Navigating the Plastic Pollution Crisis: Insights from the 5 Gyres Institute

Navigating the Plastic Pollution Crisis: Insights from the 5 Gyres Institute

Plastic pollution has become an omnipresent issue, infiltrating our oceans, air, and even our bodies. In today's world, the plastic pollution crisis demands our urgent attention. Understanding the magnitude of this global issue is key to fostering meaningful change— but how? And is change really possible?

Recently, we had the opportunity to speak with Anna Cummins and Hannah Tizedes from the 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit organization at the forefront of combating plastic pollution through scientific research. Their perspectives shed light on the challenges we face and offer actionable steps you can take today towards meaningful solutions.

Unveiling the Global Issue

Founded in 2009 by Anna Cummins and Marcus Erikson, the 5 Gyres Institute set out to tackle the enigma of plastic pollution. Cummins, who serves as 5 Gyres’ executive director, recounts the organization's inception: "We started 5 Gyres to answer some big questions about plastic pollution. When we began the organization in 2009, there was very little known about the global extent of plastic in our oceans." Their groundbreaking expeditions across the world's subtropical gyres revealed a sobering reality – plastic was not confined to the infamous garbage patches but was ubiquitous across the globe. Now, in 2024, 5 Gyres’ focus is on leveraging this knowledge to make real change: on capitol hill, in boardrooms, and in our communities.

Cummins emphasized the link between plastic pollution and climate change, highlighting the fact that plastic, derived from petroleum, contributes to the fossil fuel industry's expansion. “Industries are recognizing that plastic is really a way to pull them out of this economic slump… ramping up the production of petroleum to fuel the demand for plastics globally. This is where you can see climate and plastic coming together firsthand.”

Heap of plastic waste

Community-Driven Solutions

Fueling 5 Gyres' momentum is a vibrant community of change-makers. Hannah Tizedes, 5 Gyres’ community lead, highlighted the organization's emphasis on grassroots activism. "We tap into community, whether that's doing in-person activations with our Trashblitz program or getting our ambassadors pumped up about doing things in their communities…. people just want to be involved in making real concrete change.” Through initiatives like the Plastic-Free National Parks program and the Do Less For the Planet campaign, 5 Gyres provides resources and actionable ways to make a difference on the individual level.

Their ambassador program serves as a beacon of inspiration, uniting individuals of all ages and backgrounds in a collective effort to combat plastic pollution. As Tizedes notes, "We have everyone from 8 to literally 80 years old… it's cool to see kids doing that at such young ages." In the face of daunting environmental threats, 5 Gyres champions a message of hope and empowerment. "Stay positive… constant pressure mixed with positivity is a great way to go about things and get things done for the better."

As individuals, we wield immense power to effect change – whether it's embracing reusable alternatives in our everyday lives, like Bee's Wrap, advocating for policy reforms, or fostering a culture of sustainability in our communities. “You just never know who might be paying attention, who might be listening,” says Cummins. “It could be as simple as one person unwrapping a piece of food in a reusable beeswax wrap, and sparking change.” Every action, no matter how small, contributes to the collective effort to safeguard our planet for future generations.

Hands working on cleaning

Charting the Path Forward

5 Gyres' journey exemplifies the transformative impact of grassroots activism and scientific inquiry in addressing complex environmental challenges. By uniting communities, driving policy change, and advocating for sustainable practices, they pave the way for a cleaner, greener future. “The small steps always add up no matter what they are,” concluded Tizedes, “And you never know who you might inspire along the way.”

To learn more about 5 Gyres, and their work, visit


Become a 5 Gyres Ambassador

Join the Plastic-Free Parks Initiative

Learn about the Do Less for the Planet Campaign

Science to Solutions: 5 Gyres Work

5 Gyres Advocacy Work

Download the TrashBlitz app

Learn about the Brand Audit, to help identify the companies responsible for plastic pollution