Fighting Back

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Hundreds of thousands of tiny plastic pellets fill the docks and bays of the Mississippi River. There are people who paddle out every morning to collect them, removing what they can as pellets continue to flood the water. But the problem starts much closer to home. Look around your house. See all the plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic everything? We are all at fault – and, like Sharon Lavigne, we all have the power to make a change. In this episode, we’ll talk to politicians, scientists, and journalists who teach us how.

This series is presented in partnership with Only One, the action platform for the planet. Only One is on a mission to restore ocean health and tackle the climate crisis in this generation — with your help. Visit to learn more and get involved.


Nurdle Patrol

Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act

Attorney General Bonta Demands Manufacturers of Plastic Bags Substantiate Recyclability Claims


Discarded is a Lemonada Media original, presented by Only One. Gloria Riviera is our host. Our producers are Alie Kilts, Alexa Lim, and Gloria Riviera. Tess Novotny is our associate producer. Chrystal Genesis is our supervising producer. Jackie Danziger is our vice president of narrative content. Mix and sound design by Natasha Jacobs with additional mixing by Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Hannis Brown. Naomi Barr is our fact checker. Executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer.

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Follow Gloria on Twitter at @griviera. Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.

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To follow along with a transcript, go to shortly after the air date. Follow Discarded wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad-free on Amazon Music with your Prime Membership.



Jeff Merkley, Shamara, Madison, Mark Benfield, Lucy Segal, Gloria Riviera, Jace Tunnell, Christina Dubin, Joe Banner, Rob Bonta

Jace Tunnell  00:35

We were at the beach in September of 2018. And I look down at the high tide line because I’m always looking to see what’s washing up.

Gloria Riviera  01:36

That’s Jace Tunnell, a scientist and the reserve director at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. He goes to the beach a lot. That afternoon he was parked in his truck on the beach with his wife, as you do down in Texas. And while he was there, he saw something wash up that he had never seen before.

Jace Tunnell  01:55

And this particular day, it was solid white pellets.

Gloria Riviera  02:00

He noticed all of these tiny whitish pellets washing up twinkling in the sunlight. They lined the beach as far down as he could see. Jace wasn’t sure what these were so he did what anyone might do. He posted a photo to his social media page.

Jace Tunnell  02:18

Immediately somebody responded and said, hey, that’s a spill, you need to call the Coast Guard.

Gloria Riviera  02:24

This was […] remember in the last episode, we spoke about nurdles. This foundations of plastic that sounds so cute. They’re tiny plastic pellets that are manufactured by plastic companies. And when they are found outside of that environment, it’s called a nurdle spill. Based on that comment from his social media friend, he decided he should put out a call to the Coast Guard.

Jace Tunnell  03:04

I was explaining to them we have a nurdle spill here. And they said what are you talking about? I’ve never heard of that.

Gloria Riviera  03:11

Chase met the Coast Guard at the beach so they could collect samples of these nurdles. And from there, the Coast Guard contacted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. A few days later, he received a call from the state.

Jace Tunnell  03:25

They said that there’s nothing they could do about it. They said for one, they don’t know how to clean them up. They’ve never had to deal with plastic pellets before. And they said number two, there’s nobody to pay for the cleanup. And so my question to him was like, well, you’re going to monitor it right? So we know how long it’s going to be around and how far it’s spread. They said no, we don’t have the manpower for that. And so that’s what initiated nurdle patrol.

Gloria Riviera  03:51

Jace wanted to do something take some sort of action to clean up these spills. So he founded nurdle patrol in 2018. And like the name would suggest he’s on the lookout for nurdles. We’ll hear more from everyday people like Jace who are taking action against nurdle spills and this larger plastics crisis. Of course, community organizing is key. But what about those at the top? I’m talking politicians, lawmakers, CEOs of these companies, surely someone must be doing something and whether it’s out of concern for the environment or their bottom line. I want to find out more and learn how we can make a change in our own backyard. As you’ve heard throughout this series, these solutions are not easy, but they are possible. I’m Gloria Rivera, and this is the final episode of DISCARDED. Jace is what you might call a nurdle nerd, not in a lovey Debbie I love nurdles kind of way. But more in an enthusiastic we must find a solution kind of way. He’s a scientist who’s using his work to stop neural spills across the country. But to make a significant impact, he relies on US citizen scientists.

Jace Tunnell  05:18

What citizen scientists are doing is really bringing the attention up to where it needs to be to show that there’s a problem.

Gloria Riviera  05:27

What is a citizen scientist you might ask? Well, it’s you, me anyone really no science degree needed, just your time and desire to help solve a problem. And the problem when it comes to nurdles is significant. Every one of you listening to this podcast, all of you have been touched by a nurdle. You just don’t know it yet. These extraordinary little things are the scaffolding for all plastic ever created. Airplanes, shampoo, bottles, toys, all of it. They all start life as these five millimeter sized plastic pellets resembling giant couscous. And when transported from a petrochemical plant, nurdle spills can happen with devastating consequences. According to a report in The Guardian, nurdles are causing as much damage as oil spills, yet they are still not classified as hazardous. About 250,000 tons of nurdles end up in our oceans every year. That is the equivalent of 250,000 classic VW bugs. Can you imagine all of those cars just floating around the ocean every year? Sounds frightening. Right? Enter nurdle patrol. Nurdle patrol has had a massive uptick in citizens working to hold plastics makers accountable for their nurdle spills across America.

Jace Tunnell  07:08

We’ve actually had over 6800 volunteers that have gotten involved in set data into nurdle patrol, and we’ve had over 15,000 surveys conducted.

Gloria Riviera  07:18

The really cool thing about the work of citizen scientists is that Jason collect vast amounts of neural data super quickly, and scientists working hard in their labs can’t work at that speed alone. They need grandmas, kids, anyone to get out there and get involved. Jason’s website offers free neural patrol startup kits, including how to video they give you glass sample bottles, a backpack and other merchandise to spread the word.

Jace Tunnell  07:45

This is nurdle patrol training 101. The first thing you do when you’re looking for these little plastic pellets that are washing up all over our beaches is that you want to go down to the waterline.

Gloria Riviera  07:58

So back to Jace’s rapport with the Coast Guard and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Currently, there’s no agency in charge of monitoring nurdles spills. And until an organization like FEMA declares these spills a disaster. Well, it’s just going to be the wild west of nurdles. This is where we can really step in, fill in the gaps and make real change. This citizen science data can provide lawmakers and companies with evidence of what’s actually happening on the ground. Jace told us about Diane Wilson, a fourth generation texten shrimper, Diane had heard that a Formosa Plastics plant was leaking nurdles into the bay, the area where her family had shrimped and fished for years. So she took it upon herself to investigate. She hopped into her kayak and circled the bay collecting nurdles.

Jace Tunnell  08:54

And so she went out every single day for three years and took samples putting you know the location how many they found and how long they were looking.

Gloria Riviera  09:05

She sued Fermosa under the Clean Water Act for illegally discharging plastic pellets and other pollutants into Texas waters. And she won.

Jace Tunnell  09:15

The only reason that they settled for 50 million was because for most of plastics agreed to put that zero plastic pellet loss into the language of their permit. And if they were found to release any nurdles, then they would be fined on a daily basis.

Gloria Riviera  09:33

For most of plastics Corporation, the same group Sharon from Louisiana is battling, agreed to revise their contracts. Diane referenced nurdle patrol during her lawsuit against the company.

Jace Tunnell  09:45

If you think you have a problem using hurdle patrol as your base for your project, and being able to send the information digitally to either the state agency or an elected official to let them know that there’s a problem, when we know there’s a problem. It’s time to make change.

Gloria Riviera  10:03

JC is taking his work one step further nurdle patrol and other environmental groups in Texas are backing a quote zero pellet loss bill that they plan to file in the State Senate. They want Texas to require in the contract that petrochemical companies look after their nurdles, if they get a go ahead permit. This would hold companies accountable. You know, just like how an oil rig is responsible for an oil spill. Why not nurdles?

Jace Tunnell  10:29

Plastic is the next climate change issue is serious and we need to do something about it even though you know nurdles is a small part of the whole plastic problem that we have. It’s a start and it’s something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Gloria Riviera  10:46

Who would have thought that there are these little neural busters patrolling our waterways? It’s not just in Texas, these nurdles were taken in fact, when we were in Louisiana, I spoke to Mark Benfield. He’s another scientist based at Louisiana State University who runs his own nurdle operation. I went to his lab aka his neural Situation Room. I’ve never seen a nurdle before.

Mark Benfield  11:09

So this is a big white woven plastic sack and it’s labeled with blue polyethylene […] on here.

Gloria Riviera  11:18

The sack he’s speaking about belongs to Dow Chemical, the largest petrochemical company operating in Louisiana. Mark and his team discovered this sack of translucent nurdles under a dock in New Orleans directly on the French Quarter waterfront.

Mark Benfield  11:34

It does say content disposal do not dump into any sewers on the ground or into any body of water. Which I find a little ironic.

Gloria Riviera  11:43

Ironic indeed sing as they found the sack in broad daylight. These little plastic pellets are writing the water waves living their best freeloading little lives without any clear roadmap for how to stop them. With scientists such as Jason Mark, giving us the tools lawmakers are not and not one to suffer, FOMO, I wanted to be a citizen scientist myself. So I accompanied mark on a nurdle hunt. We are driving under some incredible oak trees with Spanish moss hanging down. It’s really beautiful. It’s rainy this morning. We are in Baton Rouge on our way to look for some nurdles. Mark, how are you? Thanks for meeting us on this rainy morning.

Mark Benfield  12:32

So, State Capitol is back behind over your shoulders. Big thing right there is the state capitol. It’s the state capitol. Okay. The governor’s mansion is just down at the end of this lake. And the Mississippi River is really just the other side of those buildings. We got lots of nurdles. It’s just loaded with 1000s.

Gloria Riviera  12:51

Mark leads regular noodle hunts. They walk around collecting them after a noodle spill on our walkabout Mark spotted a sign and read part of it for us is caution.

Mark Benfield  13:01

A health advisory has been issued by the State of Louisiana for this water body. No person should eat fish in any amount, or any type from the lake.

Gloria Riviera 13:09

We didn’t need to walk far, maybe a few feet. I wouldn’t even call it a hunt more of a show and tell. They were they were ostensibly not bothering anyone. I don’t even think I’ve not been on this story. I would have taken the time to stop and question what the hell are those? And yet as small as they are, they are a natural, like garbage on an otherwise pristine glassy body of water. And what lurks underneath it is not good.

Mark Benfield  13:38

And you’re gonna see nothing but nurdles. I mean, there are 1000s of them. We’re actually lucky today because this place is loaded with snakes.

Gloria Riviera  13:49

So we’re collecting these just in this in this bag. Oh, they’re hard.

Mark Benfield  13:54

Yeah, most of them are. Some of them are a little flexible.

Gloria Riviera  13:57

Tell me so these things. These noodles got into this body of water on accident.

Mark Benfield  14:04

It’s a very leaky supply chain. Yeah. And every time they transport them, they tend to spill. It’s very easy to spill them because particularly if they’re being shipped in bulk, and not contained in sacks.

Gloria Riviera  14:16

People just don’t see him. We’re in the center of a city in broad daylight surrounded by a lot of life. And we mark and I we can see 1000s of these hazardous off white pellets littering the water.

Mark Benfield  14:32

For legislators in that building back there. I don’t think they even though they’re here.

Gloria Riviera  14:38

Remember what Jace said. There isn’t any agency dedicated to cleaning up these nurdle spills. Mark and Jason’s work on the ground is inspiring, but they can’t clean up this mess on their own. Neural spills are just one problem when it comes to plastics. So what are legislators doing to tackle the plastic problem, when we come back. I’m just back for a walk and I’m in my pantry. Oh my god. Okay. That’s like too many plastic bags to count upset. My dogs trying to eat it. Don’t do that. I mean, I think there’s probably like 50 plastic bags there. It’s in the bottom shelf. And then this is so embarrassing. This is so embarrassing. Even though I know I’m not the only one because one of the biggest culprits is the plastic bag. We see them blowing in the wind tangled up on the side of the highway. Or if you’re like me overflowing from my own pantry, they have become the poster child of problematic plastic. One state that’s been a leader in tackling the plastic bag problem is now taking it one step further.

Rob Bonta  17:14

The law clearly states reusable plastic bags must meet basic recyclability requirements.

Gloria Riviera  17:37

That’s California Attorney General Rob Bonta. Giving a press conference outside right on the waterfront in San Francisco. Rob’s sole job is to make sure state laws are properly enforced.

Rob Bonta  17:49

And while we may feel a little guilty that we forgot our bags, at least the plastic bags we buy at the register for 10 cents. Have those chasing arrows. Those symbols that say they are 100% recyclable, right? Wrong.

Gloria Riviera  18:03

In 2014, California passed a law that required all reusable plastic bags to be recyclable in the state. Today, Rob’s ordering these companies to back up their claims.

Rob Bonta  18:15

That’s why we’re here today to uncover the truth. So let’s see the evidence.

Gloria Riviera  18:21

Rob is going to war by calling out California’s six biggest plastic bag makers. I called Rob to talk about his investigation. His office has the typical lawyer like bookcase and it’s decorated with artwork and family photos. Rob and his family came to the US from the Philippines escaping the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. He was just two months old.

Rob Bonta  18:45

My parents were both social justice activists. My family of five lived in a trailer. My dad worked in the front office with said their job is my mom helped create and staff that childcare center. She knew and worked with Dolores Huerta.

Gloria Riviera  19:02

And Rob refers to himself as the people’s attorney. He’s the first person of Filipino descent to take up this job, his parents work organizing California farm workers is the foundation for how he views his role.

Rob Bonta  19:16

I saw them fight with everyday people for what was right. And I saw them win. And I saw that if everyday people committed to a common cause and believe in each other and fight you can do anything. And I also saw that big powerful interests hurt vulnerable, everyday people and that was wrong, and that they should not do that and that those people deserve a fighter and a champion and someone who will fight back for them.

Gloria Riviera  19:43

Okay, I stopped here, someone who will fight back for them. It made me remember Sharon didn’t want to take on her fight. She had to do it. As she told us God was her champion. But not everyone has that connection with God. Not everyone one sees a red cardinal and has faith that change will come. Sometimes we need a person to tell us all fight for you, that change you need, I’ll work my butt off to make it happen because it’s right. That means being brave enough to take on the big guys.

Rob Bonta  20:17

The only reason the plastics industry is not creating the plastic infrastructure to do the recycling is because they can’t make money off of it. So they have a choice, and they have not exercised their choice on recycling. So that only leaves us with one choice as regulators as enforcers of the law, which is to eliminate production. But it is because they’ve made a choice to not invest in recycling. Even though the technology is there, even though it’s possible.

Gloria Riviera  20:46

According to rob, the plastic industry doesn’t invest in recycling because there’s no money to be made in it. That is part of the problem. But remember what we said in the previous episode, there’s also no real incentive for these companies to change not from the government or us as consumers, and our love of wish cycling isn’t helping the situation. Plastic bags and recycling are just the start of Rob’s campaign against big plastic.

Rob Bonta  21:15

We subpoenaed Exxon Mobil, the biggest producer, and one of the biggest deceivers when it comes to fueling and creating the global plastics pollution crisis. They were part of what was called the Council for Solid Waste Solutions, which spent millions of dollars in the 80s to convince the public that we could recycle our way out of the plastics problem.

Gloria Riviera  21:35

and Rob’s take on Exxon Mobil. Today,

Rob Bonta  21:38

Exxon continues to be an active participant in a number of plastic related trade groups and deceptive greenwashing campaigns and projects. So we think they’re a really good place to start. You should take care of it. You should take the responsibility for what you create and put into our environment. They have not done that.

Gloria Riviera  21:55

Rob’s boss is California Governor Gavin Newsom. One of Newsom has tools to attack the industry from the outside is something called stay with me now. The extended producer responsibility bill for packaging. I know I can assure you the marketing department did not come up with that snappy name, but essentially we call it e p r, and it will bring into law reductions and eliminations in plastic with the plastic industry footing the bill. According to Governor Newsom is recycling czar Rachel Machi Wagner, if these companies don’t come up with a plan that the state finds acceptable, they can be fined up to $50,000 per day, within a few weeks, they could hit a million dollars. That’s so small violation.

Christina Dubin  22:40

I think policymakers know that the public wants action, and they’re eager to pass something.

Gloria Riviera  22:49

This is Christina Dubin from beyond plastics. We met her in the previous episode, her organization has been following EPR proposals popping up in other states.

Christina Dubin  23:00

You have to be really careful because passing a bad policy or a weak policy is actually worse than not passing anything at all.

Gloria Riviera  23:12

Beyond plastics has a 10 item checklist for effective EPR laws. This includes creating environmental standards and holding public hearings. They’re hoping policymakers will listen. As for Rob’s investigation, I reached back out to him for an update. His office told us they’ve received responses and they said beyond that to protect its integrity. We are unable to comment on an ongoing investigation. So we’ll need to stay tuned. Look, I’m happy to see how the Golden State is leading in this area. But selfishly, I’m thinking about my home here in DC and all the places we visited Louisiana, Texas, New Jersey and the many other states across our country crying out for solutions to this plastics crisis on a federal level.

Jeff Merkley  24:00

We the people want to take on plastic pollution way that people don’t want to credit cards worth the plastic in our food and air and water every single week. We the People want environmental justice.

Gloria Riviera  24:14

In Oregon, Senator Jeff Merkley is part of a team introducing the break free from Plastic Pollution Act. The name says it all it is the most comprehensive plan to tackle this crisis ever introduced in Congress. The bill would put environmental justice at the forefront and tackle the entire lifecycle of plastic. It’s a big goal. Jeff’s also determined to close the head spinning web of legal loopholes to stop my head from spinning. I decided to give him a call.

Jeff Merkley  24:43

Think about it this way. Last year, the fossil fuel companies in the United States, they posted profits $205 billion, Be precise. If they invest just 1% of their net profits in the political world. That’s 2 billion plus dollars. That’s a massive influence affecting what legislation can get passed.

Gloria Riviera  25:07

That figure is from 2021. And Jeff explained how powerful the companies are. They make a lot of money and support politicians and lawmakers. So Jeff thinks it’s going to be hard to get the break free from Plastic Pollution Act over the line. To do it, he’s going to need help.

Jeff Merkley  25:24

Because if it just comes to people inside the building, now there’s inside the house representatives inside the Senate, too many of them are getting campaign funding and elected through the support of fossil fuel money. So they’re not anxious to take this on.

Gloria Riviera  25:40

So according to Jeff, some officials do understand the problem, but they don’t want to rock the boat. Remember, the plastic lobbies we talked about from Episode 3, they can influence policy.

Jeff Merkley  25:50

So this is the challenge we have, we have to have grassroots America, educate people, and have them create the momentum for movement.

Gloria Riviera  26:00

Here’s Christina, again,

Christina Dubin  26:02

we need policy to do this, like governments and industry has to be held accountable, and be forced to make changes. And we the people in the grassroots are here to put pressure and hold them accountable and make this transparent and make this change happen.

Rob Bonta  26:22

There are all sorts of levers that can be used to create this momentum. To apply that pressure. Rob and Jeff are pulling down on that political lever, Jason Mark are using the power of citizens and scientists working together. And there is a group of people who are pressuring the industry from the inside. More on that after the break. What I’ve learned so far about plastic, well, it’s complicated. We see the plastic soda bottle every day. But there is an entire lifecycle that goes into it way before that bottle touches your lips. And along the way, there are activists, people pushing for change, sounding the alarm and holding companies accountable. So when you hear the word activism, what comes to mind, I think of people like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Rob’s parents, but it’s a wide term and it’s become a buzzword.

Gloria Riviera  28:40

Shareholder activists have been popping up in the news lately. If you haven’t heard of them. Let’s start with the basics. A shareholder can be a hedge fund me you anyone really who owns a part of a company, even your 401k can make you a shareholder. A shareholder activist, sometimes also referred to as an activist investor, is someone who leverages their shares in a company as a bargaining chip. They can put pressure on company executives to push forward their own agenda.

Madison  29:20

The legal system gives shareholders a lot of rights that they don’t necessarily give other people. That’s Madison […]

Gloria Riviera  29:34

That’s Madison […]. She’s an academic and lawyer who focuses on the links between climate change and financial institutions. And shareholder activists are making demands of big plastic

Madison  29:46

asking for things around climate change asking for things around plastics.

Gloria Riviera  29:51

Just last year, one group of shareholder activists push CVS the big pharmacy chain to set standards on plastic waste.

Madison  29:58

They asked CVS to Reduce virgin plastic from their store brand packaging 50% by 2030 and eliminate problematic and unnecessary plastics and disclose plastic footprint metrics, that something is not amazing. But even the disclosure stuff actually, you know, that’s often the first step in the door.

Gloria Riviera  30:18

These companies don’t legally need to listen to these demands. But it’s not a good look to ignore your shareholders bad press, potentially losing your job on the board. It can be a lot of pressure. So some shareholder activists are influencing companies to reconsider how they do business. Take the US based hedge fund engine number one, they targeted one of the biggest petrochemical companies on the planet.

Madison  30:46

Basically, the pitch was that this company has not properly prepared for the transition and needs to sort of diversify its business away from high emissions fossils and expand into other arenas.

Gloria Riviera  31:14

The pitches that this makes financial sense for ExxonMobil shareholder activist are using that financial lever to get ahead of the curve, this climate change disaster that can wipe out their business, they see the writing on the wall. But remember, nothing in the history of plastic is straightforward. And engine number one is also complicated. Joe banner of the descendants project in Louisiana, who we heard from an earlier episodes, while she told me its founder, Christopher James is also behind the built of a massive grain elevator in her community, which she is trying to fight.

Madison  31:52

I think the depressing part of the story is just that this potential is also limited. I think there’s this idea that like, oh, the shareholders can help us because like the government is so broken.

Gloria Riviera  32:04

Yeah, that does sound a little bleak, because not everyone own shares. But if you do well, don’t discount the power of the dollar just yet. There are ways you can use your own investments, even your retirement account. Start by figuring out where your money is being invested. And if you don’t like what you learn, you can reinvest it into more environmentally friendly companies. So what if you aren’t a shareholder? Well, here’s the good news. There is a growing army of activists stationed all around the world, guiding us towards a brighter, less polluted future.

Lucy Segal  32:43

I’m sort of laughing when I think of activism. There’s like there’s a community there.

Gloria Riviera  32:49

That’s Lucy Segal. She’s an environmental journalist. She grew up on David Attenborough nature documentaries, and her grandfather worked for an oil company in a refinery. So she was always learning about the environment. She wrote a book called turning the tide on plastic, about what personal action we can take in our own lives.

Lucy Segal  33:10

I do think of a lot of joy, actually, because I honestly know people who’ve met their partners on beach clean.

Gloria Riviera  33:16

Finding a new partner while cleaning up your local beach, who needs to swipe right when you can just head to a cleanup. I’m sure many of us would be up for that. But these beach cleans can be more than a meet cute feel good moment. These small actions are where change starts.

Lucy Segal  33:32

When you have 1000s of people mobilizing on a Saturday morning to pick plastic off a beach, holding placards, and going on marches. It’s very hard for them to say, actually, the consumer loves this plastic because they’re literally saying, I do not love this plastic.

Gloria Riviera  33:48

Lucy went to COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference that happened in Egypt late last year. That’s the same conference Sharon was heading to and I spoke to her over dinner, Lucy saw an explosion in activism.

Lucy Segal  34:02

I think community and local organizing is absolutely central to combating plastic pollution and turning the tap off. I think we’ve only seen the start of what community mobilization can achieve. So we have this like coming together of different community leaders. And I think when we look back, if we get a chance to write the history of community mobilization for environment, I think this will be one of the points when we say less of a siloing and a more of a coming together and I think the strength is in that.

Gloria Riviera  34:41

What Lucy said reminded me of so many of the people I’ve spoken with throughout this series who are mobilizing within their communities, Sharon, Jayvee, Jace, none of them started out as activists. They don’t even call themselves that. Their common thread is that power of community. They saw what What’s happening in their church beach, or the neighborhood they grew up in and created change. We can start in the places where we already have relationships with our neighbors, local restaurants and stores, where we can determine what we want that change to look like.

Lucy Segal  35:18

Probably the most exciting thing for me in a way is that you get people picking up the plastic, mobilizing as a community, and then bringing in some rules for their community and saying to local storekeepers, Hey, have you thought about going plastic free? It’s not easy. And it’s trial and error, and they learn as they go along. But these become the testbeds of a society that is not addicted to plastic.

Gloria Riviera  35:45

So I challenge you to log your plastics use for just a single day like I did, it was really hard. I bet you’ll start to spot where you don’t need plastic, or can cut out single use plastic? Do you really need those long, thin plastic dry cleaner bags? Or how about those plastic sandwich bags, I rinse them out and reuse them now, I’m really focused on those two other R’s reduce and reuse.

Joe Banner  36:15

Small participation and small involvement makes big changes.

Gloria Riviera  36:19

That’s Joe Banner from the descendants project in Louisiana.

Joe Banner  36:22

I think we’re just in a beautiful space to where communities are coming together, engaging with these powerful organizations and really have opportunity to change things around. It can go it goes all the way up. It can trickle up, everyone should be engaged in the environment and participating in improving it so as not to take responsibility off the big corporations. But if we aren’t paying attention and observe it and let it happen, and we’re also playing a part of it too.

Gloria Riviera  36:53

I love how the people of Louisiana continue to turn this mess around day after day after day. Activism seems to be in the very DNA of the people in this state. Sadly, there is no more spinach dip. But I will survive and persevere. Over dinner with Sharon and her children. They shared with me just how ingrained this work is within their family.

Shamara  37:23

My grandfather, my mom’s dad, he was a civil rights activist. You know, he helped integrate the public schools in St. James Parish. It’s already in our blood, you know, to this activism. So when she was like, we’re gonna fight I’m like, I’m here with you. Yeah. So we’re gonna fight in.

Gloria Riviera  37:43

I’m sitting here with them sharing a meal, asking to pass the crawfish, a to Fe. I think that while we live different lives in different places, we do share one thing, that moment we hear the voice inside of us. Is that our gut? Does it come from outrage, injustice, exhaustion. I think my moment was on the ground in Louisiana. I remember that smell of the petrochemical plants. And I won’t ever forget it, or the people I met there. And of course, I relate to those who got cancer. I told you briefly about my own brain cancer in the first episode, it would be so lovely to say that I am cancer free. I am mostly. But brain tumors are sort of like an octopus, the tentacles often reach deep into the crevices of the brain. That’s how it is with me. And that is why I’ll never be totally cancer free. I have to be vigilant about my cancer. Much like so many people in the area known as cancer alley. It’s a lifelong relationship for people all over the country. And it is why when I spoke to people in St. James who had cancer, or who are living with cancer like me, or knew and loved someone who died from it, I felt connected to their feeling of helplessness. I look at Sharon, and I look at this family. And I see they are all in on changing things for the better for the future for all of us. And it shouldn’t be just on them. Something has to change. When I began this journey, I had so much to learn. I’ve seen that the problem is much more than a plastic water bottle floating in the ocean. It is the whole lifecycle of this material. Plastic has only been around for about 150 years. Yet it is already an essential part of our lives, so much so that we don’t even notice it. We just use plastic and discard it on a massive scale. Do we really want our legacy to be known as The plastic age, we can scale down on our use while we scale up on our own accountability. I want to set an example for my own kids. I want to show them like Sharon does every day that it doesn’t have to be this way.

CREDITS  40:37

Discarded is a Lemonada Media Original. Presented by Only One. I’m your host Gloria Riviera. Our producers are Ali Kilts. Alexa Lim and me, Tess Novotny is our associate producer. Krystal Genesis is our supervising producer. Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content, mix and sound designed by Natasha Jacobs with additional mixing from Ivan Kuraev. Music is by Hannis Brown. Naomi Bar is our fact checker. Executive Producers are Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. To learn more and to take action, go to onlyone/discarded. Follow me on Twitter at @GRiviera. Stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia. There’s more discarded with Lemonada Premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content like my conversation with Jane Patton over delicious Cafe Du Monde venues in New Orleans. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. Join my Lemonada today for free and chat with your favorite hosts, other listeners and our staff. You’ll also get exclusive audio and video content and invites to live and virtual events before anyone else. Go to to join a community who wants to make life suck less together. Go to for a list of current sponsors and discount codes for this and all other Lemonada series. To follow along with a transcript go to, shortly after the air date, follow discarded wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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