More Plastics Than Fish | Maria & Camilla
This is dare. I say the podcast from harper's bazaar where we sit in on unfiltered conversations between the most influential women of our time those daring to make the difference. We deserve <music> <music>. Maria fernandez espinosa is president of the united nations general assembly and minister of foreign affairs in ecuador. She recently launched a bold u._n. Campaign that aims to generate global awareness of plastic pollution camilla marcus is a lawyer and the founder of the all day cafe west born in manhattan which is working to become the first zero waste certified restaurant in new york one percent of each purchase the vegetarian cafe funds hospitality training for disadvantaged youth in this episode maria and camilla discuss how we can revolutionize our food systems and make them more sustainable who should bear the brunt of the cost and energy. We needed to win society off toxic plastics do micro efforts at a local level have macro reverberations for the world camilla and maria are not afraid to challenge the ways. We should eat package and purchase our food. They are women who dare last explosion which is one of the most incredible harmful situation especially for our oceans in that's why i at during my tenure this year the general assembly on the environmental action a priority and we will be working on climate change but also really really to make you know a global awareness against single use plastics and plastic pollution in our oceans. A million tones of classics go directly to our oceans tmz every year by twenty fifty. We will have more plastic than fish in our oceans. New york produces twelve thousand tones of waste every every day every day twelve thousand tones in out of that top thousand tones only seventeen percent eighteen percent. It's recycled so i really commend your leadership camilla on your restaurant idea on the sustainability approach to business sir thank you and you know i feel the same i think that ultimately i think it does have to be really sparked by public and private initiatives. She did commitment and and really partnership the all really have to work hand in hand and right now. It's a bit of a game of ping-pong is making it difficult when you look at small countries that have eh plastics in countries from other parts of the world ganor several african countries kenya. They have banned plastics so if they can. I think that we we all can the issue of incentives of course it's <hes> it's important at the issues of using the technologies that we have in hand is extremely important in. I think that this is a really an existential. Threat is not to look good. It is about future. Generations is about survival level. It's about our health. If we continue to eat fish that have micro-plastics it's really affecting our health our skin our buddies they now do have micro-plastics and we are really killing our oceans that medians of people depend for their livelihoods livelihoods on on coastal economies. We really need to be serious about this the difficulty is you know we were lucky. I've always been big on this topic. I grew up in los angeles. We've been composting recycling across the city's since i was a kid. I don't even remember a time where household didn't compost recycle. You know they won't pick up your trash. If you don't you don't start your trash properly. It stays on the street to shame you and you know when i moved to the east coast host. We still put our trash on the street. You know it's it's crazy and we're one of the largest most sophisticated cities globally why is new york city not requiring composting and recycling at a city level supported by city sanitation to me. That's another huge step because to your point of yes is one element is getting rid of single use plastics and moving into composed tool plastics where the technology exists but the other side is. What do you do with it so you do you ever recyclable or compostable plastic. Maybe not single use but say a fork which you will eventually have to use okay so you buy composed version even in your homer a restaurant right now. The entire burden is on the restaurant to compos privately. We have to contract with a private sanitation company. There's only four that exist in new york that recycle and compost they are multiple multiples more expensive and we bear that cost solely you know again. I came into it saying you know what this is important to me and ground up. We're going to do it so every element of our operation is geared towards sustainability all compatible to go goods all environmentally conscious and green equipment we use only green and clean cleaning products no food waste we really incorporate all of our food scraps into our menu but but the trouble is how do you take the friction and the cost of switching because not many are starting like us not many exist like us and if we really want that groundswell to your point of you know full buy-in. How do you mitigate that friction and the switching costs because it is right now multiples more expensive. It's more more expensive to have compostable to go goods. Massively it is more expensive to compost and recycles a private business in new york. All of those elements really stand in the way of even businesses who want to because they can't afford it and there's no help and no one saying you know what you wanna do good. We're going to help you right now. It's you want to do good you pay for your boat and you hope that consumers care and will pay a little bit more for it but i don't think that's a good solution for wide adoption. Absolutely i thing that there has to be a burden sharing a culture in there and bury concrete incentives and <hes> i come from a city in south america. Keitel won't needs two point five million people city in we do compost and we do recycle so it's very hard to understand why here in new new york <hes> you know we we do not do that but the only thing that is sustainable is to have systems in place that work you the city level and at the state level as well so proper regulations but proper system and technologies in place. That's the best way to be sustainable in the long run but also it's it's good for burden-sharing there has to be also you know a public responsibility a policy and regulatory tori responsibility at known only leave it to the very small private business that is environmentally conscious to bear the pool cost. I think it's good as an example. It's good to show that it can be on but it has to be bigger and wider especially in cities. There are so big in swimming board and new york twelve thousand tons of of of waste every day and other great inhibitor that people don't realize is if someone came to me last week and said they have this beautiful ceramic cup. That's totally green nontoxic and it's meant to be reusable. They have a cut version for cold and they have a hot insulated version for hot beverages and he said what if you got rid of the toco cups together and we provided them free and people book could just come in and come get their their food their coffee. What do you think and i said right now one of the biggest of the city systems but then you also have department of health so you think about restaurants are big portion of this issue to your point of twelve thousand tonnes. I'm sure that we are a large factor in that because that's one of the biggest biggest recurring elements in that is eating out and you know whether that's cafe coffee shop or a fine dining restaurant. I think that's probably the biggest needle moving moving in that and we by the department of health regulations are not allowed. I'm not allowed to put food in your bowl from your home. 'cause i can't prove it sanitary and i could cross contaminate all the food that i'm serving to the public so there are huge huge limitations in that and two of even if you wanted to move wait not just from single use plastic but say none of it and go full ceramic full metal utensils and we use cloth napkins from recycled denim in the restaurant but you know even if you wanted to go that way and say someone can bring in their knife fork and spoon and a ceramic bowl. I'm not allowed to bring it it to the back and go put it in it. Which i find on one hand i completely understand because we're trying to protect food safety but it is also a big limitation towards a lot of the reusable arguments of moving towards you know people coming in and i think there is a groundswell of people who want to do that. I actually think the consumer behaviors sort of advanced in what we're able to do and provide there are a lot of restaurants that are experimenting with this and trying to figure out so i'm an attorney as well and it's like near and dear to my heart art sort of fit exactly and push the legal limits equity so there's a very large food chain. That's now going to be not working on from what i hear you know if you sort of bring it up to the cashier and it doesn't sort of cross that line that may be something can be put eighteen to your bowl but then again i mean you have to have a very specific restaurant design and you have to have really figured out how like how does it get from the back pot pod to all the way up to the cashier that burning hurting someone sort of into your crossing the line again. I think you know bravo. I'm proud that restaurants are trying to do crazy operation line nasdaq create you way but yeah a lot of restaurants are testing things. It doesn't always mean it's legal and i think some are trying trying to push those boundaries intentionally to sort of wake the city up you know in the various applicable departments to say hey we're trying to comply. We want to be good. Citizens ends but we also don't wanna see twelve thousand tons of plastic. Go into our oceans anymore and we don't wanna have waste. You know we're trying. There has to be some. I'm sort of meeting in the middle that i think isn't really happening. In on a large scale single single use was the collins dictionary word of the year in two thousand eighteen. It's no surprise why last year everyone got a little smarter about plastic. In particular the type you use once and then chuck cities and food service companies across the u._s. Are now banning plastic straws west coast cities like seattle san francisco go oakland carmel and berkeley have led the way and the paper straw business is booming indiana paper straw manufacturer aardvark is building a a brand new factory to meet demand which has jumped fifty fold each year for the last two years but should municipal state and federal governments be going further to stop the production production of single use plastic products and how can they ensure that people are able to recycle all the plastics. They do collect <music>. We have to start somewhere and when you see you know other parts of the world so many countries in africa several countries in latin america america the caribbean initiative to ban single use plastics in the leave of tourism. You know we are working. Teaming up with anti one bu-but antiwar is also pushing all the caribbean community to adopt the same regulations and sometimes you need to start by the regulatory side read the legal side and then come up we the systems we do have the technology we knew how to do it who is going to do the the burden sharing the recall sharing and especially for the small businesses. It's a little unfair. I mean i'm totally with you. That's why we are lounging a worldwide campaign and and they are already green dots in the entire planet that i really making the difference in they are showing that it can be done. I i mean i think that <hes> this is a very wealthy city. New york can do more and better tomorrow at the u._n. We will be having a gathering. We've mayors from around the world on security issues on climate issues so cds have a very important role to play because they host fifty percent of the world's population at little more than fifty percent and the numbers are growing very fast too so either we become sustainable urban settings or their snow future in the united states one of the biggest challenges. I think as opposed to some of the countries that you mentioned it is we're really trying to reverse the industrial revolution. I mean we just have really strong holds of movements that happened decades ago that really we altered the food system and not a great sustainable way and that goes down to plastics producers like i said how about new york city instead of banning being plastic straws in restaurants. Where's the regulation at the source. The issue isn't the restaurant. The issue is what's available. How about hey every disposable producer in the country. You can no longer produce non-combustible straws and by twenty twenty one. You must have a top that astrologers provided. Did you know how about that because what's the onus on the restaurant. I feel that we always get sort of the end. Use regulations sort of coming down on us versus is really we'd love to source that you know. I know a lot of friends in the industry. Large companies would love to have astrologist top to their cold cups. That's fully compostable. The cost the same as the very simple plastic when it comes in where is that regulating at the source and i would say the answer is largely. The power of the footholds of the the industrial revolution are strong very strong and i guess i would say you know i my biggest vote and begging frankly would be can you in this year. Get got new york. City to implement city wide from the department of sanitation required composting and recycling citywide. I think if they could commit to that within a certain in time period i think we would see massive change. I think a lot of homes really want to do it but again. I compost at home. I take it to the restaurant but our restaurant can't support support the cost of composting for the entire neighborhood. The city said look you compost. It will pay for whatever you do for the neighborhood. You know if we have a separate bin and say hey every neighbor coming our alleyway. Go put it in the compost compost and take care of it. But how can i support the cost of an entire neighborhood even when i want to. I really think that we would see massive change even from that one element that your point lot of semi's globally have been on that beat and instituted that system <hes> frankly decades go though you win works more on the macro level wish put the macro level does not work if there is no buy in from from the microbial and to your point targeting the biggest cities with the largest populations the most global attention if we're going to start somewhere and i agree with you you gotta take one foot but in front of the other but the first foot should really be where it's going to move the needle because we do have to act fast and time is not on our side so look at countries with the largest has populations and major cities to me. You know the focus needs to be there. Yeah and they're doing the share a into china several times. They're doing doing amazing. Efforts in terms of changing their energy mattresses of <hes> addressing the poverty issue china has been very successful pulling combating poverty india. It's one of the leading forces on solar energy now they have two more on the home the plastics and the sustainability ability side but this big countries they are very aware of their responsibilities in the responsibility they have because they're densely-populated depopulated so we're dealing about millions of people so whatever india does in terms of the environment and sustainability it really has an impact on the entire humanity same same school at goes for china and for for other highly populated countries in we are working with them and they're good good news because they are part of <hes> global architecture on climate change. They have signed the paris agreement on climate change. They are committed and here in the united states. What gives us a lot of hope is the engagements being of individual states and hundreds of cds that they have gathered and to meet it to deliver on the paris agreement even if the countryside she's not ready yet or not prepared to do that. Then we rely very much on what the local governments community polities and individual states are going to do great hope for us is california. It's i think it's the seeks economy in the world so they have a big stake. They're they are and they're doing their job. They're doing their. We've been a leader yeah. I think the state of california's bellied. I'm in you know i think they're really the model and again. It's one of the great inspirations my home state for what we do at west born and you know seeing to your point if you can see it and believe it when you've lifted as a kid you know when you grew up in see that that's just part of the culture but it's part of also the state systems and i think private and public sectors are working pretty well in tandem tandem to to really think sustainability across the board around one one tenth of the one hundred million metric tons of plastic produced. Each year ends up in the ocean. There are five huge trash vortex swirling in our oceans sion's poisoning marine animals and crippling ecosystems the largest the great pacific garbage patch is the size of texas mammals fish and birds ingest or get ensnared in the plastic mess and die invisible micro-plastics found in cosmetics detergents paints and soap can be just as lethal. What's more battered plastic that is exposed to sun and water has been proven to release toxic greenhouse gases. This includes methane gas that has twenty times more impact on climate change than carbon dioxide plastic pollution is very much connected with climate change as well eve eve you really the oceans where most of the cleaning of the atmosphere atmosphere happens. Oceans are also not only life depositories but also c._o. Two absorbing mechanisms in a way so it's it's very important that we do have healthy oceans at the end of the day. It's very costly. Pollution costs a lot. It's it's much more expensive to clean gene <hes> then to use the precautionary principle not to pollute. It's good business at the end of the day. Just the pollution of oceans nowaday a it costs like eight billion dollars per year. I mean just the cleanup factor and we are not able to clean it up so i think that we need to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and i agree with you. I think large companies really taking that stance of as a corporation as the u._n. As a company that cares about sustainability this gene ability we do a lot of talks sort of around the city and around the nation and the first thing i always say. Is you know i see that. You have those little little water bottles. You know those are literally the worst thing that you could do for the environment. Why can't we have just mugs and cups harper's bazaar. I'm a big fan and a lot of your team our regulars of the restaurant and they've been so supportive you know we're sitting with plastic cup here. You know there's no reason that can't be glass and we can't wash it. You know if companies of grand scale could really commit to in their our own offices in their own teams. You know not buying little baby water bottles not buying plastic cups and really just having ceramics and glass. That's is a big statement right there to your point of you know why aren't major water companies across the world saying you know what we're gonna do compatible water bottles and we're not gonna make the small ones anymore even that though bottles well a step in the right direction in my team. They're very conscious now. Wherever i seat seat well we never use single use plastic bottle water at the u._n. In when i'm there yes and we use everybody in my team gene and we give away this famous tale bottles that we use for water and when we have guests we never used a single use plastics and and when they see that i come to a meeting room i see a lot of movement because they make away the plastic bottles and we come in for you. Yeah i mean in in. I see see that at least people are conscious and they know that that it's really not right so we are using more and more the tetra pak <hes> water containers of the of the u._n. Fella from a company. It's a female lead company from california called beaker. Okay sell a crazy amount of them. You know we try and provide. We sell our napkins. We sell our mugs. We sell beaker bottles. We sell tote bags in our goal is really to make it fun you know style forward and eco eco friendly to help someone who not only wants to support the restaurant and what we're doing but wants to integrate those zero as practices at home which to your point i i do feel strongly wrongly that the groundswell of consumer demand is there. There's just not a lot of access on production and there's not a lot of access on a city wide system to support that oh <music> millions of people migrate each year due to the impacts of climate change from droughts the decimate crops in somalia amalia to rising sea levels the threaten to sink small pacific island states and this is just the beginning october's united nations climate report predicted floods odds heatwaves food scarcity droughts rising sea levels and other extreme weather experts have forecast up to a billion climate migrants by twenty fifty so either. We want to combat migration to decrease the number of refugees around the world to fight poverty to really reduce hunger around the world. It is about changing you know production and consumption patterns around the world so it is you know for the benefit of everybody. That's why the job is to make sure that it the the reese proper awareness. That's our campaign. Basically against single use plastics be awareness. Building is important but when it comes with actions us and leading by example like you're doing. That's why it's it's a privilege really to have this conversation with you while i similarly i feel very privileged to be here. <hes> you know and it's interesting you. You talk single use plastics when you know i think there's a lot of elements to this you know i know you said one step at a time but it's also a complicated problem a complicated layered set of issues one being you know so we are a <hes> vegetarian restaurant in support of our sustainability focus. You know it is undeniable. That animal production animal consumption is one of the largest arches drivers if not the single largest drivers of climate change and where we are environmentally and you know. I'm not a vegetarian full-time. Our restaurant tries very hard. Our ethos accidentally vegetarian decidedly wholesome and our goal is not to be preachy not to sort of force in upon someone but have someone come because it's a cool interesting space yes and they feel welcomed and the food is delicious incredible and our goal is that you leave and go oh yeah i didn't have meat and i didn't even think about it so we're really not asking to change anything. Things were sort of trying to be the invisible change agent of if everyone communally could agree that we would cut down you know. I don't think it's realistic mystic to say everyone needs to become a vegetarian. I just don't think that's actually realistic. But what can we do to change. Behaviors and perceptions of well. Vegetarianism can be really really nourishing really healthy really delicious and exciting and if we can change someone to be vegetarian at least a couple meals a week think about how that could have have a ripple effect and if we could really change consumer behaviors in that way that also goes to me massively hand in hand with the attack on single use plastics and sustainable sourcing thing we have to change the way that we we can't be fishing one percent of the world's fish population and think that's not going to have an impact. We can't continue to eat animals the way consume animal products that we do you know en masse. Something has to change or us and for the united nations what is very difficult to to explain. It's that we now with the technology with the knowledge we have we are able to produce much more food in terms of the amount of food that humanity is capable of producing but the levels of hungry people have increased tremendously in the the past few years so that combined with the sustainability shoes something that how do you explain. I mean we have the knowledge we have the science we have the technology and yet we are unable to change the way we leave in the way we consume in the way we even we interact with each each other and to look at the connection between climate change and food security. He has to be very much about <hes>. You know the food chain in how we feed ourselves but also the the amount of waste in the systems again that are not in place to make sure that everybody eats. I don't have the numbers numbers with me but that's a homework. Perhaps for us look at the number of people that go to bed in new york city without eating. There's a lot of hungry people in new york. Americans use one hundred billion plastic bags a year. Each bag is used used on average for twelve minutes before it is discarded in two thousand to bangladesh became the first country to ban plastic bags. A smattering of countries including china kenya rwanda sri lanka and the netherlands have followed suit. Many corporations have economies bigger than countries. If it was a country amazon amazon would be in the top sixty richest in the world walmart earned more than the whole of belgium in twenty seventeen howard huge corporate entities being held to account for their plastic use in ecuador my own country. You know you go to to the supermarket. You bring your it's. It's very common. Now that you see you know people unfolding you know their little bag when they go grocery shopping and in in here for me i i in shock every time not only that the us the plastic bags but they put double and triple sometimes sometimes and i say why is that it's really when you line up to pay in you. Don't bring your own your own bag. People look at you. You know i lived in in geneva for awhile in you know when you don't have your back people really they look at you to say something. You're missing something worse. You're you know reusable bag in at the end. I mean the supermarket does sell. It's very expensive. They charge you for when they pull the plastic by people. Everybody looks at you like okay. You know really bad no not nice so they pulled the bag. It's very costly but sometimes you forget you. You don't have it handy and they do sell that the reusable bags there as what it's <hes> demand site kind of also a top down regulatory effort that i think needs to happen. That's point so i love that and i do think peer pressure to some extent does work and you know again a community value system and kuntar sure of hey you know you're using a plastic bag. You know it's interesting to think though how with with the growth growth of technology we have a whole new set of challenges opportunities as far as you know what the future of plastics could be. I e not but grocery grocery shopping for example you mentioned it is globally changing. Most people are shopping with amazon with insta- car. You know you have to think about the fact that now how going to stores for things like that doesn't really exist anymore or it won't be an it's fast ivan quickly changing so now the question is okay. You have a company like the amazon who i think has transformed the world in amazing ways but no one is pressuring them for sustainability efforts all those boxes all those plastics. You know that to me that makes a dent in a large way. Restaurants can only go so far. Yeah where's the discussion of those kinds of companies because to me. That could be a huge effort. You know amazon has collection spots across the cities in partnership with cities. That's okay all amazon boxes. Go here they get sent back doc and they reuse them and that footprint could actually be quite easily neutral in my mind but there's no discussion of that. I've not seen a single article. That says you know what you're not shopping the grocery store anymore so yes tote bags grade that will probably stay in existence with green markets but for basic needs. It's starting to become delivered to everyone. Everyone it's accessible. It's financially accessible so where's the pressure and discussion on. Hey what can we do again. I don't think it's just amazon's issue to solve whereas here's the partnership with cds and larger communities and saying hey let's work together and make you carbon-neutral because it's important and you are taking over the world in a lot of great ways but we have to make sure we're ahead of what that damage could be. There has to be a larger focus. I think especially when you think about the grocery game and food sourcing and how people are getting in their food the delivery and technology that's enabling. It is gonna have a very big side effect that i don't think there's any attention on yet in sometimes supermarkets change in faster ways than our ability or also scientists ability to make sure that it happens in a sustainable way. Maybe it's not a everyone in the country doesn't use single use plastic. Maybe the first phase in his hey the top ten companies that produce the most that are the biggest. Hey let's work together. We're going to do a carolina's stick and work together to make sure that there's compliance because that's really moving the needle to be very honest with you at the end of the day. It's it's cost effective off. The first bush sometimes is costly because you have to put new systems in place but the end of the day is really worthwhile and it's not just an arithmatic issue. It is an issue of future generations of survival of of healthy planet. Sometimes we tend into worry for example. You say we have to be careful with investment with business because we very much rely on them. They are job creators and we shouldn't push too much and the truth is that i have seen the private sector very committed very interested in very open and and sometimes these public private conversation really is not taking business. There's a lot of prejudice saying business. They just want to earn money. I think that has changed because i see that the private sector yes indeed they have to make money but at the same time they want to do it sustainably in they. I want to make sure that whatever money they're making profit. They're making it sustainable in the long run. What they need is just pretty ability. You know have clear rules rules and know how to to work and sometimes you know the the governing authorities. They said oh we we have to be very careful. You know we really need to to go you know step by step and sometimes we we have prejudice and think that the private sector is about greed about how you know taking out every cent in the prophet and prophet in. I think that this is a really changing so we should push a little bit in have clear rules for everybody not only predictability nick to billy tea but also equality you know in terms of rule setting so i think it's a communication it's prejudice in i would say lesson less. It is about greed because greed in limited. <hes> profit is not sustainable. This episode was produced by steph breath at edit audio to find out more about our conversation checkout. Our show notes at harper's bazaar dot com forward slash. Dare i say podcast. If you enjoyed this episode please subscribe bribe and rate us on apple podcasts <music> <music>.