‘TeamSeas’ uses YouTube to tackle the global plastic problem

Social media can certainly motivate people for good and otherwise. Calls to action to clean up the oceans, rivers, and beaches have galvanized volunteers and gone viral. But given the magnitude of the problem, how should we assess the impact? Paul Solman looks at one YouTube-focused campaign that has hit a particular chord, as part of our continuing coverage of the global plastic problem.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we know, social media can certainly motivate people for good and otherwise.

    Calls to action to clean up the oceans, rivers and beaches have galvanized volunteers and gone viral. But given the magnitude of the problem, how should we assess the impact?

    Paul Solman looks at one YouTube-focused campaign that has hit a particular chord.

    It's part of our continuing coverage of the global plastics problem.

  • Mark Rober, TeamSeas:

    We're almost done, Jimmy.

  • Jimmy Donaldson, TeamSeas:

    I know, four straight days of picking up trash.

  • Paul Solman:

    Two YouTube superstars scouring the Dominican Republic for trash.

    Jimmy Donaldson, AKA MrBeast, known to his 99 million followers for pranks and giveaways

  • Jimmy Donaldson:

    See those two briefcases over there? There's $20,000 in them. If you go retrieve it, I will let you keep the money.

  • Mark Rober:

    This is a bird feeder, and everything surrounding me in my yard is an attempt to protect it from four thieving squirrels.

  • Paul Solman:

    And a former NASA engineer Mark Rober, with a mere 22 million YouTube fans, whose passion for engineering lead to such science stunts as the squirrel run and do-it-yourself glitter bombs to deter package thieves.

    In 2019, rubber and MrBeast launched TeamTrees, donate a dollar to plant a tree, 17 million planted thus far, and now another Internet campaign to combat climate change.

  • Jimmy Donaldson:

    Which is why we are following up TeamTrees with TeamSeas.

  • Mark Rober:

    And we need your help to get 30 million pounds of plastic and trash out of the frigging ocean.

  • Paul Solman:

    From rivers in far-flung countries to the shores of Easter Island 2,000 miles offshore, rubbish rules the waves.

  • Jimmy Donaldson:

    For every $1 you guys donate like this, one less pound of trash will be in the ocean.

  • Paul Solman:

    To spare the ocean and those who inhabit this, besieged even by plastic straws, TeamSeas raised $30 million in two months.

  • Mark Rober:

    The median donation is like $5. That is bake sale money. That's lemonade stand money. That's Tooth Fairy very money.

  • Paul Solman:

    Money and time that now goes in part to TeamSeas' cleanups at places like L.A.'s Dockweiler Beach.

  • Taylor Sanchez, Volunteer:

    I saw it on Twitter and decided to come out.

  • Mauricio Fuentes, Volunteer:

    My kid, he knows about the YouTuber and everything he says. He wanted to come help.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, you're a Mark Rober fan?

  • Person:

    Yes.

  • Mauricio Fuentes:

    Yes, he is.

  • Mark Rober:

    Thank you guys for coming out here.

  • Paul Solman:

    Partnering with TeamSeas and getting half the $30 million is the Ocean Conservancy, which recruits volunteers like these to come beaches worldwide, many a dart sight dirtier than Dockweiler.

    It doesn't look like there's much of a problem, if you don't mind my saying.

  • Nicholas Mallos, Ocean Conservancy:

    We have to be careful the assumptions we make. If you get close to the surface, you start to see a lot of these small flecks of things that are microplastics.

    Here we got some plastic wrap, resembles jellies and other type of food that is heavily ingested by sea turtles, fish.

  • Paul Solman:

    Micro bits of plastics in the sand, oceans and even our bodies, says Ocean Conservancy V.P. for plastics Nick Mallos.

  • Nicholas Mallos:

    Plastic bag.

    Every animal in the ocean and humans being atop of the food chain are also ingesting them.

  • Paul Solman:

    Environmental engineer Anja Brandon, among many scientists who thought there might be a partial fix to the plastics problem, tried mealworms, whose gut bacteria digest styrofoam. After years of research, she concluded it was no real fix at all.

  • Anja Brandon, Ocean Conservancy:

    It would take probably a couple 1,000 mealworms a month or two to eat something like a typical styrofoam coffee cup. And we have got a lot of cups out there in the world.

    So, Brandon left the lab to work for the Ocean Conservancy. The other half of TeamSeas' $30 million goes to the Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch nonprofit which makes Interceptors. As an engineer, Mark Rober loves these garbage-gobbling robots.

  • Mark Rober:

    Eighty percent of the plastic flowing to the ocean from rivers comes from just 1 percent of the rivers. So their idea is to put these trash-eating robots on those worst offending rivers and that will go a long way to fixing the problem at the source.

  • Paul Solman:

    The Ocean Cleanup reports that, to date, it has removed more than three million pounds of trash from the world's rivers and oceans.

    Kerjon Lee, Los Angeles Department of Public Works: Here in L.A., you can see there the moorings that will be built to anchor the device in place.

  • Paul Solman:

    Kerjon Lee works for Los Angeles County, where the first U.S. Interceptor is headed within months, just north of Dockweiler Beach. This placid canal floods during winter storms, funneling debris from streets and drains into the Pacific.

  • Kerjon Lee:

    Every year, about 30 tons of waste, litter, bottles, food waste, floating trash into this water body here.

  • Paul Solman:

    But, wait, are these really solutions? There are only eight Interceptors worldwide. And this one will handle just nine of the 600 miles of waterways in L.A. alone, and plastic is pouring into our oceans at a rate of eight million metric tons, or more than 17 billion pounds, each year.

    As for trash-picking, how much beach gunk are volunteers likely to gather by hand.

  • Simon Clark, Atmospheric Scientist:

    TeamSeas is proposing to remove 13,600 tons of plastic every two years, I think it is. The amount of plastic that we add to the ocean means that is added back to the ocean every 15 hours.

  • Paul Solman:

    British atmospheric scientist Simon Clark:

  • Simon Clark:

    Over time, the integrated difference that you have on the environment is going to be much less than if you primed your audience to think that systematic change is the way to fix this problem.

    Really, this is a serious video.

  • Paul Solman:

    Clark is also a YouTuber, though, by contrast to Rober and MrBeast, his is a micro following, 430,000.

    But they follow his skepticism.

  • Simon Clark:

    Even when laying here in the ocean covered in plastic and somebody comes in to help clean some of it up, by the way, could you do something about the people who are just adding the plastic in?

  • Mark Rober:

    Simon can sit in his bathtub and criticize all day long. I will be out here actually on the beach picking up trash, inspiring the next generation.

  • Paul Solman:

    But his argument is that the only real solutions are big policy solutions.

  • Mark Rober:

    That's right. He's right. But how do you get policy? You elect people who care about those issues. And if politicians know that people care about these issues, and they see that $30 million was raised grassroots, on my platform, you better believe I'm going to be talking about those policies that enforce that.

    And, on the beach, people were listening and spreading awareness.

  • Moondow Begood, Volunteer:

    If I see somebody else doing it, maybe I can help out too.

  • Maggie Holguin, Volunteer:

    Even the people like around here, right, that are having their parties and doing their thing, they're seeing us clean up. It's creating all this awareness.

  • Person:

    So, we will start a new bag, because this one is probably getting kind of heavy.

  • Paul Solman:

    You think, when you grow up, you will be more aware now of trash in the ocean and on the beaches and stuff?

  • Person:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    At the end of the day, 151 volunteers picked up 206 pounds of trash, with a little help from Mark Rober, less from me.

    I have got nothing.

    But, hey, I started late. The motivations for the younger trash collectors…

    So, did you pick up trash?

  • Aleena Fuentes, Volunteer:

    Yes.

  • Allesandro Fuentes, Volunteer:

    Yes.

    Why?

  • Allesandro Fuentes:

    Because the Earth can get polluted.

  • Paul Solman:

    And for those who might be dawdling, Rober added an incentive, a selfie in exchange for a bucket.

  • Mark Rober:

    Did you guys help pick up trash?

  • Mariah Houston, Volunteer:

    Yes.

  • Mark Rober:

    Did you get a lot of big pieces?

  • Mariah Houston:

    Yes.

  • Mark Rober:

    OK, then you earned this.

    You have to start somewhere, and it starts with the hearts. I'm in the business of getting the hearts and minds of the people caring about this thing. I think the policies will come from that.

  • Paul Solman:

    This is your first time picking up trash?

  • Aleena Fuentes:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    Was it fun?

  • Aleena Fuentes:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    Did you enjoy picking up trash?

  • Mariah Houston, Volunteer:

    Yes.

  • Person:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    Well, he snared some hearts and minds here. And between him and buddy MrBeast, another 122 million, mostly young people, are getting the message.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," Paul Solman combing Dockweiler Beach, with only this story to show for it.

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