What comes to your mind when someone mentions Hawaii? Beach, palm trees, Hula dancing…right? What about Kona? Kona is a district, part of the Big Island of Hawaii, where once a year the Famous World Championship Ironman event happens…at least that was what the big word Kona meant to me before finding Kristine. Triathlons, running shoes, people in Lycras (like my friend Ryan), but it never went through my head there was a big plastic issue in such a beautiful side of the world…until I found about the documentary “Plastic Paradise”, discovered about the Pacific Garbage Patch, and found Kristine’s creations.
Ok, but enough about the Lycras, let’s get back to Kristine.
Kristine has been an environmental advocate for a few years now, an ocean lover, an artist that creates impressive masterpieces with the bits and pieces of plastic she finds in her cleanup adventures, and to be honest, the list of awesome things this girl has been doing can keep going forever haha. But we are here to share her story of how, one simple day, she decided it was enough and had to create action with her own hands (literally!).
Back in 2015, during a hike through the Thornton State Beach in San Francisco, Kristine had a moment of revelation that changed her life from that day, particularly her relationship with plastics.
How long have you been doing this?
I could not remember when I started conducting cleanups, so I scrolled down to the bottom of my Instagram feed. The date was September 11th, 2015. Quite a symbolic time, being that it was 911!
How did you come out with the idea of starting your cleanups?
Environmental conservation has always been important to me, so it made sense that beach-cleaning would be an appropriate community service that I would participate in. I volunteered for Surfrider San Francisco, but it was a hike at Thornton State Beach in Daly City/San Francisco on 9/11, when I started conducting cleanups regularly. The defining moment was when I spotted a significant pile of broken glass. I was disgusted. I found a bag and started filling it, each shard at a time. About three weeks later, I launched a blog about my beach cleanup journey, and offer a resource directory of nonprofits, to encourage people to get involved: https://earthrespect.wordpress.com.
Were you on a solo mission or you brought up friends to help you? Which sort of places do you usually go to do the cleanups?
After strolling beaches for about a dozen times during Fall of 2015, I realised that I really enjoy beach-cleaning on my own. And I never feel alone - the ocean is a great friend. I came to enjoy beach-cleaning so much that I decided to challenge myself and conduct daily cleanups. From January 1, 2016, to May 2017, I completed 302 cleanups. I drove up and down the San Mateo coast, visiting 33 beaches, from San Francisco - to the northern tip of Santa Cruz. Living next to the ocean made it convenient! During that time, I led group volunteer cleanups at Montara State Beach, Montara - about 25 minutes south of San Francisco. I have since moved to Kailua Kona, Hawaii, and continue cleaning beaches, and documenting them on Instagram: www.instagram.com/kristinecummins.
I know this might sound a bit repetitive, but I always wonder…what was the “why” behind it? Your biggest motivation?
Two main reasons motivate my beach cleanup work: Humanity depends on the health of the planet to survive. The current U.S. administration does not acknowledge climate change and the related pollution problem that goes with it. Many climate change and associated initiatives, bills/acts, have been rolled back. The respected publication, National Geographic has covered it here. I know that the political end of things will repair itself over time, but the weight has been placed on nonprofits, green businesses, and activists like me, to conduct the hard work now.
The second motivation for my work is learning about an alarming detail that I was not aware of until I started conducting cleanups. I have discovered evidence that (most likely), plastics outnumber fish in the ocean now. There is a type of plastic that is not smooth like the common type of plastics littering beaches. They are powdery in texture, and they are called “nano plastics”. This leads me to believe they are immediately toxic to handle, due to their current state. I do not mind removing them. It needs to happen. It is evident that plastics are fully embedded in our ecosystem. Powder Plastics: https://www.instagram.com/p/BroJBgDHuDM
Ok, so you are a solo plastic fighter…but what about the response in your local community? Has it been any reaction from them?
Occasionally, I receive “thank yous” from passers-by on the beach, but the most encouraging response has been my fellow cleaner-uppers on Instagram. When I started conducting cleanups in 2015, I uploaded photos of the plastics, marine debris, and litter that I removed to the social network. At that time, I thought, “Why would anyone want to look at garbage?”. But to my surprise, I received a great deal of cheerleading. If anyone is feeling like they are moving toward conducting cleanups, and would enjoy the encouragement, I can guarantee you will get it on Instagram.
Totally agree with the satisfaction of rubbish photos haha I got hooked with that as well. But so far, what has been your biggest challenge while doing this?
The most challenging aspect of beach-cleaning is thinking and feeling overwhelmed about the pollution problem. Creating art with beach microplastics, and creatively shooting photos of it, helps me to survive the crisis. It lifts my spirits, as knowing there is so much out there, feels daunting to me at times. What I remind myself, and others, is that it could be that one piece of plastic or litter removed, that could save the life of an animal. We owe it to wildlife and the planet. Microplastics Art: www.instagram.com/beachplasticsart
And finally, if you had to give your secret tip to a cleanup newbie, what would it be?
My top tip is about encouragement for ourselves, and others: It could be that one piece of plastic or litter you remove, that could save the life of an animal, while also helping the surrounding ecosystem. I also encourage working toward a low-waste lifestyle. I am aware that zero-waste can be difficult for low-income households (cheaper is plastic-packaged), but even just recycling, helps. We owe taking responsibility for the pollution problem that we have caused. Whoever came up with that saying, “every bit counts”, got it right.
Wow…now I have another reason to visit Kona for sure (not just the lycra squad…sorry Ryan!). I always feel amazed when people share their stories and experiences around plastic pollution and creating action, and I can’t stop looking at Kristine’s photos of her plastic creations (make sure you check them out! Click here). Thank you so much again to Kristine for sharing her story! We know how frustrating and overwhelming it could feel when you see the bigger picture of how bad plastics are affecting our nature, but it’s so important to try to catalyse that feeling and create something positive (like in this case art!).
If you have any stories to share about pollution and environmental action, send us an email to email@example.com, we are always happy to know what makes people’s heart beat while helping the planet.
See you soon on the next rubbish story!