Hi! My name is Jana Koebel and I’m a gypsy. And when I say “gypsy,” I mean I’m a nomad, a traveler, a rover, a wanderer; but most importantly, I’m an activist.
It all goes back to my mother’s history; she was born and raised in East Germany during the Cold War. Holiday destinations were limited by the time I was born, so my mother was stuck dreaming of better days where we could see the world. In 1989, the wall came down and we set off on our first trip to Kenya – I was only ten years old.
Being exposed to a nomadic lifestyle at such a young age instilled in me a belief in learning through seeing, understanding through experiencing, and living through traveling. So, when I got older, I studied languages and international law at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. From there, I set out on my own nomadic adventures. I lived in France, Ireland, Belgium and Austria, and visited cities like Rome, Stockholm, Prague, and Barcelona.
Longer trips took me throughout Africa, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Caribbean where I quickly became aware of the world’s beauty. To me, there was nothing more powerful than standing next to the ocean on a sandy beach. With the sun on my skin, the sand on my feet, and the sea salt in my hair, I truly felt at home.
At first, the increasing amount of plastic in the sea and on the beaches was barely noticeable.
Who hasn’t seen the odd water bottle or plastic bag floating in the waves? Our hotel beaches were always meticulously clean, so I didn’t see the problem for a long time.
Sure, every now and then, I would look down to admire the sand and notice a piece of plastic wedged underneath a mixture of seaweed and driftwood. Not thinking much of it, I would push it to the back of my mind as I would assume it was just a piece of stray plastic probably left behind by a tourist. However, with the more beaches I’d visit, the more plastic I’d find.
What really struck me, was when I visited the Maldives. These tiny islands, barely big enough to support a few buildings and a handful of tourists, are situated directly in the middle of the ocean. It would be next to impossible to find plastic wash up on the shore here, right? Well, I was wrong. Every morning, I would walk the shoreline of our small island and find bits and pieces of plastic just recently washed up on the shore from the night before. Not a lot, but enough to get me thinking. It just didn’t make sense. This wasn't heavily populated Mexico or Thailand, the Maldives were so small and so remote that I knew the plastic pieces I found every morning did not come from there. So where did they come from?
And what can I do to fix this?
I went home and immediately hit the books. What I learned shocked me: 8 million tons of plastic, a material that never decomposes, is dumped into the oceans every year! Over 90% of all seabirds have plastic pieces in their stomachs. The toxic chemicals in plastics are a danger not only to marine life, but to our health as well.
These statistics were tremendously alarming to me. I was truly stunned in disbelief by the incredible dimensions of a problem that I hadn't even known about.
I knew I had to act, I knew I had to do something, and I knew that I could, at the very least, advocate for a plastic-free world.
At Seas & Straws, I work each and every day to push plastic out of our lives. By coaching seaside hotels to adopt a plastic-free business model, by promoting plastic-free products, and through spreading knowledge and awareness of the environmental and humanistic impact of plastics, I hope to transform our thinking and understanding of the world itself.
Every person, plant, and animal on Earth has the right to feel what I felt on the shoreline that day, without having to look down and see a piece of environmentally devastating plastic. There are always alternatives and innovative solutions, it’s just up to us to design them, implement them, and live by them!