Emily Penn is about to embark on a 3,000-mile voyage to research the impact of plastic pollution. But making a difference doesn't have to be so challenging.
Governments are putting taxes on single-use plastics, businesses are searching for more sustainable packaging and most people say they want to do better by the environment.
“We have a big challenge now, which is how to turn that interest and awareness into actual tangible action,” Emily says. “But people have got a lot of energy for it and we’ve got to seize the moment.”
'Find your superpower'
Emily admits the scale of the plastic pollution can be overwhelming.
Every year, for example, eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea - the same as dumping a rubbish truck full of plastic in the ocean every minute.
Her advice, though, is to look beyond the statistics and to find your “superpower”.
“What is it that you’re brilliant at? What makes you unique and where does that intersect with the plastic problem?
“Are you an engineer? Are you great at making little videos for Instagram? Whatever it is, start using that power and have a positive influence. Use it to influence the people around you - your community, your workplace.”
She adds: “It’s billions of micro actions by every one of us that has got us into this situation, and it’s micro actions - not using that bottle, that bag, that straw, that coffee cup - that will help get us out of it.”
'Just do something!'
The time to take those micro actions is unquestionably now.
Our use of plastic is expected to double in the next 20 years, and by 2050 there will be more of it in the ocean by weight than all the fish.
The problem is already pouring into the deepest parts of the ocean, previously untouched by man.
“The world seems like a big place but I’ve been lucky enough to sail across a lot of these oceans and you realise that it’s actually quite small,” Emily warns.
“The ocean isn’t infinite. We’re pushing it to the point where it’s empty of fish and full of plastic, and we need to do something.”
She is, however, optimistic about the future.
“With all of these challenges,” she says, “I see a great opportunity to do something incredible that we’ve not achieved so far.
“I would say, don’t worry too much about [the size of the problem]; just start doing something.”
Images: eXXpedition, Agathe Bernard