5 Gyres Institute is empowering action against plastic pollution through science, education, and adventure

Our $50,000 donation to 5 Gyres will support scientific research that leads to real solutions to ocean plastic pollution.

5 Gyres is a nonprofit organization that conducts primary research on the causes and impacts of plastic pollution. Their “science to solutions” model provides the deep knowledge and insight governments, communities, individuals, and other nonprofits need to develop science-backed solutions that effectively address the ocean plastic crisis. The organization has held special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 2017.

5 Gyres was the first organization to research plastic pollution in all five main subtropical gyres, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the first to determine how much plastic is on the surface of the world’s oceans (nearly 270,000 metric tons, or 595,248,108 pounds, and 5.25 trillion pieces, if you’re curious).

Another scientific first, 5 Gyres discovered that plastic microbeads, a type of microplastic found in personal care products like toothpaste and exfoliating washes, were polluting our waterways. 5 Gyres used this study to forge a coalition that convinced companies like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and L’Oreal to phase out plastic microbeads. The campaign culminated in a watershed victory when the Microbead-Free Waters Act was signed into U.S. law at the end of 2015.

The organization’s co-founders, Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, met in 2008 on a sailing expedition to the North Pacific Gyre, a massive vortex fueled by oceanic currents that sweeps plastic from land and out to sea, shredding and concentrating it in the middle of the ocean. On that trip, they vowed to dedicate their lives to solving the ocean plastic crisis — and to each other.

Marcus fashioned a ring from discarded fishing line that he pulled from the ocean and the couple got engaged surrounded by a sea of plastic smog. Soon after, he left on a three-month voyage aboard the JUNK RAFT, a makeshift boat kept afloat by 15,000 recycled plastic water bottles, raising awareness about plastic pollution and inspiring the launch of 5 Gyres. And the happy couple? They got married wearing attire made from recycled plastic, of course!

The story of 5 Gyres Institute

5.25 trillion

5 Gyres was responsible for the first Global Estimate of plastic in the world’s oceans, which states that the world’s oceans are polluted by approximately 5.25 trillion particles of “plastic smog” that weighs 270,000 metric tons (or 595,248,108 pounds).

16 billion

Thanks to pressure from the 5 Gyres community, 16 major personal care companies — including Johnson & Johnson, Proctor and Gamble, and The Body Shop — pledged to voluntarily remove microbeads from their products. The 5 Gyres #beadfree pledge is responsible for diverting 16 billion microbeads from the ocean and other waterways in 2016 alone.


In 2011, the U.S. National Park Service initiated a water bottle sales elimination program to reduce pollution and the costs of recycling plastic. When the ban was lifted, 5 Gyres organized 100,000 people in protest and successfully reversed the decision. But the fight continues. In 2017, the ban on bottled water in national parks was once again lifted.


By the time 5 Gyres undertook their 17th research expedition, they had explored more than 50,000 miles of ocean.


The 5 Gyres Ambassador Program is a group for people who want to take action against plastic pollution. Already 1,500 ambassadors strong, their goal is to grow the program to at least 2,020 ambassadors by the end of 2020. Become a 5 Gyres Ambassador and sign up to attend the first-ever Ambassador Leadership Summit in 2020.

The San Francisco Bay Microplastics Project

Microplastics are a pervasive — and preventable — threat to the health of marine ecosystems. However, the field of microplastic research is still in its infancy and there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to documenting, reporting, and addressing the problem.

To develop critical baseline data and inform solutions, 5 Gyres partnered with San Francisco Estuary Institute and other stakeholders in a three-year study of microplastic pollution in the major urban estuary of San Francisco Bay and adjacent National Marine Sanctuaries.

The San Francisco Bay Microplastics Project is the first comprehensive regional study of microplastic in a major estuary. Researchers investigated stormwater, treated wastewater, surface water, sediment, and prey fish to evaluate the distribution and concentration of microplastics in each.

Their goal was to determine how much microplastic is in the bay and where it’s coming from. With that information, key stakeholders can work together to find effective solutions that would eliminate microplastic pollution in the San Francisco Bay.

This study also developed and recommended best practices that advance the field of microplastic research by standardizing the collection, processing, analysis, and reporting of microplastic pollution so similar research can lead to solutions for polluted estuaries around the world.

The results of the San Francisco Bay Microplastics Project

Plastic pollution is solvable and if we make this problem a priority for our world, I am confident that we can move closer to a world with less suffering and more peace.

Airrion Copeland

Executive Director, 5 Gyres Institute

5 Gyres works with citizen scientists to collect localized data on plastic pollution

In July and August 2019, citizen scientists joined 5 Gyres on a research expedition, traveling throughout the Galapagos Islands to explore plastic pollution in one of the world’s most pristine ecological areas through the lens of science.

Part ecotourism, part research project, the research expedition stopped in Guayaquil, Ecuador, to conduct a TrashBlitz before traveling on to the wilds of the Galapagos where they helped collect microplastic samples.

TrashBlitz is a grassroots movement started by 5 Gyres to empower individuals and communities to take charge of the plastic problem in their own backyards. While cleaning their communities, these groups collect meaningful data that can be shared with government and corporate leaders to advance upstream solutions and stop plastic solution at the source.

Get involved with 5 Gyres Institute

Plastics BAN List 2.0

Short for “Better Alternatives Now,” the Plastics BAN List is a scientific publication from 5 Gyres that identifies the Top 20 plastic products and packaging currently polluting U.S. watersheds and provides the best alternatives.

TrashBlitz App

Discover your city’s plastic footprint and contribute to plastic pollution research by documenting the trash you collect during your next cleanup. The data from TrashBlitz is used to advance campaigns, strengthen legislation, and foster better community through environmental stewardship.

Ambassador Program

5 Gyres Ambassadors are key volunteers who receive the most recent and relevant resources on plastic pollution research, policy, and solutions from 5 Gyres. Their goal is to empower the next generation of leaders to stand up and speak out in the fight against plastic pollution.

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