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Interview with Plastic Free Mermaids

Ryan

Alright well, welcome! I am Ryan, founder of EarthHero and joining me today from Plastic Free Mermaids is Keyla and Kimberly. Really excited to talk with you guys and find out a little bit more about what is going on at Plastic Free Mermaids. So thanks for joining us, I guess to get started, I am curious if you guys can tell me a little bit more about yourselves and … I understand you’re sisters… and kind of how you got involved in ocean conservation, and just a little bit about what motivated you to lead you to this exciting path that you’re on.

Kimberly

Yea, so we’re actually native south Floridians so we were born and raised in south Florida and we grew up on the beach, we’re like ten minutes away from the beach in school so we always go there after school. I also work on a beach, we always spend time on the beach, and Keyla can tell you more about how it influenced our education.

Keyla

Yeah we went to Marine Magnet high school and middle school where they taught everything about the ocean, with the typography and habitat, animals and the technology side, you’ve seen r.o.v’s, underwater vehicles… Some of the things they would do is like a project, in middle school it’s something Kimberly and I got involved with. It’s with Philippe Cousteau’s ‘plant a fish’ program where we planted mangroves all over the beach in middle school.

Kimberly

Yeah and at a young age we’ve always been advocates so, we support each other right? So one of our stories, how we started, was we were on the beach and we saw people burying live sand dollars; they’re a type of sea urchin and… these are live animals. So we tried to come up to them and tell them that what they’re doing is wrong and they wouldn’t want to be buried just like these animals wouldn’t want to be. And Keyla can tell you one of her stories…

Keyla

When I was like four years old, men were fishing fish out of the sea and just allowing them to like, suffocate, without putting them in a cooler or anything. So like, I had to go up and talk to them and say how cruel [what] it was they were doing. But I didn’t understand anything at four years old. So like, Kimberly and I were brought up to this stuff at a very young age.

Ryan

So basically you were inspired by what you saw happening in your own backyard.

Keyla

Yea.

Ryan

And after seeing that, was there an ‘aha’ moment, it sounds like with the sand dollars, or was there an accumulation of those types of observations that lead you to raise your hand and say, ‘I need to get involved. I want to get involved’?

Kimberly

Right, exactly. So since we’re sisters we’re always together so we support each other in our advocation. We thought, oh the power is in numbers and we can do something about this. So that’s why we wanted to join the ocean community, the ocean conservation community and since we’re born into it, we’re bred into it, we thought the best avenue was ocean conservation.

Ryan

Ok so, you had this idea, this motivation, this desire to get involved, how did you figure out… what path exactly to express yourself? You know, you could’ve started a blog, you could’ve maybe started a business… with help from mentors or family… something online, maybe made a product… Obviously you guys have chosen to go the path of being an activist, an ambassador for this type of thing. Did you kind of pause there, in terms of how to express yourself in this arena? How did you sort of decide to go down this activist path?

Keyla

So Kimberly and I, we went to different summits throughout middle school and high school, and we went to this particular summit called the ocean conservation summit and we met with a whole bunch of scientists, people who do technology with the ocean and other students our ages at that time and we learned about different topics such as: coral bleaching, shark fishing and a group of students, such as when I was a freshman in high school we decided to create a group to bring awareness. What we focused on, we started doing things through education. So we’d go to different classroom and be like, ‘hey this is shark finning’. Our high school also does shark tagging where we partner up with universities such as University of Miami or Nova Southeastern University, and they teach us how to… It’s kind of like you’re fishing for sharks but you’re doing scientific stuff with them Like putting water in their eyes to see if they contain membrane, taking DNA samples, blood samples, clean clips, to see what they’re eating, where they’re traveling to, but you’re having that face-to-face encounter with the sharks and you see how gentle they are. So that’s kind of what we were trying to do but like what got us into plastic pollution is like, we love shark finning, like talking about it, but we weren’t go gung-ho about it, so our mom showed us a video called ‘bag it’. What we saw was insane about the amount of plastic and that’s what we were geared towards. So what we started doing was we started educating about it. Through education is how our activism came about and how our organization started.

Ryan

So tell me about that. What is it exactly that you guys do? What are the goals, what is success to you guys?

Keyla

So the Plastic Free Mermaids is an environmental organization that spreads awareness about plastic pollution through education, outreaches, clean ups and political advocacy, and we also mentor how to live a plastic-free lifestyle as well as illustrate how plastic affects ourselves as well as our environment.

Ryan

How do you get that message out into the community?

Kimberly

So we have pillars in the plastic-free lifestyle and one of them is activism. When we do call to action youtube videos, we do legislative initiatives within our community. We also have a global pillar, so it’s where we do networks and collaborations, we do them with the Bahamas plastic movement. We also have community pride so we do local cleanups, summits, we participate in local summits like the youth ocean conservation summit in Sarasota and local events. We have art, so we create murals, we upcycle any type of plastic we see, and then education like my sister said. We do outreaches, dissections, and alternatives to lifestyles of using plastic.

Ryan

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this process?

Keyla

Some of the most difficult things is like, getting the numbers for the cleanups. ‘Cause like, I know waking up early to do a cleanup isn’t the most exciting thing to do, so we partner up with organizations that have fun stuff to do. We partner up with the Surfrider foundation in Briar county, which is the county we’re from, and we do paddle-boarding cleanups with the students that come on board with us. We also do snorkeling cleanups with Debris Free Oceans at National Parks, where they take us on a boat and we pick up around the island, and then they take us snorkeling and we’re able to see the effects of plastic on the reef. It’s a couple minutes away on boat ride and some of the students have never actually been snorkeling before, let alone been on a boat. So it’s nice to give them a new insight on the oceans, because it is their backyard. So the hardest thing is actually getting people to do those cleanups and once they participate in it they actually enjoy it. The other one is having them go ahead and talk with us to the city mayors, the people when we travel up to Washington D.C. or New York, to get them there and get them involved. We continue supporting awareness but it’s just the number of people who actually want to get involved like hands on.

Ryan

And how about, in terms of… I guess the opposite question would be, what are some of the rewarding parts of what you’ve done and what you’re doing?

Kimberly

So… some of the more rewarding parts is when someone will come up to us at an event and they say ‘oh my gosh I saw you from last event’, so for example it was at Water Matters Day in Briar county, and they said ‘Oh my gosh, I remember seeing you at our last event, you actually educated me so much about the negative effects of plastic that I was inspired to eliminate at least one single use plastic from my life.’ And so, it was really awe-inspiring because like, wow, we actually made a difference. So now that we see them re-occurring in our life and coming back more to learn about how they can reduce their plastic consumption but also make a difference and how they can encourage others to do the same was probably the most rewarding experience of the Plastic Free Mermaids.

Keyla

And also with our political activism what we do is we go ahead and we talk to the city mayors… Kimberly can talk about it because she was just there recently but with the city of Hollywood, they passed an ordinance I’m pretty sure, right?

Kimberly

Yea so, Hollywood right now, Deerfield beach and Miami, they just started the drafting of the straw ordinances, trying to get them eliminated from our broad walks and our local beaches. And then Miami just passed a foam free… like a hashtag foam free, so basically they don’t want us using any plastic or styrofoam on our beaches. The initiatives are going a long way, it took us a while at first, it’s been like four years, to try and get these initiatives started, and it’s a little intimidating for some of our local young activists to go up there and educate our mayors but it was so inspiring and now that they’re actually doing something about it, it really makes a difference. So now we’re coming to the root of the problem and we’re solving it.

Ryan

I was gonna ask, my next question was, you know there’s the policy side of things, you know obviously it’s huge wins when you get bans on certain plastics or certain products, then it becomes a much easier thing to enforce, and you can book that win because it’s become a law of some sort. But how do you see businesses intersecting between people and policy? Has that come up? And when I say businesses, you know there’s businesses like EarthHero that exist to try and help all of this as well, there’s lots of other businesses that are apart of the movement, but my own view, there’s the consumer, there’s business and there’s government. So in your path and getting your message across and really impacting change, have you considered that at all? Or has it really not come up so much?

Kimberly

So when we partnered with the Surf Better Foundation our initial thought was that: how are we going to tie in government, restaurants and consumers? So at first we realized that with consumer products it’s not that big of a deal. People don’t need a straw in every drink, some people are indifferent to it. With restaurants they just want the cheapest product. Sorry, it’s a bit loud. So they’re like, ‘ok, how can we make it cost effective? Cause we support your movement but we want it to be cost effective.’ So then with the government it helps if there’s an established ordinance, so then it kind of forces the restaurants to buy into these inexpensive products but that are environmentally friendly and for Florida especially it’s difficult because they’re right on the shore line, so they really need to do these things. So we’re educating them but it really is just cost effectiveness so we show them alternatives that are cheaper than what a plastic product would be in long term distance, you know, it’s not in short term.

Ryan

It’s… it’s interesting. I totally admire what you’re doing considering how young you are! When I was in high school, I was playing baseball. And you’re out there changing the world. So that’s… it’s really admirable.

Keyla

Thank you.

Ryan

So, transitioning from a traditional way of shopping and living, obviously a lot of plastic in our lives… for people that are sort of just getting started on the path and they see these stories trending, the straw free. The straw right? It’s like the symbol of the movement and it’s ok. Obviously we’re going to have to do a lot more than just stop using straws… But a lot of people ask me that as well, ‘I want to be apart of this but where do I start? What are the first things I can do that will have the most impact?’

Keyla

Ok so, we have a program… it’s like a program, it’s kind of an initiative called the plastic free lifestyle.

Kimberly

We started the plastic free lifestyle, so we created this initiative to help people begin a starting foundation of how to get involved.

Keyla

We have the plastic free lifestyle as an initiative for them to start living a plastic free lifestyle and how to start it off. So we started doing with this lifestyle is they pick any plastic product they use the most, so like the water bottle, utensils, primarily single use plastic, and then they pick a time frame, could be week, could be a month, as like a trial run and then they see how they are able to live without that plastic product for that particular time and then once they reach that end goal of that time frame they add on more time and continue adding time until they no longer need to use it anymore. And then after they feel like, ‘I don’t need to use plastic straws anymore’ we add on plastic bags or plastic utensils and it just kind of adds up progressively throughout the years on completely eliminating plastic from your lives and from that they actually accumulate with products like some of the products you have on your website and products we’ve seen from going to summits. I know Kimberly has some products that she uses that she carries on an everyday basis but I carry bamboo utensils that I got from a summit and straws that we’ve got and donated to us from Klean Kanteen. I know Kimberly has a foldable metal spork that she carries in her pocket as well.

Ryan

I’m curious also, because this is another thing that comes up: plastic free versus zero waste. How does that enter your conversations that you’re having? Are people trying to do one or the other or both?

Kimberly

They go together. Being plastic free kind of helps you live a zero waste lifestyle. So, for us, we buy products for example, we have this reusable ziplock bag that we got donated to us during a summit and so instead of using ziplock bags we use that. Or a cloth bag that we carry in our car, or forks. We bring our own tupperware sometimes to restaurants, it’s very rare. But we sometimes bring our own tupperware for takeout products like, ‘can you put this inside this instead?’ So also eating at home helps with the zero-waste lifestyle and with not using plastic. So you just have to be really conscious all the time to really try to eliminate bot but they go hand-in-hand together if you really care about the environment.

Keyla

And once you like, become conscious of it, after a while it becomes second nature that it’s a no-brainer of living a zero-waste lifestyle and a plastic free since they do, like Kimberly said they go hand-in-hand.

Ryan

And I guess, kind of a third category that enters this conversation is, sort of sustainable products, right? For example, clothing. There’s a lot of conversation around traditional cotton versus organic cotton, things like that. And I know this sort of goes a bit beyond what you guys are doing potentially, but I’m just curious in your personal lives, anytime you go to buy anything do you have that sort of inner dialogue with yourselves? How is that progressing in your personal journeys?

Keyla

I say I do have inner dialogue, I’m pretty sure Kimberly does as well and so does our family. When it comes to clothing we are learning more about the different types of, like you said, organic sustainable cotton, actually some of our clothing contains plastic materials, so we’re learning more about that. But when it comes to like, other products, it’s a no-brainer to us. We don’t really use plastic. We stay away from it. But, when it comes to clothing and shoes and sneakers and things that we’re not really used to, it’s a lot harder. I can say for me at least, to get accustomed to that.

Ryan

Yeah it’s interesting because you don’t think necessarily of plastics when it comes to that stuff but like, nylon, polyester, really at the end of the day it’s amazing how much plastic gets ejected into some many products in disguise.

Keyla

Yes, no, completely. Traveling to these summits we see students… I say students but they’re my age! People our ages tackling different products like you said, polyester and then… ah I forgot the name of it. Like the little, little bit of plastic that comes from when you wash your clothes? There’s plastic that comes off of it and it gets filtered through the water system because they’re so small, and fish confuse them as eggs. So like, that gets into the system so going to these summits brought awareness to that type of stuff.

Ryan

It’s amazing. I absolutely love what you’re doing. Down in Florida too it’s very, very relevant I’m sure. Just surrounded by so much ocean line and shore line. I guess… my only other question that really comes to mind is, where do you see this all going? Where do you see the movement five years from now? Ten years from now? Or maybe next year? I’m just curious how do you frame this up in your head as you continue to do what you do and promote the messages you’re promoting. If you were to live a full life, and looking back at that point, what do you think we’ll accomplish? Between now and the future?

Keyla

In the next five years? I say not in the next five years but like, the next twenty years as a whole, we’re gonna have a complete change in our legislative system across the entire United States as a whole on banning plastic as an entire thing based on how everything is projected. Especially with what Kimberly and I are doing and all our other friends over the world especially in the United States and the different states that we have. We’re definitely going to make a legislation change for the entire United States as a country-wide ban on plastic. I’m not exactly sure what kind of plastic yet but based on how everything is going it may be straws, it may be bags. I know Florida right now is tackling a lot with  bags, because we cannot ban plastic bags because of different legislation, like laws that have been passed for that.

Kimberly

And also there’s a lot of like, scientific movement in a sense so we’re finding different alternatives on ways to not use plastic. So, for example we 3D print in our school and we use poly filaments… and there’s now becoming different alternatives and I know one student created bananas because they have the same texture and durability as plastic. So we’re not only starting to see a legislative movement and a consumer movement but also a scientific movement. So all of those together in the next twenty years like my sister said will really contribute to living plastic free. And then for our organization I really see us making more of a foundation on our non-profits, spreading more awareness and really getting more people to understand. 

Ryan

Well, it’s been really, really fun hanging with you both today. Is there any parting shots that you want to leave people with, or anything our shared communities could do to support you and anything else you want to add?

Keyla

We have social media, so they can definitely follow us on Instagram and Facebook on @PlasticFreeMermaids. We have a website: PlasticFreeMermaids where they can definitely see us and what we’re doing and what we’re up to. I guess the message is just to keep doing what everyone’s doing on their individual lives, eliminating plastic because it will definitely make a huge impact and to continue spreading the word like everyone’s doing right now. And to encourage other people! That’s very important. To continue encouraging others, not to make them feel bad about what they’re doing in different initiatives they’re doing with plastic or any other type of environmental issue they’re trying to eliminate or solve.

Ryan

Awesome. Kimberly, anything you want to add?

Kimberly

I would just say if you really want to move towards a plastic-free lifestyle, I think really understanding the basis of plastic, so: knowing how it affects you, why you want to do this, and then finding easy ways. Like what I do, like what my sister said is I bring a fork in my pocket everywhere I go. It’s just such an easy way to limit my plastic-use consumption and make the alternatives easy and convenient, just like plastic is. Like Keyla said, definitely have courage because it’s sometimes discouraging going up against city commissioners and you want to make a difference but you feel like it’s too much of a challenge. So never feel discouraged and follow our social media if you’d like to hangout with us and do cleanups!

Ryan

Awesome. Well, Keyla, Kimberly, thanks again for joining us today. Plastic Free Mermaids, check them out and again, just really awesome the work that you’re doing. Just keep, keep on keeping on and really excited to follow you and see how you evolve.

Keyla

Thank you so much!

Ryan

You bet.

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