‘Planet or Plastic?’ Initiative is Leading with Science

Jenna Jambeck and Heather Koldewey were recently announced as the scientific co-leads of the National Geographic Society’s work to prevent plastic from entering the ocean as part of the Planet or Plastic? initiative.

Photo of National Geographic Fellow Jenna Jambeck

Jenna Jambeck

Jambeck is an environmental engineer who has led foundational research on sources of plastic waste and the role of waste management globally in solving the problem of plastic pollution. Koldewey is a marine biologist who has spearheaded several interdisciplinary and innovative solutions to plastic pollution in communities worldwide.

Photo of National Geographic Fellow Heather Koldewey

Heather Koldewey

Jambeck and Koldewey will lead a team in developing a scientific plan to better understand and document how plastic waste travels from source to sea, starting with an initial expedition to study the type and flow of plastic in a river system. Through the expedition, Jambeck and Koldewey will work with National Geographic and international partners to provide science-based, actionable information to help local and national governments, NGOs, businesses and the public more effectively invest in and implement innovative solutions to the plastic waste crisis.

Learn more about the ways National Geographic is working to tackle the plastic waste crisis here and here.

National Geographic caught up with Jambeck and Koldewey to learn more about this project, what inspires them and everyday tips for using less single-use plastic. Check out the highlights below and read the full post here.

“From the people that work every day to collect our waste from the curb, sort it and dispose of it at facilities, to the millions of pickers working in often horrific conditions around the world, to the fact that you and I make choices every single day that impact our waste stream — the human component of this issue that is often literally and figuratively pushed away is what continues to fuel my passion for my work around the world.”

Jenna Jambeck,

“The ocean matters, as it makes life on Earth possible. Plastic waste in our ocean is killing ocean wildlife, impacting every level of the food chain, it’s a growing health risk to people, and is increasingly impacting our economy. It’s also a problem we can solve and involves pretty much everyone on the planet.”

Heather Koldewey,

“My hope is that this project can empower governments, corporations and citizens to work towards context-sensitive solutions to this issue, shifting the paradigm of how we think about waste, eliminating or reducing what we don’t need, improving what we do need and creating a more circular materials management system.”

Jenna Jambeck,

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to solve this global challenge, and the time is now. … Plastic pollution has been in the news on a daily basis, giving unprecedented attention to the ocean. We need to keep the focus and pressure on this topic to drive these commitments to action and to reverse the 60 years of misuse of the extraordinary material that is plastic.”

Heather Koldewey,