January 18 Questions: Lia Colabello

1.What is your name?

Lia Colabello

2.What is your occupation?

Director of Global Partnerships & Community Engagement for the 5 Gyres Institute. 5 Gyres is focused on research, education, advocacy and solutions for plastic pollution in our oceans. www.5gyres.org

3.Do you have a “green” memory growing up?

My first taste of community activism and ocean conservation came at an early age. An international real estate developer planned to build 300 homes and a golf course in the pristine hills above the North Shore of the island of Oahu in Hawaii. There was real fear amongst our neighbors that the runoff from this development would adversely affect our ocean water quality, the health of the reefs, and therefore the amazing waves that our region was world famous for, along with dozens of other issues. It was a generational fight that was resolved, years later, in favor of our community, who ended up buying the land for preservation. As a child, my parents took me to dozens of neighborhood meetings on this issue, and during this time I learned about the importance of healthy watersheds and oceans and how to be an activist.

4.What’s your favorite meal?

Any type of Hawaiian or Thai cuisine.

5.Who/what inspires you to be more “green” in your life?

Images like these. It is unacceptable that children are swimming in a sea of plastic, and will never experience a pristine beach and ocean.

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6.Where on the “green scale” do you fall?

A 7 – I am ever learning and evolving with regards to sustainable practices.

7.What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of your job?

The reward comes when I meet new people and watch the growing awareness reflect in their eyes as I tell them about the massive problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. It comes as I see society evolving to increasingly reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and rethink plastics.

The challenge comes every so often as I move forward with passion to bring awareness to others, knowing that so few voices are not enough to stem the tide of plastics that are drowning our oceans, knowing that this critical issue won’t be resolved in my lifetime, and knowing that most children will never experience a pristine ocean, like the one that I grew up next to in Hawaii. However, these moments of despair are easily pushed aside because we cannot give up our right to clean, healthy, plastic-free oceans.

8.Where’s your “green spot” food, body care/beauty, oceans, home or neighborhood, explain:

Any ocean, anywhere.

9.Where do you turn for your news?

NY Times, The Economist, The Post & Courier for local news, The Inertia, industry and non-profit list serves, and I am a complete Flipboard addict.

10.What is one environmental change you vow to make in the next year?

To never carry a single-use plastic bag out of a store or restaurant. I was just discussing the challenge of this vow with a friend who coined #PlasticBagsAreTrashy on the spot. That hashtag completely encapsulates my sentiments about single-use plastic bags.

11.If you could trade places with one person from any time in history (past or present) for one day—who would it be and why?

Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was one of the most powerful and influential women in the world during her different reigns. She cleverly navigated difficult international political intrigue, supported culture, innovation and the arts, and utilized her intelligence, wealth, status, education, amazing business acumen and moxie to live an adventurous and intriguing life.

12.You have a meeting with the leader of every country in the world. You have 30 seconds to tell them anything you want. Go!

By 2025 there will be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the sea. There are three solutions to this disaster-in-the-making:

(1) Corporations need to use less plastic in products and packaging, implement cradle-to-cradle initiatives in their supply chain, and consider Design Change and Extended Producer Responsibility in product manufacturing;

(2) Consumers should rethink using single-use plastics – every time you hold a plastic bottle, straw, bag, you name it – ask yourself if there is an alternative to what you have in your hand. To quote the U.S. Undersecretary of State Catherine Novelli, “Plastic products are the ultimate irony. With a single, short-term use, they live for centuries as trash.”

(3) Improve recycling and waste management systems, especially in countries where there are little to no systems in place. In those locales, everything eventually ends up in the oceans.

13.You have the chance to send one tweet to all the tweeps in the world. Let’s hear it in 140 characters, or less!

There are 5.2T pieces of plastic in the ocean. Be a solution to plastic pollution. Go to www.5gyres.org/bechange NOW. #MoreOceanLessPlastic

14.If there was one industry/product that you could make more eco-friendly, what would it be?

The apparel industry uses massive amounts of single-use plastics. Did you know that almost every article of clothing sent to stores and online shoppers arrives individually wrapped in single-use plastic called a polybag? Check out this blog from Patagonia to find out some of the reasons why single-use polybags are utilized so abundantly. While polybags can be recycled, most often into other types of bags and items like Trex decking, Patagonia, as well as many other brands are seeking ways to minimize the amount of polybags used, and are exploring new technologies with the ultimate goal of using less plastic overall.

Some companies, like prAna, have been able to practically eliminate polybags from their supply chain, but it is a challenge and requires alternative packaging and warehousing systems. It is a conundrum for sure, but the good news is that brands realize their customers want to see less plastic used as well, and are constantly evolving to improve best practices.

I’d also want to see the end of those plastic bar tacks that price tags are affixed to clothing with. Don’t even get me started on dry cleaning, or we will be here for a while!

 15.Where in the world would you most like to be right now?

Surfing Sunset Point with friends, family and neighbors on a gorgeous Hawaiian day.

16.What is the best book you have read recently?

Beautiful Trouble is an amazing anthology of mini case studies on activism. If you want to start a revolution, start here: http://beautifultrouble.org

17.What makes you cringe?

Two things: Driving behind someone who throws a cigarette butt out their car window and walking along a beach with tiny pieces of plastic on the tideline – the stuff that is so miniscule that it is impossible to pick up.

18.What do you want your legacy to be?

The same legacy we should all aspire to – that is to leave this planet in the best condition possible for future generations to enjoy as well.

Shauna Willetts