National Geographic kicks off 'Planet or Plastic' project

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National Geographic magazine has kicked off a year-long project aimed at reducing the amount of single-use plastic that enters in the world's oceans.

The "Planet or Plastics" project was timed to start May 16, with the release of the magazine's June issue, which takes an in-depth look at single-use plastics and the environment. Stories in the issue include:

We made plastic, we depend on it. Now we're drowning in it.

For animals, plastic is turning the ocean into a minefield.

We know plastic is harming marine life. What about us?

Why focus on plastics now? The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its "Altered Oceans" project more than a decade ago, so obviously this issue isn't new. But public interest is at a new high. And when more U.S. television viewers see the "Blue Planet" series, I expect the reaction to be similar to what we've seen in the United Kingdom, which is moving to ban a wide variety of single-use plastics.

Jonathan Baillie, the National Geographic Society's chief scientist and senior vice president, science and exploration, said: "By harnessing National Geographic's scientific expertise, we intend to pinpoint activities on land, particularly near rivers, that contribute to the flow of plastics polluting our oceans — and then use what we learn to inspire change at home and around the world. A crisis of this enormity requires solutions at scale, and National Geographic is uniquely qualified to amass the best in research, technology, education and storytelling to effect meaningful change."

Expect this project to get a lot of attention in the next year.

One more thing: National Geographic is making a symbolic move of its own against plastic waste. Starting with this issue, the magazine will begin wrapping the U.S., U.K. and India subscriber editions in paper instead of plastic, and it announced a goal of wrapping all global editions in paper by the end of 2019.

"Will eliminating a plastic magazine wrapper save the planet? Well, no," the magazine said in a story announcing the change. "But it’s an example of the kind of relatively easy action that every company, every government, and every person can take. And when you put it together, that adds up to real change."