Ocean plastic pollution poses a grave ecological threat, imperiling marine life and ecosystems. An estimated 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans annually, enduring for centuries and disintegrating into microplastics that pervade the food chain. Seabirds, turtles, and marine mammals ingest or become entangled in plastic debris, suffering injury or death. Beyond its visible impacts, plastic pollution disrupts oceanic habitats and exacerbates climate change by releasing harmful chemicals. Mitigation demands global cooperation, including reduced plastic production, improved waste management, and heightened public awareness. Preserving the oceans necessitates concerted efforts to stem this tide of plastic contamination.
Do these microplastics and other plastics precipitate. Do they, you know, go up into the clouds and precipitate?
There's a new service actually, which I'm not sure who's who's doing it. Actually, can calculate how much plastic is in rainwater. For example, to inform the the people watchout today. There's more plastic than the authorized amount or there's less.
I've never ever heard anybody talk about plastic in rain. So, yes. That's a subject we need to get out there, Gianni.
It is quite urgent. It is quite urgent.
Yeah, man. Look, once people find out that it's raining plastic, you know. If we can't get action, then we never will. Right. Well, god. It's what are we doing to ourselves?
Hello, and welcome to rethink what matters the podcast dedicated to aligning the economy with the ecology and everyone for improved business performance, stronger families, and a greener cooler planet.
And today I'm joined by Gianni Valenti, President and founder of Gaia First and TEDx speaker, and we're discussing ocean plastic pollution.
Thank you, Paul. Thank you. And thank you for the invitation.
It's great to be speaking with somebody who's got Gaia in their company name, if you like.
So yeah, perhaps we could start off there actually if you don't mind Gianni. Could you explain to everybody what Gaia is?
Well, yes. Well, Gaia is, actually the name Gaia comes from. It's a goddess. It's a Greek goddess. It's one of the origins of, all the gods, which is actually the personification of the world. So that's why it represents the world in general and mother of everything, mother of, people, life, air, and water, and everything else.
So I decided to call the NGO because it's an NGO. I decided to call it Gaia first because I wanted to highlight the importance of putting, the interests of our share, shared home, our world, before our own personal or business interests because, it's the same kind of way your, you, you place your podcast I believe that if we all thrive, if the environment thrives, we can all keep on thriving and thriving in better.
Okay. And I believe it's also there's also the Gaia Theory by James Lovelock. There's a book that was written back in nineteen sixties.
Sort of came up with this idea that the whole world is interconnected that, the ecosystems, the biosphere, you know, the animals, the plants, the oceans is all interconnected with the weather as well, with the atmosphere. And it's a single living, breathing, you know, organism. People didn't believe that the world was just one interconnected organism.
I know what you're talking about, but I have to say that this is exactly what the situation is right now.
And more and more studies actually confirm how species interact with, for example, the the presence of wolves interact with the with the forms with the with the shape and the and the geographical outlines of rivers of wood forests and everything else. So how everything is interlinked. So, it is like that. We are hosts of a living organism.
If you could tell us then about the work of Gaia first, what you're doing there.
So, okay. First is, it's an NGO registered in Paris and in Miami. So we have two legal entities and we act domain. It's an NGO. So it's a nonprofit company.
So we act mainly in two different ways. One is awareness making. So we do a lot of presentation, company presentation, company operations in schools, documentaries. We collaborated with the documentary Canadian documentary that is coming out right now, very important.
So we take, we we present at the international conferences with the United Nations and more business related ones.
This is awareness again. We do a lot of cleanups worldwide. We have about, thirteen different countries that we do cleanups simultaneously, throughout the year, several times throughout the years. So this is the awareness making.
The other one, the other side that we're doing that we're acting on is is the largest ocean cleaning operation in a sustainable manner, and that we are working with external, experts on the field and we are designing ships that can go into the high waters into the open ocean and collect the plastic floating plastic and convert it into hydrogen, and we use this hydrogen to self element all processes so that we can stay seaborne and avoid going back and forth and wasting millions of tons of gas oil and wasting time mainly and not being able to collect large quantities.
What what would be the mission of Gaia first or vision?
Well, the vision of Gaia first is the first step is actually make sure that there are at least two of these ships running in a very short term because with just two ships in five years, we can clear out the greatest garbage patch, which is the size of three times the size of France of garbage that floats, and it's not just wrapping papers and and, bottle caps. We're talking about the garbage and the garbage Greek garbage patches eighty, between eighty and ninety percent is from the fishing industry. So we're talking about nets. We're talking about floaters.
We're talking about very intrusive materials that remain in the in the open ocean and continue fishing, continue killing. So it's very, very important. We get rid of those. There are many other problems associated with this kind of plastic which maybe we'll talk about later.
Okay. Did you say that there's large contribution from the fishing industry towards the plastic pollution? Let me see. Absolutely.
Yeah. There is, it's primarily, the, the pollution that we found in the high waters, which is one of the most polluting type of, pollution that we find in the ocean in general is actually it's coming directly from the fishing industry. It's what's, called, lost or discarded fishing gear, ALDFGs, and there has been, meetings and discussions and conferences just dedicated on that. So that's how important it is.
So there is the there's the Pacific garbage patch, isn't there? So can you tell us a little bit about that, what that is?
So in general, there there are five garbage patches. I would say six because I would include the Mediterranean area as a dispersed garbage patch. It's one of the most, used traffics, and and fetched seas in the world, and there's a lot of waste there too. But So what happens is the garbage patches is really is mainly the accumulation of garbage through title currents and and winds.
So they have a tendency of remaining in these areas that are called ocean gyres. Ocean gyres is where currents, concentrate and, and, let's say, focusing one single spot.
So you have this you have this action to actually collect the floating garbage that is lost around thousands and thousands of kilometers in the in the ocean. So it regroups there. It doesn't regroup in islands. It regroups in, small spots, like little icebergs of materials, but, on garbage patches areas, it's quite It's quite noticeable and quite heavy. The amount of material.
Right. Again, just how big a problem is ocean plastic pollution.
So we've done a research where actually we didn't do the research ourselves, but we have collected a lot of data, from all the research scientific researchers that have been done.
So let's say that because we wanted to quantify the action the Gaia Firstt, would have in social on social scale on economic scales and and other kind of humankind scales as well. And this is are some of the numbers, some of the numbers, of course. So The action of cleaning up ocean plastic from the high waters would have, thirty eight point four trillion dollars worth of phytoplactin repopulations.
This is just the action that Gaia First efforts would have in five years.
Six hundred fifty tons of microplastic particles avoided three thou three hundred thousand turtles and marine mammals saved from death four times the, the power of the Amazon rainforest of the oxygen production and, fixing of carbon.
On the on the economy level, we would have a nine point seven billion dollars in yearly value generated from waste management in isolated areas.
Three point three billion dollars a yearly in prevention in tourism loss if this was not done. So we have five hundred and ten million dollars a per year of, biodiversity protection benefits.
Three hundred and seventy million dollars in damages and losses avoided in the maritime and fishing industry. So we would help even the fishing industry.
And the maritime transport industry.
Two hundred and forty five million dollars yearly fishing revenue loss prevented. So we would prevent also that.
And humankind is in social impact is twenty five percent of global population directly affected because they live on their on the, near the sea.
And you have two point five billion antibiotic resistant infection prevented because I will explain if you want, I will explain how we do that. I can explain all these numbers and fifty nine million jobs related that will be, that will benefit from our actions. That means that we will save fifty nine million people going jobless.
Wow. Those are amazing figures. I did do I've done a couple of other podcasts on on marine conservation with Alexandera for a of Ocean Culture Life in Jersey, you know, and she was saying how, you know, they go into the beaches to pick up litter and plastic and same with, Kathy Xu, did a podcast on Eco tourism.
She's with the Dorsal Effect in Singapore.
And she said exactly the same thing. They’ve gone to the beaches to do these litter picking and I think that's, I suppose, plastic picking up project. So It is a worldwide problem, isn't it?
So, yes, it it is important.
It is important worldwide and on the local area to actually interact and dig patient, take action into doing these things. There's some differences I would like to make though. Litter picking from beaches is different from the litter that you find in the middle of the ocean, a litter that you will find on the beaches comes from land. That means it's mismanaged waste or is just washed out waste that was not, correctly serviced.
So what happens is it it goes into the local areas and then with waves and currency goes back into that. Most of it sinks to the bottom. And that hasn't that's another problem. But what's left, it goes back to the land and can be picked up.
And that's very important. Okay. But where this cannot be done is in the high waters. And the high water's being on top of being a very important biodiversity threat because it kills directly.
It's, it hosts, resistant bacterias and virulent, pathogenic microorganisms.
You see, the sea sterilizes itself.
Okay? It sterilizes all kind of pathogenic, presence, but the the fact that you have the slumps, you have this kind of soups off, of plastic, in the middle of the sea. This actually helps, the communities, of these, bacterias, of these viruses and bacterias, to grow stronger and more resistant.
And this actually after both enters the food chain and this is the primary cause of resistant of antibiotic resistant, diseases, outbreaks, and even pandemics.
So we had the pandemics, as you know, the COVID-nineteen, soon there might be other ocean related pandemics.
What do we know what percentage of this plastic pollution is bobbing around on the surface versus sinking to the bottom or just floating around in the oceans? Somewhere?
Yes. Well, it's it's estimated that we have one percent floating on the top and ninety nine percent at the bottom of the ocean.
So I wish I hadn't asked that question there.
I know. It's terrible. We, unfortunately, there's no way that we can reach, those depths because in some places, it's four thousand kilometers. And as we have seen with the Titanic two, the submarine that exploded, it they're they're not easy depth. To reach. So, it's a massive problem. We do not know what's happening in the ecosystem down there. We just know that the one percent that is affecting that remains on the surface, it's incredibly, is affecting the whole, biodiversity sphere both locally and internationally.
Because that plastic will become microplastic. And once it's microplastic, it will vector all kind of chemical compounds, toxins, not just through food, but also through rain, and through wind and through all kind of, all kind of propagation of, of the molecules.
So what are microplastics? If you could just explain for us?
Yes. Microplastic is the degradation plastic plastic doesn't biodegrade. It doesn't disappear.
Well, let's say it's not readily digest it now more and more their organism, we find our mushrooms, there are bugs that can actually digest plastic.
But the process is quite slow and usually it's on land and not in the sea. So what happens is, plastic with the wind, with the water, with sun breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments until it becomes so small, which is cool, which reaches the level of, microplastic, and it gets, it can get even smaller to become what's called nano plastic, and it's so small. It's it's just a few microns of thickness that it can can actually transpasse the membranes of protection membranes of the body. Which can be skin, but also cellular. So what happened is nowadays we can find microplastic in blood and in the human milk.
Okay. Right. Really? You found it. We can find microplastics, not even nanoplastics in milk.
Microplastic. Exactly. So And besides that, we can find it in the North Pole, we can find it in the snow of Himalaya. We can found it in the Mariana trench plastic.
I just wanted to say the the problem with plastic, it's not that, the plastic itself, because plastic is an it's inert. It's quite inert. Okay. So microplastics would be in theory inert.
The problem is with plastic, it acts as a sponge. So it actually absorbs all kind of hydrophobic molecules. What are hydrophobic molecules molecules that do not dissolve into water. They actually repel water.
And what kind of molecules these are? These are, for example, insecticides, hormone disrupting molecules growth deregulation molecules and all kind of toxins of that kind most of the toxin that we produce, for example, for the clothing industry, but also for the food industry for the agriculture industry for everything instead of being just, released into nature. It's it's absorbed, but it's microplastic.
That is in nature. And through this microplastics, it accumulates on the apex predators, which is us. Right? So that's why, we become the collectors of all the garbage micro garbage and micro toxins that we're actually producing And what what what, what links have been made between these microplastics that, you know, are people that were all ingesting, absorbing, and you know, the diseases that many people suffer with? Well, there is, a certain, well, it's quite evident. There are loads of research concerning about fertility loss, growth, problems, cancerous generations, puberty deregulations.
You know, we have more and more children that have, an advanced puberty or deregulated puberty line. And this is directly linked to the use of plastics and the microplastics.
Now, just I don't wanna be alarming, but what we find today as in microplastic in our bodies and in the environment is the degradation of plastic that was made twenty years ago Since then, we, the production of plastic has not doubled, has four times augmented And that is all the importance of cleaning where this actually accumulates which is in the high waters because although in land accumulates, but in a way we can still control that. In the high waters, we cannot. So that will become automatically microplastic in the next ten years, and we will be full. Everywhere.
Does the do these microplastics and other plastics, precipitate? Do they go up into the clouds and fall as rain.
Yes. In fact, there is a new, there's a new surface actually, which I'm not sure who's who's doing it, but, they have tried to use it here in Paris is the plastic, meter that actually, can calculate how much plastic is in rainwater.
For example, to to inform the the people or watch out today, there's more plastic then did the authorized amount or there's less. So it's it's actually a real problem quantifiable. So, yes, it's it's all over the place.
I've never ever heard anybody talking about plastic in rain. So -- Yes. -- that's a subject we need to get out there, Gianni.
Yeah, man. Look, once people find out that it's raining plastic, you know.If we can't get action, then we never will. Right?
Well, god. Man, isn't it? What we're doing to ourselves?
Yeah. Well, because it's gradual. So we don't really see the asteroid coming. Is it?
Well, we're gonna have to go look at that film exactly. But You know, you know, as soon as you start telling people it's raining plastic, that's surely. If you've got research, is there is there research out there that shows it's raining plastic Does that exist?
Okay. So we know that the other thing we have to do is we have to be we have to create a positive vision of a world Otherwise, everybody freezes and they don't do anything so on.
Yeah. But the positive, there is a positive thing because we know this So the important thing is to understand that plastic is not the evil monster.
It's just that the conception of was badly done because we only thought on a short term. But what we have to start doing is thinking long term. So maybe we, restructure a new plastic, element in order that we, we take in consideration a full circularity of it and not just use it and then it disappears.
So to what extent are new plastics being created to, you know, that don't degrade in a way which is harmful to, you know, the oceans life and life on earth.
Alright. So there are developing things or more like its scientists and other researchers are trying to find new type of plastic to enter new market segments.
Because the industry is very well tied to the cheap production of plastic, which is ever so cheap and ever so fast. Because plastic is malleable. It's easy. Right. And even if there are limitations, we can go around limitations with new new types of plastics that just contour. Problems.
Now, the real power is, it's not in, in administrations, is in the hands of people of consumers.
Because more consumers will choose different methods of packaging, different plastics, different solutions then the market will adapt. And then if the market adapts and finds new solutions, then It is the market itself that's going to push administration to incremental solutions.
So are there are there plastics being made which aren't made from hydrocarbon
Yes. There are some plastics made from hydrocarbons.
All these are very good options.
Mushrooms, skeleton, exoskeletons of insects, and that's also or in crustaceans as well. Of course, then we have another problem. But, I think these are all very promising, but we have to really push it and people consumers have to push the request for them. Because without that, production prices are gonna be way too high compared to the to the plastic ones, to the standard plastic ones.
So to what extent can we monetize this problem of, plastic pollution?
Taken is is the plastic, for example, that you're, you know, you're collecting up there and monetizing it, finding, you know, uses for it in creating new polymers, for example?
This is exactly what we're doing. We're doing in the high waters. We are collecting it and we are breaking it through, chemical recycling. Let's call it like this. We are also pyrolysis.
We are breaking the structure, molecular structure and we're extracting hydrogen. So we're actually producing hydrogen energy from plastic.
What this can be done in the high water can also be done on the on the on land. And there there are possibility there are already companies doing it, but you can also you can also break down the molecular structural plastic into ethylene, which is the basic building block of any type of plastic. So that could be another way of reusing the, the, the molecular structure of plastic into something else.
Yeah. And just to tell you that those land fills. Usually they are, they have a plastic lining that goes at the bottom of it to prevent liquids escaping and polluting everything else. The problem is that were made twenty years ago and twenty years ago that's the timeline of plastic before it starts really to degrade it, to the gradient fragments. So In the next few years, we're gonna see the breaking day of the leakages of this massive for containers and That's that's when things might become a little bit more urgent.
You did mention the sources of plastic pollution at the beginning of the podcast. Because I know that Vision came up, but can we just revisit that again? Who are the main contributors of plastic pollution?
Are there different countries? Are there different industries?
Where where do we need to start to make the We have in packaging. It's food and beverage consumer goods, everything that is connected with consumers.
That's one of the biggest plastic, production industries is consumer goods. And that's why consumers have the power to change that. The other industry is the fishing industry. That's another massive problem.
And there, again, the consumers can choose not to eat less fish and to to change their diets and stuff. But it's really also down to rules and regulations and, controls, which is, a little bit more difficult. So it's not a simple, simple task.
To to do. Is it to what extent is it a result of people not disposing of their litter or their plastic properly?
So there are other two points that are very important with the recycling, with the wrong side of the recycling of, bottles. Is because the first one is us, we have one PT bottle being regenerated within ten different PT bottles. The first PT bottle that maybe could have contained some, a neurotoxin, like, for example, insecticides This insecticide will be inside the material and therefore will be also present into the ten regenerated new bottles that maybe this time we'll fold what? For drinking.
This is one problem. Second problem is the product that the actual recycling system itself produces microplastic in a very high level. So although your recycling plastic, you're producing a lot more microplastic, which is then let into the environment through the water waste.
And everything in the act will end up in the landfills or disposed. Anyway. And and also recycling has a has a timeline in the sense that you cannot recycle something a hundred times. You can only recycle it once or twice then. The material, the the physical structure is so, it's changed so much through the process of recycling that it will not be useful anymore for that kind of purpose.
So, that's that's to be accounted for as a as a problem with recycling. And also, bear in mind, we do not recycle what is there recyclable.
Because most of it is disposed, not properly. So we lose it.
Secondly, it's too contaminated to be to be used within recycling systems. And three, the volume is too high. We do not have the capability of recycling everything that could be recycled. So on one side, we have way too much recyclable material that cannot be handled on the other side even more is not even recycle taken into consideration. So what's happening in the end of all the recyclability only two or three percent is actually recycled.
So you obviously haven't to operate in international waters, aren't you? Where there are no agreements for anything, how much does that affect your work?
Well, first of all, There are some agreements in international waters as the IMO, which is intern in an international maritime organization that does set rules and regulation.
So there are some rules and regulation on, setup. The problem is that there's nobody to control it. So that's why everybody because you're not allowed to throw garbage in the high waters. You're not allowed to wash your tanks in the high waters, but people do because there's no control.
So, it's not really that the loss of regulation is the loss of control and and, monitoring.
This on one side is quite a problem because it produces, the far west in the high waters. On the other side, actually, it would help certain things like advancing on, recycling, high grade recycling possibilities such as what we're doing with pyrolysis, producing hydrogen because this is on the contrary on land.
It's, it's halted bureaucratic because it does produce energy from waste in a clean way. So let's say there are other interests that may be halted
So what would you say the five things are that we would need to focus on in order to eradicate you know, ocean plastic pollution?
Well, first of all, I would say change consumer habits. I think that's the key.
So, in general, avoid the extent that a diet can can allow it.
A balance that that can allow it avoid, meat and fish because it's also linked to plastic, usage and the destruction on the environment in general. So fish and meat, reduce it to a minimum amount. Secondly, consumer goods try to buy with less amounts of, single use plastic and packaging.
So try to buy either big portions or try to buy, non containers, solutions. There are some shops that you can just go and buy, for example, greens or lentils or pasta or whatever out of, plastic thing.
That and, try to reuse plastic even a single use plastic, and look for alternatives.
If there are any alternatives, choose those alternatives, which of course are intelligent alternatives.
Try to use them because the simple fact of choosing them, health markets shift.
So We have the, the, the power of, what, what I call the credit card as is what actually we can control and, change the work we live in through the way we spend it. You know, do you have a a good news story for us? It's something you can share with us. It's going well.
Yes. There's a very good story. It's actually there are several things that are coming up. There's more and more attention.
There's been, brought into the, to the, to the situation which was kind of denied before or hidden. Now there is the international high water treaty that is, coming to terms in the in the world in the United Nations and that has grouped everybody.
There is the, a very good news that Gaia first there and, we're fighting side by side for you. So I am promoting anybody to join us and follow us on on our social media.
There are things moving And, because we know the dangers and because we're now showing, showcasing all the interlinks, I think this is giving, leverage and this is giving interest for people to do things differently. Now, we're an intelligent species and as we have, intelligently destroyed, our future we can now intelligently repair it and make it more profitable for everybody.
And are you seeing, governments You mentioned the international high water protection treaty. Are you seeing governments reacting then positively to you know, the problem of ocean plastic pollution and passing new laws and policies and regulations to help.
Yes. Yes. Of course. There is there's more and more attention to it. Of course, details of the street here still have to be confirmed and this should be done in May next year.
But there's already an intent and there's already funds dedicated to to this, protection treaty. So there is really an engagement with the governments and administrations worldwide, which is, very important. Why because populations have become more aware. People have become more aware thanks to podcasts like yours, internet, social media. And this makes a real social pressure on the administrations.
So it's not them that you just woke up and said it's it's fine. Us who have actually woken up and said, Hey, we have to do something and they have to react.
That's great. And are you seeing businesses also following suit and changing the way that they they implement packaging themselves.
Yes. Yes. I'm noticing a lot, especially on the luxury brands, which is, very encouraged I see a lot of luxury brands that are ditching, plastic and, mono usage, packaging systems.
It's very encouraging because it's the fact, it's the The high fashion is the, is the leading, market in terms of communication because Since it's luxury, it sets a standard and then everybody else tries to mimic that standard, try to mimic and raise their level to that standard. So they're actually setting the pace and that's very good. What would be your biggest frustration then, Gianni? Well, the earlier, the better. We, for example, we are still, Not struggling, but we we are still trying to finalize our seven hundred fifty thousand euros that we need to finalize research and development.
This is blocking us. This is blocking our rapid advancement into the, creation of the boats.
So, frustration may come on the waiting to collect those funds.
But, I'm I'm positively convinced that, people are real heroes. So I'm, I don't, I don't worry that the future will be a much prosperous one for everybody.
And if people wanna help, if they wanna reach you, if they wanna help Gaia first, you know, on his journey and acquire that next boat, Maybe two more boats.
What what would they need to do? Where can they find you? How can they reach you?
So they can either look online.
We are w w w dot gaiafirst.org, altogether dot org, or they can look into our Instagram which is, gaia, gaia dot first or we have all the other result. We have Twitter or X, we have YouTube channel. YouTube channel is full of interesting and informative materials. So just, but reach out to the website and confirm context.
And you can contact me.
Thank you very much, Gianni, for your time and helping us to better understand the the real problem, the plastic is causing in the oceans, you know, the real problem of ocean plastic pollution.
Thanks very much for your time, Gianni.
Okay. Thank you, Paul, and, hope it's being, quite helpful here.