBLE] automatically go to your email. If they're using a debit card or a credit card, more than likely it has their email address on it anyhow. Make [INAUDIBLE].

Dianna Cohen: That's right.

Audience: That's all it is. It's opting in and out. [INAUDIBLE] alienates.

OK, the very last question goes to Nona.

Nona Savari: Actually, I just want to add something. From a business aspect of it, the fact that you always say would you like a straw, [INAUDIBLE] usually don't come back and say [INAUDIBLE] usually when we take it, which is really hard to tell that to your servers, because they are in the habit of doing that. But one thing, it's interesting. The plasticware is some of the most expensive items that we spend money on.

So from a business standpoint, we save so much money as a business [INAUDIBLE] use it. So not just thinking about the financial aspect of it, OK, [INAUDIBLE] little things you add up. To go boxes are so expensive [INAUDIBLE] give it away [INAUDIBLE] financial aspect of it [INAUDIBLE] be creative and find a way to [INAUDIBLE] something to save you money [INAUDIBLE] business owner.

Audience: Amen

Lauren Kuby: Thank you, Nona. Let's thank Dianna for all her time at ASU.


This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. For educational and non-commercial use only.