Their mission is straightforward: to reduce single-use plastics consumption by encouraging individuals to say no to single-use plastics just one day per week. Dubbed “Plastic Free Fridays”, co-founders Sierra Quitiquit and Meg Haywood Sullivan believe this simple, human-powered movement could be a significant leap toward a cleaner planet. I had the pleasure of speaking with Sierra and Meg about environmentalism in the digital age.
How did you two initially meet and what made you decide to start Plastic Free Fridays?
Sierra: Meg and I met on a project in British Columbia – the first night we met we slept together on a mountain peak in the high-alpine at about 10,000 feet. I was immediately drawn to Meg’s
energy and sincere passion for the outdoors, specifically capturing its natural beauty, and her ability to be in a good mood no matter what. We’ve since collaborated on ski-, surf- and environmental-projects around the world.
I came up with the idea for Plastic Free Fridays on Earth Day of 2019 after having the honor of sitting on the jury for an environmental film festival – I was feeling both shocked by the state of our natural world and empowered to dedicate myself to the preservation of this beautiful planet. Following the festival, I spent a couple days asking myself, what do I really have to offer this world and how can I be most effective? Single-use plastics stood-out to me as low hanging fruit because of the severity of the problem and the way in which the public was starting to wake up to the detriment that plastic truly is. So, I decided to start a social movement to encourage the masses to take one small step in refusing single-use plastics just one day a week.
Ultimately, our hope is that this small effort will change consumer habits and spill into each day of the week and we’re able to collectively have a positive impact on this world by taking care of this beloved planet and all that dwell here.
As a professional skier and environmental photographer, respectively, do you believe you each bear the responsibility to act as stewards of the environment?
Sierra: If you have an intimate relationship with the snow then there is absolutely no doubt in your mind that the world is changing very quickly. Growing up as a little girl in Park City, Utah I remember Halloween was “ruined” almost every other year by massive snowstorms and the City would be covered in snowbanks. As pollution changes our climate and warms our planet, I now realize we are lucky to have enough snow on the ground to ski by Christmas. Skiing is my greatest passion and my livelihood, and it’s going to be extinct soon if we don’t evolve and change our habits for the better. But this isn’t just about saving snow or skiing, it’s about a healthy planet, and our future, and the future of generations to come.
Meg: Absolutely. It’s an immense privilege to have a career that takes me to some of the most beautiful places on the planet. With a Degree in Environmental Studies and nearly a decade of work in the environmental/outdoor adventure space, I completely feel it is a duty for me to fight for the places that have given me and my peers so much joy over the years. I’m also fighting for and keeping in mind the youth of today, ensuring that they have access and the ability to enjoy the great outdoors.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing environmentalists today?
Sierra: For me, personally, it’s fear. It’s difficult for me to know what I know and not become overwhelmed by guilt that I’m not doing enough, fast enough. When I get lost in these negative emotions it’s very difficult for me to be effective in my work and I’m very unproductive. So, my work is to stay aware, do my best and also not get lost in the doom and gloom.
Meg: The more you know, the scarier the outlook on our planet’s current situation. Realistically, we have 12 years to limit this climate crisis. Twelve. That’s terrifying. But instead of being paralyzed, we need to be motivated. We need to celebrate progress and small wins in the right direction. Change doesn’t happen overnight (though it honestly needs to). So, let’s do our best, use our voices & votes,
and encourage more and more people to join the environmental movement.
As social media grows, “slacktivism” and “armchair activism” are becoming increasingly problematic. How does the Plastic Free Fridays campaign work to genuinely foster tangible change via social media?
Sierra: The cool thing about Plastic Free Fridays is that it’s an actionable request – a fairly easy one to participate in, at that. Living a plastic-free lifestyle is not easy but going plastic-free for one day per week is actually feasible for most people.
But I also want to point out that it’s really important to us that we steer towards progress over perfection. I’ll be the first person to admit – as an environmental activist – I could be better about reducing my carbon footprint. I often travel by airplane for work, I consume single-use plastics when I’m on-the-run, and the list goes on, but I am conscious of this, and as such I actively seek to reduce and reuse as much as possible.
I think we need to make more space for people to participate in whatever level they’re comfortable. If you drink a Starbucks a day, and you are able to commit to bringing a reusable cup only one day a week, amazing! If one day that day turns into two or three, even better. But we’ll take you’re one day a week over no days a week! In the end, it’s about being conscious and making individuals/consumers more aware of how much single-use plastic they are actually using on a daily-, weekly-, and monthly-basis, in hopes that they will change their habits for a better planet.
What can an average citizen do in the face of massive global environmental challenges?
Sierra: Educate yourself on the realities of the challenges we face. The Guardian is great. Netflix has some awesome documentaries. Project Drawdown is a must read. Examine your lifestyle and the easy ways that you can live a more sustainable path. This could be a number of things: your transportation choices, what you’re eating, how you shop, among other things. Importantly, when it comes to reducing your single-use plastics here are a few easy tips:
- Carry a reusable water bottle;
- Pack a reusable utensil set – I personally love chopsticks, great for the hair also;
- Bring your own coffee mug (ceramic or insulated metal/thermos are great options); and
- Shop plastic-free at your local farmers market.
Meg: I second what Sierra said. It’s super important to stay educated and up to date on what’s happening on both a local and global level. There is a lot of pressure put on the consumer, while 100 of
the top-grossing companies in the world are largely responsible for our climate crisis. But I truly believe taking action on an individual level helps provide an entry point to becoming an activist. The environmental movement has a tendency of alienating people interested in getting involved, but afraid of not being able to be perfect. We need to nurture these fledgling environmentalists and welcome them in with open arms. It’s all about progress, not perfection.
You’re both extremely busy women, how do you balance activism and all the other things going on in your life?
Sierra: It’s a fun time to be single, no family and be able to pursue all of the things that make me happy. For me, this is surfing, skiing, environmentalism, and a healthy lifestyle. I love to create, to build, to
strategize and manifest. To me, effective activism touches on all of these things, so I love it. As long as I’m taking care of myself, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising and spending time with my loved ones, I generally have a lot of energy to put towards my passion for environmental activism. But I’m also prone to pushing myself too hard and overworking and then having to deal with burnout, this is something I’m aware of and trying to evolve beyond. It’s a process.
Meg: I’m a huge proponent of self-care, whether it be finding stillness on the road, or taking time to myself on a trail. With days spent chock-full of meetings, brainstorm sessions, and work with non-profits, it’s easy to forget to take a breather and enjoy the things we are fighting so hard to protect. Surf breaks and farmer’s market breaks are essential. I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Edward Abbey:
“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”
What’s your greatest hope for the future?
Sierra: That we can learn to live in harmony with nature.
Meg: I hope that all of the amazing community & grassroots activism happening today will push corporations and governments to adhere to stricter standards. Mama Earth needs us.