Running plastic pollution out of town step by step – UN Environment

Sam Bencheghib is passionate about adventure and the environment. The 22-year-old athlete and environmental activist’s voice is enthusiastic and exuberant about his quest to raise awareness about the world’s plastic pollution crisis.

“When I was 12, and my brother Gary 14, we often came across plastic trash while running and surfing in Bali. This inspired us to launch Make A Change Bali, an initiative to organize weekly beach clean-ups. Unfortunately, this would only pave way for more trash the following day, so we decided to try and tackle the source of the problem,” says Sam who moved to Indonesia from Paris with his family when he was seven.

The initiative involved visiting local schools, businesses and communities to deliver presentations about the waste challenge as well as lobbying local mayors to curb consumption of single-use plastics. In 2009, the initiative expanded its wings and was transformed into Make A Change World, a media outlet and environmental organization which highlights clean-up campaigns and expeditions through videos aimed at inspiring action.

In 2017, the brothers went on a kayak expedition, paddling 68 km in two weeks on two kayaks—each made of 300 plastic bottles—to demonstrate that trash can have a second life. As a result of their exploit, the Indonesian government launched a clean-up of one of the world’s most polluted waterways, the Citarum river.

And that was just the beginning. On 26 July, Sam embarked on his biggest expedition yet: a six month-long journey through the United States, to become the first person to run across North America to raise awareness about the issue of marine plastic pollution and the need to act now.

This time round, his Ocean2Ocean run will cover 4,828 km from New York City to Los Angeles, crossing 13 states.

At around 10.45 a.m., Sam and his crew took the first step and began the run by covering 16 km long the Hudson River, from Wagner Park to the George Washington Bridge. 

“In times of such environmental concern, we’re really on a countdown. I really believe that no idea is crazy enough and so I think that by running 4,828 km, it’s definitely a crazy feat, but it’s a good metaphor to showcase the severity of the plastic problem in the ocean. It is also an incredible opportunity to engage with as many communities as possible to tell them about the effects of plastic,” he says.

Along the way, he will engage with as many communities as possible to create awareness about the marine plastic pollution crisis and to ignite a national conversation about what everybody can do to foster change. This will include delivering educational presentations at town halls, schools and universities. He will also organize events such as zero-waste workshops, documentary screenings, street and city clean-ups and runs with running clubs and athlete organizations.

In February 2017, the UN Environment Programme launched the Clean Seas campaign at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia. The campaign engages governments, the general public and the private sector in the fight against marine plastic pollution. It urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targets industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calls on consumers to change their throwaway habits before irreversible damage is done to our seas.

“The Ocean2Ocean run shows how real change starts with spreading awareness and engaging with communities. In the run-up to the United Nations Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit in September, I hope that Sam Bencheghib’s 4,828-km journey across the United States will raise awareness about the devastating impact of marine plastic pollution, spark conversations around the climate crisis and inspire young people to become true champions of the earth,” says Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Head of UN Environment’s New York office.

Ocean2Ocean is a project by Make a Change World, in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans. Parley’s involvement falls under the framework of Ocean Uprise, the youth activist platform that was launched on World Oceans Day 2019.

“Sam and his brother Gary have already proven with previous initiatives that the real superpower of change lies in courage and individual action. Everyone can change the world. Step by step,” says Cyrill Gutsch, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Parley for the Oceans.

Sam will be running with shoes made from recycled plastic waste collected from remote beaches and coastal communities.

Plastic pollution is killing our oceans. An average of 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans annually and the ubiquity of plastic traces poses a serious threat to ocean and human health. Fifty per cent of the oxygen we breath comes from the oceans, and behaviour change is necessary, especially when up to 80 per cent of all pollution in the oceans flows in from the land.

About CleanSeas  
Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, Indonesia, in 2017, UN Environment’s #CleanSeas campaign urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targets industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calls on consumers to change their throwaway habits before irreversible damage is done to our seas.