Our planet is drowning in plastic. We see plastic in almost every moment of our day. Plastic hygiene bottles, drink bottles, unnecessarily wrapped produce, and clothing made from plastic fibers are everywhere. With little regulation on plastic consumption in the U.S., single-use disposable plastic is often the only option in shops for various products. So, unfortunately, it is no surprise when we hear about things like “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The plastic crisis has become so prevalent that it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight! This is why I was so excited to hear that Joe Gebbia, a co-founder of AirBnB, has donated $25 million to help in the fight against plastic pollution.
Gebbia donated the funds to the non-profit organization, The Ocean Cleanup. Since its founding in 2013, the organization has successfully removed 440,000 pounds of plastic from The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Ocean Cleanup has been incredibly innovative in pursuing its mission to remove 90% of floating plastic from our planet’s rivers and oceans. The non-profit has developed a technology coined as the ‘Interceptor,’ which carefully targets high-concentrated areas of plastic and then captures and recycles it. Gebbia’s donation will allow the organization to continue exploring the reaches of how technology can help solve the plastic crisis.
The donation has immense significance beyond the immediate impact in the seas. The World Economic Forum estimates that $175 billion is needed yearly to protect our oceans. However, between 2015 and 2019, less than $10 billion was invested. Plastic in our oceans has severe implications for our health and the health of the animals that call it home. Plastic endangers populations of various animals as they ingest it, which can cause blocked digestive systems. Many of us will remember the horrifying images of turtles and birds being suffocated by straws and six-pack rings. For those that eat fish, there is an ever-increasing number of microplastics being found in fish. In recent studies, it has been identified that microplastics contaminated 74% of filets.
Many of us in the Peaceful Dumpling community are plant-based; however, our lack of fish consumption does not eliminate our risks of consuming microplastics. As water evaporates from our oceans, microplastics are carried into the water system. When it rains over our crops, they seep into the soil and are then taken up by plant root systems. A study in Italy has already found microplastic concentrations in the fruits and vegetables being sold by local grocery stores. Although the effects of microplastics on human health are not fully understood yet, there is already evidence pointing to the disruption of our endocrine system, which regulates our hormones. With our entire body relying on healthy hormone levels, this could have massive implications on numerous internal systems.
With such significant implications on our health and the planet’s health, it’s disheartening how little federal initiatives have been made to limit plastic consumption and clean decades of irresponsible waste management. However, Joe Gebbia proves the power a private citizen can hold. “The Ocean Cleanup has created systems and technology that actually work at scale. For them to deploy across our oceans and rivers, they now need to scale their funding. It is my hope that this donation can inspire others to act,” Gebbia shared. His donation to The Ocean Cleanup is also not his first act of philanthropy. In 2012, after Hurricane Sandy, the co-founder helped start Airbnb.org, Airbnb’s non-profit chapter, which helps those facing crisis find shelter through the Open Homes Initiative. Then in 2021, Gebbia donated another $25 million to two local San Francisco charities to help support housing aid and ongoing welfare aid to those negatively impacted by the COVID pandemic.
Our planet faces many challenges due to its current environmental state—one being plastic pollution within our oceans which poses serious health risks for marine wildlife and humans alike. Thankfully people like Joe Gebbia have stepped up with donations such as his recent $25M contribution towards The Ocean Cleanup organization. Gebbia’s contribution has given me so much hope and excitement for the future, and I am optimistic that this will inspire other acts of philanthropy in the future. We must continue taking steps toward protecting our environment, and although not all of us can make large donations, remember that one small change or act from each of us will have an incredible impact.
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Photo: Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash