I was 350 miles east of Bermuda, skimming the surface of the Sargasso Sea in a boat filled with 160 representatives from companies across the plastic value chain, NGOs and thought leaders who share a commitment to ocean health and conservation.
There, floating in 9,000 feet of crystal-clear water, was a plastic fork atop a floating seaweed mat.
The speck of bright white in an infinity of blue was a reminder to all of us onboard that the marine litter crisis is a challenge – and a responsibility – we all share. We stopped the boat and snorkeled under and around the tangled ecosystem of seaweed, marine life and debris in the North Atlantic Gyre, a circular system of ocean currents stretching across the North Atlantic. Everything from toilet seats and buckets, to fishing gear funnel in from near the equator almost to Iceland, and from the east coast of North America to the west coasts of Europe and Africa.
Getting an up-close look at the impact civilization is having on our oceans and waterways – hundreds of miles away from civilization – grounded and centered our group for action-oriented conversation and collaboration. We all saw the same thing in the same place at the same time.
The immersive expedition was part of the Ocean Plastic Leadership Summit, a first-of-its-kind stakeholder gathering with the goal of building cross-sector relationship and developing develop actionable solutions to the global plastic waste problem. Over the course of three days, we participated in content sessions, roundtable discussions and “design labs” dedicated to topics like zero-waste communities and chemical recycling. The dialogue was open, informal and respectful. We realized that each of has a role to play in developing solutions, and that collaboration – not finger pointing – is what our planet needs. Everyone saw each other as fellow humans and partners, not adversaries.
I shared results and learnings from our “World Without Waste” work. At
I returned to Atlanta energized not only about the work we’re doing as a system, but about the connections made during the summit. The fact that everyone worked together on the ship will fuel better communication and collaboration between stakeholders who may not have been connected in the past. I look forward to continuing the conversation and making progress together.
Bruce Karas is vice president of environment and sustainability for Coca-Cola North America.