Free the Ocean's Founder Hopes You'll Participate in Plastic-Free July

Mimi Ausland is on a multi-year crusade against single-use plastics.

Mimi at her laptop

Mimi Ausland

You've likely heard of Plastic-Free July. It is a global movement that started in 2011 and encourages people to reduce their use of single-use plastics. Because the challenge is restricted to a month, it's a good way to introduce new lifestyle habits without feeling overwhelming. The idea is that you'll continue doing the things you tried in July throughout the rest of the year.

We here at Treehugger are obvious supporters of Plastic-Free July. We approve of any and all efforts to purge superfluous plastic from our lives and to prioritize reusable, recyclable, compostable, and repairable goods on a daily basis. That's why we spend so much time writing about clever product swaps, innovative companies, and people who are making a difference.

One such person is Mimi Ausland, founder of Free the Ocean, an online trivia game that funds the removal of a piece of plastic from the ocean. While she and her organization have been referenced numerous times on Treehugger, we thought it would be fitting to catch up with her ahead of Plastic-Free July kicking off, to get readers in the right headspace to take on this challenge.

Treehugger: How can playing a trivia game make a difference when it comes to something as huge as plastic pollution?

Mimi Ausland: Answering the daily trivia question gives anyone, anywhere, a free and fun way to make a difference on plastic pollution. Simply by answering the daily trivia, you fund the removal of plastic from the ocean and coastlines. We work with two amazing non-profits, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Parley Global Cleanup Network, who are actively removing and repurposing plastic from the ocean.

This is truly a case of lots of small actions creating meaningful impact over time. To date, we've helped remove over 32 MILLION pieces of plastic! We're proud to offer our community a free way to have an impact, even if you live far from a coastline.

How do you come up with your trivia questions?

My co-founder Kelly and I personally create every trivia question. We want to make sure the trivia is engaging and educational and, of course, accurate. Through interest, research, and editing, we create a range of trivia questions relating back to our oceans and the life within them.

Mimi holding plastic bottle at beach

Mimi Ausland

Where does the plastic go once it's collected?

As much plastic as possible is repurposed. Whether that's for art projects, local community education, or upcycling the plastic into new products (like Adidas shoes!). Unfortunately, not all plastic collected can be repurposed due to the quality of the material or the state of degradation; this plastic has to be incinerated. This is why it's so important to focus on 'turning off the tap' when it comes to plastic pollution and to make changes in our daily lives and on a global level to reduce our use and dependency on plastic, especially single-use.

Since founding Free the Ocean in 2019, how hopeful do you feel that a collective shift is happening regarding single-use plastics? Do any signs of progress stand out?

There are definite signs of progress that stand out to me when it comes to single-use plastics. I've seen so many people in my own life become increasingly aware of the problem, which speaks to a larger collective understanding and shift.  

The phasing out of single-use plastics in our National Parks, Canada banning single-use plastics, and Los Angeles county banning single-use plastics at restaurants are just a few recent examples of progress. Focusing on single-use plastics is being proven as an approachable way to create dynamic change in our relationship to plastic and in reducing massive amounts of waste.

What swaps do you recommend for someone wanting to participate in Plastic-Free July this year?

I would start with swaps that replace single-use items in our everyday use: dryer balls that replace dryer sheets, reusable Swedish dishcloths that replace paper towels, and Bee's Wrap that replaces plastic wrap are three examples. There are also some fun and clever swaps like toothpaste tabs, which replace unrecyclable plastic toothpaste tubes, and lip therapy balms in compostable packaging. Remember to use what you already have. Writing a list of the plastic products you'd like to get away from this July is helpful in deciding what swaps you want to try out.

Check out some of the bestselling items from the plastic-free store on Free the Ocean.