This month, an international, all-female team of scientists and engineers will embark on an expedition to study plastic pollution in the Ganges River. The main goal of the “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition is to better understand and document how plastic waste travels through waterways and identify inclusive solutions to the plastic waste crisis. The “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition is the first of several international river expeditions planned as part of National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic? initiative, which aims to significantly reduce the amount of single-use plastic that reaches the ocean.
One of the expedition members is National Geographic Explorer and multimedia storyteller Lillygol Sedaghat. Before the team departed for the expedition, we asked our @InsideNatGeo followers to share questions they have for Lilly about the expedition and how they can reduce single-use plastic in their lives. See below for a selection of the questions and Lilly’s answers.
Q1: Hey Lilly! How do we reduce plastic usage in daily life?
LS: Hi! Great question. A lot of it has to do with planning ahead and knowing what options are available in your community. For food, that can mean packing lunch or snacks the night before so that you don’t have to pick something up on the go when you get hungry.
For household items, it means researching to see what plastic-free options are available in your community. And if there aren’t any, write a letter to the company you shop from asking them to make a difference and come up with alternatives. (As consumers, we have a lot of power. Companies rely on our feedback to make adjustments to meet the demands of the market.)
For me, whenever I leave home, I always bring my bamboo utensils, a glass mason jar, and a little towel. At cafes and restaurants, I ask for no straw and observe what plastic they use so that I can ask for none the next time.
Q2: Crackers always seem to come in a box and plastic. Ick! Any options you know of?
LS: Most large grocery stores have bulk sections where you can find delicious, crunchy, salty things that are like crackers!
To be honest, I don’t know of any specific cracker brands that don’t use plastic, because the plastic is there to preserve the food quality and to protect the little guys from breaking before they reach you.
But, if you’re looking for that crunch factor, bulk veggie chips and peanut butter pretzels are the way to go; just be sure to bring your own jar or use a cloth sack instead of the plastic baggies to complete your zero-plastic imprint.
Q3: What do I do with all of my condiment bottles?
LS: If they’re the big ones, cut open the tops, wash out the insides, place them in a shoebox, and you have a self-made organizer! You can keep pocket change, rubber bands, flowers, whatever you like in there, and you’ll have them all in one place so it’s easy to find your stuff.
They can also be used for baking. Want to decorate some cookies with frosting? Instead of using plastic baggies, put some homemade frosting in the (now rinsed out and cleaned) condiment bottles and squeeze away.
If you’re concerned about the amount of condiment bottles you’re using, note that most ketchup bottles are made of PET #1 plastic, so if you rinse them out they can easily be recycled. Most Asian condiments like shoyu (soy sauce) come in glass bottles, so if you rinse them out they can also be recycled. Glass can be recycled infinitely, while plastics degrade each time you recycle them and require new material to be added in the recycling process to make them sturdy enough for reuse.
Q4: This is so cool! Fascinated, obsessed, in awe. Do you have opportunities for students?
LS: Yes, of course! With the help of National Geographic Education, we will be creating curricula and lesson plans from our experience, teaching students how to use citizen science and basic scientific tools like the Marine Debris Tracker to track litter and ArcGIS to map where the litter is located, how much there is, and what type of litter is present. We’ll take videos of our team engaging in citizen science and share them as a part of the lesson plans, so your students can see citizen science in action and try it in their own communities!
We have an education team that will be working with local students on the expedition, so we hope to share the experience with other students around the world to promote cross-cultural, environmental learning.
We also encourage them to follow our journey on Open Explorer, the team’s digital field journal for updates on the discoveries and stories we find along the way.
Q5: What are some ways that the “Sea to Source: Ganges” team will be environmentally friendly while on expedition?
LS: Our team is striving to be as single-use plastic-free as possible. We have a logistics team helping us buy water in bulk and each of us will carry a reusable water container.
Many of us are also striving to use non-plastic products on the expedition like bamboo gardening gloves to pick up trash, shampoo bars to wash our hair, bamboo toothbrushes, toothpaste tablets, corn-based biodegradable floss to brush our teeth, sugarcane deodorant, and linen and bamboo-based clothing. (Our team members include scientists like Imogen Napper, who brought the world’s attention to the microplastics that end up in our river systems and other waterways due to washing clothes with synthetic plastic fibers in washing machines.)
Our goal is to stay safe and healthy while leaving the smallest environmental footprint that we can as we travel.
Q6: How can we follow along with the expedition team?
LS: We plan to share our expedition experiences in real time. Follow along on social media with #ExpeditionPlastic or through the team’s digital field journal: https://openexplorer.nationalgeographic.com/expedition/gangesplastic.