The work of Dune Ives for Lonely Whale Foundation focuses on ocean health and the ways people can prevent their own ecological decline. But it’s her view on plastic that’s ultimately the most pertinent for the planet, and Detroiters. The Great Lakes and the world’s oceans are being choked by trash.

In terms of oceanfront property, you can probably guess where Detroit sits in that market. Even though we have some of the best beachfront views, access to fresh seafood and summer resort towns, Ft Lauderdale always tops college students’ spring break list. But there’s one thing that oceans and Great Lakes will always share. And it’s been getting worse ever since the 1950s.

Would you believe plastic was invented just for shooting cue balls? Until World War II, there was little knowledge of synthetic materials. But as the escalating tensions among world powers heightened, the industrial might and faster pace of industry were eventually the determining factors for the course of human history.

“Two researchers in 1969 even released a study citing plastic litter as the main cause of premature death among seabird chicks.”

Coming out of the Great Depression, followed by WWII, Americans found a nearly utopian lifestyle. Up until ’58, Detroit was playing at its manufacturing crescendo. Michigan was producing the top brands that American auto buyers looked for. And plastics were replacing at least a portion of nearly every car component.

That’s around the time scientists first started researching where plastic debris is found. Two researchers in 1969 even released a study citing plastic litter as the main cause of premature death among seabird chicks.

These days, a monthly fishing competition almost feels dystopian. National news sources have regularly featured a Metro-Detroit father and son who started the Trash Fishing Competition. Competitors pull hundreds of points of plastic trash from Detroit waterways on every outing. And they are often seen geeking over fishing boats on their Facebook page.

It’s becoming a formula. People do something great for the world around them, and local news highlights the best of their efforts. And since we live in such a highly connected world, who doesn’t want to be on the news for making our communities a better place?

“Just asking people to ditch a single-use plastic straw is boring. We really wanted to make sure that we were creating a campaign that created hope and sparked the imagination.”

This desire the majority of us all have to find approval for the good things we do is where the Lonely Whale found themselves. Led by Dune Ives, the activist group focuses on ocean health and, more importantly, plastics found in the oceans.

“There are about 8-10 million tons of plastic entering the ocean ever single year,” Ives said. “I say these stats. And that’s a huge problem. How do you, as an average person, know how to become a solution?”

Dunes idea lies in the way brands communicate to us.

It’s sort of like the time your friend won free concert tickets because they retweeted a band’s merchandise website. Social media connects us in more ways than anybody from the plastic ‘50s who started this disaster could’ve imagined. And brands have been at the forefront of every way to capitalize on that connection.

Lonely Whale Foundation

#StopSucking Campaign

When we looked at the issue, we looked at who’s leading the conversation with consumers. With you and me,” Ives said. “And the answer is that brands are. Corporations. People who sell us stuff.”

So the team at the Lonely Whale, along with Possible Ad Agency, figured out a way to sell us a better world. And all it costs is a commitment to change one small thing. They even have a catch phrase: #StopSucking.

“Just asking people to ditch a single-use plastic straw is boring. We really wanted to make sure that we were creating a campaign that created hope and sparked the imagination.”

The plastic straw is one of the most common trash items at beach clean-ups. And that’s a big deal. When they’re not eaten by wildlife in the oceans or the Great Lakes, they’re more likely to break down into tiny particles. These microplastics can damage every aspect of wildlife before coming straight back to us at our favorite sea-food restaurant.

So what has this campaign actually done for the world? In a way, it’s only giving us a catch phrase to repeat to ourselves when a bartender hands us our cocktail straw. Has this campaign actually done anything?

Well, #StopSucking has done a lot. Seattle has committed to banning single-use plastic straws. And a vast amount of people have switched to either reusable straws or found biodegradable alternatives. So our cocktail ritual doesn’t have to change.

The success of this campaign wasn’t that it’s convincing us to never enjoy a smoothie again. It’s convincing us that we’re a part of a global solution. Something that brands, advertising, and social media can easily lead us to realize. And something that can ultimately save the planet from some of its most difficult man-made challenges.

We can’t all find national attention from the seats of our fishing boats. We all live complex demanding lives. So how can we be bothered to donate our time to a good cause?

Dunes solution isn’t asking everyone to drive all the way to the Pacific Ocean to get a snorkel and pull out a handful of garbage. It’s inviting you to show everyone that you’re part of the solution with a hashtag that we all have to admit is pretty clever.

More importantly, it’s inviting you to actually do something. To use the influence of our friends or to be influenced to think twice before asking for a plastic straw, or a plastic bag.

These problems that are so readily identified in our world won’t be fixed by one person devoting their life to a solution. They’ll be changed by each of us. Entire populations of people. And all they have to do is give one small decision a second though. #StopSucking.