United by Blue works to clean up the trash building up in out waterways

Posted: October 12, 2012

THAT PLASTIC container you see floating in the Schuylkill? It will probably float away from Philly, but it's hardly gone forever. Along with other junk tossed into local waterways, it ends up in the ocean, where it breaks down into a soupy mush.

Remember that next you have a hankering for sushi.

Need a visual on this?

The 5 Gyres Institute, a California nonprofit, is teaming up with United by Blue, a Philadelphia apparel company that is dedicated to cleaning up waterways around the country, to show people the effects of pollution during a presentation here Monday.

Members of 5 Gyres team are in the midst of what they're calling the Last Straw Plastic Solutions Bicycle Outreach Tour, biking from Boston to Charleston, S.C., doing presentations on the importance of keeping our waterways clear of trash. 5 Gyres teams have ventured into waterways around the world to gather images and information on trash pollution.

"It's like confetti spread across the ocean," said Stiv Wilson, communications and policy director for 5 Gyres, during a phone interview just as he was about to board a ferry with the rest of the bikers in Port Jefferson, N.Y. Wilson's journey began Oct. 3 and ends Nov. 6.

Ocean current conversions, known as gyres, create whirlpools of trapped trash. 5 Gyres is researching this phenomenon and the pollution that results, as it also tries to educate the public.

"I don't care how educated you are. We're going to blow your mind," he said. "You're going to see things you've never seen before."

Some people at an early tour stop in Jamestown, R.I., were active sailors who are often out on the water but hadn't seen the devastation pollution is causing up close, Wilson said.

5 Gyres works in research and advocacy, but they chose to partner here with United by Blue because environmental activism is built right into the company. Founded in 2010 by Brian Linton, who gives his job title as Chief Trash Collector, United by Blue sells men's and women's T-shirts, hoodies, bags and jewelry priced from about $30 to $88. They're starting a kids line later this month, too. For each item sold, the company promises to clean a pound of trash from waterways.

In the last two years, United by Blue has done 90 waterway cleanups across 18 states, removing 141,000 pounds of trash with the help of about 2,500 volunteers, according the company.

Linton's love of the oceans began when he was a child living in Singapore and other countries in Southeast Asia. He traveled to 40 countries before returning to the United States to attend college. During his travels, he said he saw "the good, the bad and the ugly" when it came to water quality.

Now, his goal as a businessman is to give back to the waterways he sees as one of the world's few uniting facets. "We're at a point with the oceans and waterways where, if we don't start doing something, we're all going to pay the price of it," Linton said.

Underground Arts Bar, Wolf Building, 1200 Callowhill St., 6-8 p.m. Monday, free, 215-642-0693, unitedbyblue.com.

Contact Molly Eichel at eichelm@phillynews.com or 215-854-5909. Follow her on Twitter @mollyeichel.

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