Plastic has become so commonplace that it’s easy to ignore our dependence on it. A new National Geographic exhibition endeavors to change that by showcasing the global plastic waste crisis and highlighting innovators working to solve this urgent issue. The “Planet or Plastic?” exhibition builds upon National Geographic’s multiyear global initiative aimed at raising awareness about the crisis to reduce the amount of single-use plastic reaching the ocean. The initiative was launched in conjunction with the June 2018 cover story of National Geographic magazine. The “Planet or Plastic?” traveling exhibition will be launched together with the President of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations Visitor Centre in New York City on May 24 and be open through June 24, 2019.
The “Planet or Plastic?” exhibition will tour globally with an aim to inspire citizen engagement in the markets where it travels.
“Plastic pollution is one of the most important global environmental challenges of our generation,” says Kathryn Keane, vice president of public programming. “But, it is an issue that we can all do something about. This exhibition informs us about how we got here, the scope of the problem, and how we can each be a part of the solution. National Geographic has made a commitment to reducing our reliance on single-use plastics and our hope is that after seeing this exhibition visitors worldwide will join us in that commitment.”
The traveling exhibition tells the story behind plastic from its invention just over a century ago to its current mass consumption through visual storytelling with multimedia elements including 70 profound images as well as powerful infographics and videos. This man-made material has revolutionized medicine and eased space travel—it also extends the shelf life of fresh food, allows for the delivery of clean drinking water to those without it, and when used in airbags or helmets saves lives. Yet, despite its utility and convenience, an exorbitant amount of plastic products are disposed of improperly with some 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste left unrecycled. Plastic waste has been found in the ocean from the Arctic to the Antarctic and from the surface to the seafloor. Hundreds of species of marine animals have been reported to have ingested or become entangled in it, and it’s negatively impacting our ecosystems and resulting in traumatic environmental effects. Through powerful imagery, the exhibition makes the important case for the need to find a balance between using this material and protecting our environment.
At the culmination of the exhibition, visitors are asked to take our pledge to choose the planet over plastic and to share how they will make efforts to reduce their use of single-use plastic. To date, people have pledged to help prevent more than 200 million single-use plastic items from reaching the ocean. The exhibition also provides actionable steps visitors can take in their lives to responsibly reduce, reuse, recycle, and refuse products with single-use plastic. Beyond this impactful traveling exhibition, National Geographic is leading with science on this issue through three key components: scientific expeditions, grant opportunities, and global learning experiences. Starting with an initial expedition to study the type and flow of plastic in the Ganges River, National Geographic will provide science-based, actionable information to help local and national governments, NGOs, businesses, and the public more effectively invest in and implement innovative solutions. Through solutions-focused grants, National Geographic is funding scientists and innovators who develop or pilot solutions to the plastic waste crisis. National Geographic is also engaging students around the world on the Planet or Plastic? initiative through unique classroom experiences, educational resources, and challenges to create real-world solutions. Learn more at NatGeo.org/Plastic.