National Geographic launches effort to reduce plastic waste

PHOTO: A worker uses a broom to arrange unsorted recyclable materials including plastic bottles in Yokohama, Japan, Feb. 20, 2015.PlayBloomberg via Getty Images
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National Geographic launched a new campaign this week to reduce waste from plastic products like single-use bags and straws, which includes a major change: most National Geographic magazines will now be delivered in paper packaging instead of plastic.

The magazine reports that 18 billions pounds of plastic waste end up in oceans every year and that less than a fifth of plastic produced around the world is recycled.

The launch of the "Planet or Plastics?" initiative coincides with National Geographic's June issue, which has a photo of a plastic bag positioned like an iceberg on the cover.

PHOTO: Planet or Plastic is the cover story on the June 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.National Geographic
"Planet or Plastic" is the cover story on the June 2018 issue of "National Geographic" magazine.

Company officials said in a press release that from now on the U.S, U.K. and India editions of the magazine will be delivered in paper instead of plastic, which the release said will eliminate 2.5 million single-use plastic bags every month.

Several other companies have said they will either change or recycle more of their packaging to reduce plastic pollution in oceans, including Nestle, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Walmart.

PHOTO: To ride currents, seahorses clutch drifting seagrass or other natural debris. In the polluted waters off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, this seahorse latched onto a plastic cotton swab—“a photo I wish didnt exist,” says the photographer.Justin Hofman/National Geographic
To ride currents, seahorses clutch drifting seagrass or other natural debris. In the polluted waters off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, this seahorse latched onto a plastic cotton swab—“a photo I wish didn't exist,” says the photographer.

In addition to changing the packaging on its own magazine, the National Geographic initiative will include an awareness campaign about plastics pollution, investment in research programs and partnerships with companies like S'Well and The North Face, which will sell shirts made from recycled bottles collected from National Parks. The partnership between The North Face and the National Park Foundation also provides a dollar for every product sold to support projects in National Parks, according to the foundation's website.

Nick Mallos, the director of the Trash Free Seas program for the advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, said it's important to emphasize that there is no single solution to the issue of plastic pollution but that the commitment from National Geographic and other companies is a positive step.

"I think it’s fantastic that they’ve covered this issue so holistically – specifically, to see all the facets of ocean plastic that they’ve explored in this piece. These initiatives can have a tremendous impact," Mallos said.

PHOTO: Plastic bottles choke the Cibeles fountain, outside city hall in central Madrid. An art collective called Luzinterruptus filled this and two other Madrid fountains with 60,000 discarded bottles last fall.Randy Olson/National Geographic
Plastic bottles choke the Cibeles fountain, outside city hall in central Madrid. An art collective called Luzinterruptus filled this and two other Madrid fountains with 60,000 discarded bottles last fall.

PHOTO: On Okinawa, Japan, a hermit crab resorts to a plastic bottle cap to protect its soft abdomen. Beachgoers collect the shells the crabs normally use, and they leave trash behind.Shawn Miller/National Geographic
On Okinawa, Japan, a hermit crab resorts to a plastic bottle cap to protect its soft abdomen. Beachgoers collect the shells the crabs normally use, and they leave trash behind.

PHOTO: Under a bridge on a branch of the Buriganga River in Bangladesh, a family removes labels from plastic bottles, sorting green from clear ones to sell to a scrap dealer. Waste pickers here average around $100 a month.Randy Olson/National Geographic
Under a bridge on a branch of the Buriganga River in Bangladesh, a family removes labels from plastic bottles, sorting green from clear ones to sell to a scrap dealer. Waste pickers here average around $100 a month.

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