Are We Living on a Plastic Planet? | South Carolina Aquarium

Are We Living on a Plastic Planet?

Feb 24

Are We Living on a Plastic Planet?

Join the conversation on March 30th.

No issue facing the health of our oceans and ocean life is more pressing than that of plastic pollution.

A recent study estimated that approximately eight million metric tons of plastic debris entered the sea from coastal regions in 2010 (Jambeck et al., 2015) —the equivalent of five plastic grocery bags filled with trash for every foot of coastline around the world. This plastic leakage into the environment often has substantial, yet unrecognized, consequences for humans and wildlife, particularly for coastal residents and communities. Current research suggests the trophic transfer of microplastics may have negative implications for marine biodiversity and, potentially, human health, while heavier plastics like fishing nets can damage marine reefs and other critically important habitats. Additionally, a myriad of wildlife species are susceptible to ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris, interactions which increase an individual animal’s risk of mortality and may adversely impact wild populations, particularly endangered species.

Featuring internationally renowned experts on plastic pollution, the Holland Lifelong Learning finale on March 30th, “Plastic Planet: Turning the Tides on the Plastic Pollution Crisis”, will explore diverse and innovative perspectives on approaching this growing threat to our planet’s health. Panelists, who will focus on global and domestic policy, marine science, corporate innovation, and grassroots mobilization, include:


JUDITH ENCK – Keynote Speaker

Environmental Policy Expert

Judith Enck is a Visiting Scholar at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in the Hudson Valley.  She served as the Regional Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency overseeing environmental protection in NY, NJ, Indian Nations in NY, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.

Judith previously served as a policy advisor to the New York State Attorney General. Prior to that, she was Senior Environmental Associate with the New York Public Interest Research Group. She also served as the Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York.  She is a past President of Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, former Executive Director of the Non-Profit Resource Center and a designer of her town’s rural recycling program.


Board Member, Ocean Champions and CEO, HDX Hydration Mix

Vipe is an avid surfer and a serial disruptor. During the 30+ years of management, marketing and brand building experience gained while working with start-ups, non-profits and Fortune 500 brands, he’s realized that his experience is best used to address our planets most pressing issues.

Vipe believes that a healthy planet needs healthy people and healthy people need a healthy planet.

When not with his amazing family, you can find Vipe at the intersection of business and philanthropy alongside some of the brightest people and organizations working towards a sustainable and healthy future.


Director of Research and Co-Founder, 5 Gyres Institute

Marcus Eriksen is the Director of Research and co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute.  His research has taken him 50K miles sailing the globe, including a couple of homemade rafting voyages down the Mississippi and across the N. Pacific (  His work on microplastics, including the co-discovery of microbeads in the Great Lakes and providing global/regional estimates of microplastic loads in our oceans, convey the ubiquity of degraded plastic everywhere we look and the actions we must take to solve the problem.


Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

Dr. Chelsea Rochman is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto. Chelsea has her PhD in ecology with emphases on marine ecology, environmental chemistry and ecotoxicology. Her expertise is regarding the sources, sinks and ecological implications of plastics and their associated cocktail of chemical contaminants in marine and freshwater habitats. Her work has landed her in traditional and non-traditional waste sites, including two of our ocean’s “garbage patches” and dozens of waste water treatment plants around the country. In addition to her academic research, Chelsea participates in policy meetings and working groups to translate scientific research beyond academia.


Co-Founder, Ocean Recovery Alliance

Douglas Woodring is the Co-Founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, a non-profit organization focused on bringing innovative solutions, technology, collaborations and policy together to impact positive improvements for the health of the ocean.  Two of  its global  programs  were  launched  at  the  2010  Clinton  Global  Initiative,  including  the Global Alert platform for reporting trash hotspots. Ocean  Recovery Alliance  is  the first NGO in the world to be working with both  United Nations Environment (UNEP) and the World  Bank  on  plastic  pollution  and  ocean  issues. Doug is also the founder of the Plasticity Forum and is recognized as both a UNEP Climate Hero and Google Earth Hero.

Mr. Woodring has worked in Asia for over 20 years.  He has been nominated three times as  World  Open  Water  Swimmer  of  the  Year  and  was  recently named  as  one  of  the  top 50 watermen in  the  world.    Born in Northern California, Mr.  Woodring  has  a  dual master’s degree from The Wharton School  (MBA) and Johns Hopkins University, School of  Advanced  International  Studies  (SAIS)  in  Environmental  Economics.  He has BA from the University of California at Berkeley.


Global Manager of Waste Reduction, General Motors

John is manager of global waste reduction at General Motors. In this role, he leads the company’s landfill-free initiative, which has resulted in 152 GM operations around the world that reuse, recycle, and convert to energy all waste from daily operations. John is an expert in waste reduction and recycling, and is dubbed GM’s MacGyver for devising unconventional uses for everyday waste. He frequently mentors other companies pursuing zero-waste goals. John’s responsibilities also include directing GM’s design-for-the-environment program, implementing sustainable processes and technologies that reduce environmental impact and costs.

John frequently speaks at various sustainability-focused events and has been recognized by the Society of Automotive Engineers with four Environmental Excellence in Transportation awards for material development and reuse and recycling projects. In 2015, John received the Presidential Lifetime Service Award from the Office of the President of the United States for sustainability services to youth.

John has worked for GM for more than 37 years. He earned a Master of Science degree in hazardous waste management from Wayne State University in Detroit in 1995 and a Bachelor of Science degree in conservation from Northern Michigan University in 1978. He is a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager.

Directly following the panel, we will convene our panelists, internationally renowned plastic pollution experts and honored guests at our Annual Watershed Dinner to further discuss progressive and collaborative solutions to plastic pollution alongside members of the Aquarium’s highest level donor society.

Purchase tickets

For questions: Sarah Burnheimer, Stewardship Associate – [email protected]; (843)579-8595

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