Advertising, Marketers Enlisted to Tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Nonprofit Fights Plastic Pollution With Grass-roots Marketing and Ads by Grey Group Asia

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Doug Woodring inspects garbage pulled out of the Plastic Vortex; worldwide production of plastic grew by more than 500% over the last 30 years to 80 million tons annually this year.
Doug Woodring inspects garbage pulled out of the Plastic Vortex; worldwide production of plastic grew by more than 500% over the last 30 years to 80 million tons annually this year.

HONG KONG ( -- Marketers really like plastic packaging. It's strong, light, cheap and easy to produce. But plastic is also really hard to dispose of -- and it's creating chaos for Earth's marine life, particularly in the North Pacific Ocean.

A massive Plastic Vortex, also known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," was discovered 13 years ago by a racing boat captain, Charles Moore, as he returned home after competing in the Transpac sailing race.

"No one really knows how big this area is," said Doug Woodring, the Hong Kong-based co-founder and director of Project Kaisei, a global project focused on plastic pollution and marine debris. Estimates range from the size of Texas to the size of the continental U.S. Most plastic is not biodegradable, and the decomposition of many types of plastic can take hundreds of years.

"Every year, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced, much of it for one-time, disposable use, and roughly 90% never makes it to a proper recycling facility," Mr. Woodring said. National Geographic estimates "over 85 million plastic bottles are used every three minutes on our planet. In many cases, plastic waste that is not incinerated or land-filled makes its way to the oceans."

Mr. Woodring, an American who has worked in technology start-ups and new media platforms in Asia for the past 18 years, including a stint overseeing a global environmental technology fund at Merrill Lynch, has joined forces with the Clinton Global Initiative and other organizations to talk about the problems produced by plastic packaging and enlist volunteers and donations.

An avid open-water swimmer, he has become an eco-celebrity in Asia by employing his marketing and social-media smarts--Project Kaisei has long had a presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to promote grass-roots participation--as well as strong ties to influential organizations like Hong Kong's American Chamber of Commerce.

Now Mr. Woodring is reaching out to mainstream media to help Project Kaisei, which means Ocean Planet in Japanese, bridge the gap between consumers, corporations and scientists through a global marketing campaign created by Grey Group.

The campaign, which raises awareness about the dangers of plastic waste and its effect on oceans, is a pro-bono initiative coordinated by Susan Reingold, Grey's senior VP-corporate development, Asia/Pacific in Hong Kong, with the WPP agency's offices across Asia chipping in.

Doug Woodring (pictured) co-founded Project Kaisei with Mary Crowley and George Orbelian
Doug Woodring (pictured) co-founded Project Kaisei with Mary Crowley and George Orbelian
Print and out-of-home ads created by JayGrey, Sydney depict illustrations of ocean animals harmed by plastic debris. GroupM's MediaCom division is sourcing free ad space from media owners and Grey's G2 Direct & Digital, Mumbai developed a multimedia website, and Facebook campaign. WPP's Cohn & Wolfe handles PR, and Grey's offices in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur have backed local fund-raising efforts.

"We jumped at the opportunity to raise the awareness of the issue," said Claire Manning at JayGrey agency in Sydney. "None of us knew about [the vortex] before we started talking to Doug [Woodring]. We were as a collective team just horrified when we saw the pictures and started to understand what was going on. The challenge has been raising the issue without offending the plastics industry and pointing fingers. It's not their fault, it's about the way people dispose of their waste."

Awareness has been limited by problems persuading media vendors to donate inventory to Project Kaisei, especially in Europe and the U.S., Ms. Manning said. "There are a lot of charities asking for free advertising space, especially at this time of year...for other good causes."

So far, MediaCom has secured about $1.5 million worth of media exposure, especially in print media and out-of-home locations like bus shelters in Australia, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Grey hopes the campaign will run in the U.S. and Europe and the rest of Asia early next year, "but a lot depends on broader MediaCom support in those markets," Ms. Manning said.

Through the Plastics Disclosure Project, Project Kaisei and a related organization, The Ocean Recovery Alliance, have signed up corporate partners like Coca-Cola Co., Lush Cosmetics, Rainbow Light Nutritional Systems, Deutsche Bank and General Electric Co. to help promote recycling, proper waste disposal, and sustainable packaging. The investor-led initiative requests corporations to assess and disclose their production, use and handling of plastics and plastic wastes.

Project Kaisei organizes World Ocean Day cleanups in Hong Kong, Japan, Costa Rica, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, England, Guam, the U.S. and Canada based around five ocean sports--swimming, surfing, paddling, sailing and diving--to educate the people most connected to the ocean about the Plastic Vortex.

In late October 2010, it signed up Hong Kong pop star Gloria Tang Zhi-Kei, better known as G.E.M., as a youth ambassador to share the project's mission with Asian youth. And earlier this year, it debuted a 3-D marine exhibit, "Inside the Plastic Vortex," a model of the Pacific Ocean created with trash collected from Hong Kong's beaches.

The initial focus of Project Kaisei was to "draw attention to the amount of plastic that has been building up in our waters under our watch in the last 50 years," Mr. Woodring said. "It has grown into a global collaboration of science, industry, technology, innovation and policy to help bring about solutions to the way we treat waste in our daily lives."

Project Kaisei ads were created by JayGrey, Sydney
Project Kaisei ads were created by JayGrey, Sydney

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