MADRID – Elizabeth Sherr has always had a passion for the ocean since she was young, so trying to clean up the litter that litter the beaches and the sea seemed like a natural process.
When she moved to live by the sea in Barcelona, the native New Yorker posted videos on TikTok encouraging others to help rid the beach of cigarette butts and plastic bottles, but didn’t not very much hoped this would spread.
To her surprise, after a video went viral, Sherr became the face of a global cleanup operation that removed nearly 800,000 rooms from public spaces around the world in ten days.
The European Parliament has asked Sherr to run his global World Oceans Day campaign until June 8 after seeing the video on his TikTok lizlivingblue account.
“The waste challenge was launched to pick up waste from all over the world, so with the support of the European Parliament the reach was much greater than I could handle,” she told VOA.
“The challenge was to collect 502,000 items between May 28 and June 8. In fact, we have exceeded that target and have 794,207 pieces, ”she said.
The initiative comes as the European Commission prepares to ban single-use plastics next month.
Single-use plastics are responsible for 49% of all marine pollution, while 27% is caused by fishing-related plastics, according to data from the European Parliament.
The 24-year-old activist said people from 33 countries, from Peru to Honduras and Jordan to Cyprus have joined.
“Many people have contacted me to tell me that their attitude towards marine pollution has completely changed since they took part in this challenge,” she said.
Sherr, who grew up in Manhattan, revealed that the challenge’s success was due, in part, to a literary error that caught the imaginations of other TikTok users.
“In a video, I wrote ‘Every subscriber is waste’. People on TikTok found it very funny. It’s the video that went viral with 1.3 million views, ”said Sherr, who works for a nonprofit fighting deforestation.
“I never imagined it would take off like this. It caught me off guard but it was good. I have always loved the ocean. It has always been my passion. ”
The European Commission directive will oblige the 27 member states to ban the use of single-use plastic-coated paper plates, glasses and packaging from July 3.
The measure has met opposition from some countries such as Italy, which produces large quantities of these products.
Frederique Ries, the legislator of the European Parliament who led the campaign to ban single-use plastics throughout the bloc, recently told an Instagram conference about the trashchallenge: using plastics.
Catherine Chabaud, the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a solo boat, is a European Parliament legislator who wrote a report on the fight against single-use plastics.
“We must strengthen knowledge on nanoplastics, integrate the land-sea link because 80% of marine pollution comes from the land and we must launch an action plan to collect waste in rivers and estuaries” , Chabaud said during an Instagram conference about # Défi Poubelle.
With a master’s degree in marine conservation, Sherr was inspired by the pioneers of marine biology Jacques Cousteau and Sylvie Earle.
She said Cousteau’s book “Silent World” and Earle’s “Sea Challenge” set her on the path to attempting to save the oceans.
“Cousteau opened my eyes, but I would say Dr. Earle was my real inspiration,” Sherr said.
Earle was the first female chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States.
Cousteau, who died in 1997 at the age of 87, was a former French naval officer who wrote a series of influential books and films on marine conservation, the most notable being “The Silent World”.
Carolina Sevilla, founder of the 5 Minute Beach Clean-Up conservation group, also took part in the European Parliament’s #trashchallenge.
She said her country, Costa Rica, hopes to become the first in the world where ocean cleaning is part of the educational program for ages 7 to 11.
“We really hope that Costa Rica becomes the world’s first compulsory program for students on ocean cleaning,” she said.