Entourage star Adrian Grenier has had it with drinking straws. Not because the little paper wrapper is hard to open, or because if they bend and split they become useless, but because they are a perfect example of an unnecessary single-use plastic. “We all encounter plastic straws daily,” Adrian Grenier tells us. “And we use plastic straws senselessly to the tune of 500 million plastic straws a day.”
You read that right. Five hundred million straws a day. Roughly 10 percent of that 500 million will eventually find its way into the ocean, and if this trend keeps up, Grenier estimates that by 2035 there might be more plastic in the ocean than fish. And that’s to say nothing of the damage it’s already doing to marine life the world over.
Innovation & Tech Today: Apparently, you’ve had the last straw. Maybe you could tell our readers a little bit about what’s going on with that, and why you’ve got such a passion towards this cause?
Adrian Grenier: I’ve been doing environmental work for a long time, and that means that I’m paying attention, and researching, and exploring all of the different ways in which humans have a negative impact on the planet, and doing my best to find solutions.
As I become “woke,” you start to see all of the senseless ways. The way that we do things that are just unnecessary and can easily be changed. Single-use plastics are an extreme problem for our oceans and our communities generally. Single-use plastic straws are the low-hanging fruit, the gateway to a lifestyle that eliminates single-use plastics. For us, we have a strawless-ocean campaign not because it’s a panacea or because it’s the one solution that will fix everything, but because it really is just the beginning of a holistic lifestyle change. It’s something that everybody can do – we all encounter plastic straws daily, and we use plastic straws senselessly to the tune of 500 million a day. About 10% of those will end up in the ocean, killing fish, ending up in the bellies of whales and sea life, or just persisting in the ocean, creating a toxic soup. Because of the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean, and our increased overfishing, we’re actually going to see more plastic in the ocean than fish in about 20 years.
Those two factors are going to prove to be a really bad state of affairs for our oceans. Plastic straws are the gateway to eliminating all single-use plastics. A way for people to get started, the ABCs or 123s of single-use plastics. If you take the strawless challenge, you’ll find it a little bit more difficult than you might think, because not only are you changing your own habits but you also have to face up against the bad habits of our community. Restaurants, you find yourself having to educate the wait staff, or the restaurants you frequent, because we as a society are just still asleep at the wheel when it comes to single-use plastics.
I&T Today: So that would be a pretty good way to start. Just say, “Hey, I don’t need a straw with my drink.”
Adrian Grenier: It’s habitual at this point. There’s something safe and familiar about straws, because we’re so used to them. They’re culturally embedded in our lives but fundamentally unnecessary – there are so many alternatives. At the Lonely Whale Foundation, we’re launching a strawless ocean campaign. It isn’t absolutely anti-straw, meaning a cylinder that you suck down liquids through, but really we’re looking for all the alternatives and promoting the alternatives that are not single-use plastic.
I&T Today: We’ve talked with a lot of science communicators like Danni Washington whose television show is all about the ocean and inspiring people. It seems like the ocean is just special. Can you kind of expound on that?
Adrian Grenier: I do think the ocean is special, but I also believe that we are quite disconnected from the ocean. It’s out of sight, out of mind. It’s vast; it’s mysterious. It doesn’t relate to our everyday experience, living in cities and on land. It’s where we all came from. It’s the root of all life. Water is life. We came from the ocean. It could be, if taken care of, the source of more life. We actually feed a billion-plus people off of protein that comes from the ocean. What happens if we overfish to the point where those billion people can’t find their primary source of food? Now we have a huge humanitarian crisis.
But the oceans, they’re full of wonder, and beauty, and majesty, so many new life forms coming about every day. I swim through the Straight of Messina for the Lonely Whale foundation to bring awareness to plastics in the ocean, and that process of swimming in and facing the great expanse of the ocean, the abyss below, is a very profound, existential experience to humble yourself to nature, and to understand how nature works within its own bounds, within its own rules, and to realize that in order to survive, you really have to respect the laws of nature. I think that’s a lesson that we as a humanity have forgotten and need to relearn. We think that we can have dominion over nature, over the planet, and we think that we can control everything. But in fact, that hubris is what is causing all of the problems that will come back to bite us.
That’s why, I think industry and businesses need to take a leadership role in changing their habits. Instead of chasing the bottom line, the almighty dollar, find a way to create these closed-loop systems, reduce the waste that our businesses are creating, so that they will have a sustainable business in a world that is sustainable.
I&T Today: Do you want to talk a little bit about your role with Dell? I think you were their first “Social Good Advocate.” Is that right?
Adrian Grenier: Yes. I’ve been very impressed with Dell, and Dell’s commitment to making these changes. But they’re also realistic, and they want the changes that they implement and inspire to be lasting, to be changes that fit. They’re very cognizant about making sure that whatever they do and whatever they embrace is comparable in price, or cheaper, so that they can make the business argument for themselves. But then those options become available to other businesses to adopt as well.
We’ve been working on a campaign to reduce plastics in the ocean by preventing it from getting there in the first place. Dell has launched a program to retrieve plastics that is bound for the ocean, and put that plastic into their supply chain and use it for packaging their computers. It’s an incredible leap of faith for them to put time and energy and resources into this program, but it’s proving to be viable so that not only will they be able to prevent plastics from going into the ocean, they will be able to open-source this opportunity to other businesses so that they can use this plastic for whatever they do, essentially creating a closed-loop system and a circular economy around ocean-bound plastics.
Once the program launches, and it’s successful (which we all think it will be), we’ll be able to not only have a cheaper product, be able to reduce plastic in the ocean but also take away the credit of having built something that was better for the overall society.
I&T Today: What would you say to our readers who want to get involved?
Adrian Grenier: At the Lonely Whale foundation, the Lonely Whale, he teaches us about connections and the importance of not only bonding with other human beings and making those connections, but also connecting with the world outside ourselves: the ocean and the planet. The first thing I would tell people is find a partner. Find somebody that you can do this work with. You’ll inspire each other, you’ll hold each other accountable, but it’s also more fun when you do it with your friends. Don’t do it alone, you don’t have to hold the weight of the world on your shoulders all by yourself.
Then, I’d say, start simple, start small. Small shifts will make a big difference. Start, maybe, with plastic straws. See if you can eliminate the use of plastic straws from your life, see how much you can inspire your friends and neighbors, and maybe the local businesses that you frequent, to do away with the plastic straw, and just start there. If you can do that, you can make a huge difference, but I guarantee it’ll be a gateway to other changes, and it’ll open your awareness.