Partner Spotlight: 5 Gyres

Partner Spotlight: 5 Gyres

Words: Klean Kanteen / Images: 5 Gyres

It's Plastic Free July! For Klean Kanteen, this month of action is a great way to recommit to one of our four core pillars: preventing plastic pollution. Each year, humans produce about 400 million tonnes of plastic, and less than 10% of that gets recycled. We’re proud to partner with 5 Gyres Institute, a nonprofit that is dedicated to empowering action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution.

What does 5 Gyres do?

Founded in 2009, 5 Gyres uses science, education, and adventure to fight against plastic pollution and inspire positive change. Co-founders Marcus Eriksen and Anna Cummins met on a sailing expedition to research pollution in the North Pacific Gyre (click here to learn about gyres if you don’t already know!), where they decided to dedicate their lives to solving the global problems with plastic.

Over the years, Marcus and the 5 Gyres team have researched, written, and published over 25 peer-reviewed scientific studies. They were among the first to identify microfibers and coin the term, “plastic smog.” Their research has led to numerous policy changes, including the Microbeads-Free Water Act of 2015. More recently, 5 Gyres teamed up with the San Francisco Estuary Institute to conduct a three year project aimed at measuring microplastic levels in the San Francisco Bay.

The work that 5 Gyres does has always been rooted in science and data. They invented their own trawlers and tools for measuring plastic pollution and are among the leading researchers who collect and track global data on both macro and micro plastics. They’ve led 19 research expeditions in all 5 subtropical gyres as well as several of the world’s lakes and rivers. In 2017, the United Nations Economic and Social Council named 5 Gyres as special consultants to help with Sustainable Development Goal #14.

Klean Co-Owner Jeff Cresswell

Klean Co-owner Jeff Cresswell picks up plastic pieces on the beach as part of a 5 Gyres Expedition.


How Klean Kanteen Makes An Impact With 5 Gyres

For both Klean Kanteen and 5 Gyres, the movement against plastic pollution is about more than keeping our planet clean. It’s about community, and the wellbeing of all people who live on this planet, too. We love that 5 Gyres includes compassion, equity, and fun in their core values, because that’s what we value, too!

As our Nonprofit Outreach Manager Caroleigh Pierce puts it, “5 Gyres was really one of the first organizations to bring people together to collaborate on campaigns and use a collective voice for change.” We get to work together with 5 Gyres on collaborative campaigns, like #BreakFreeFromPlastic, an international movement fighting plastic pollution while sharing the common values of environmental protection and social justice. 5 Gyres’ community collaboration was also instrumental in the #BeadFree movement that resulted in legislation banning microbeads in personal care products across the US.

5 Gyres on Coral Triangle Expedition

5 Gyres sailed from Bali to Komodo in Indonesia, studying plastic pollution and picking up garbage in the oceans.

5 Gyres volunteers with plastic fragments

Volunteers send a message with plastic found on the 5 Gyres' Coral Triangle Expedition.


We have worked with 5 Gyres since 2012, advocating together for restoring healthy, plastic-free oceans. A number of our staff have joined crews of like-minded activists, scientists, and ocean lovers on multiple 5 Gyres expeditions to collect plastic, bolster legislation, inspire young minds, and spread the word about the severe damage caused by plastic in our oceans and waterways.

A core piece of their work, the 5 Gyres expeditions offer an amazing opportunity to experience the science firsthand. Klean owner Jeff Cresswell says that his 2013 expedition to Bermuda was profoundly eye-opening, while Caroleigh Pierce says that her 2015 journey with 5 Gyres and Jack Johnson (during which he filmed the documentary Smog Of The Sea) was one of the most monumental experiences of her life. In order to bring this kind of education to the next generation in the movement against plastic pollution, we contributed to a scholarship that allowed a youth leader to go on an expedition with 5 Gyres.

We also work with 5 Gyres to provide education and inspiration on land. Two of our Klean staff are 5 Gyres ambassadors who speak at lectures, present at fun and educational events, participate in online campaigns, and create inspirational content to fight plastic pollution. Together with 5 Gyres, we work together to build relationships across brands and nonprofits in the industry to help find better solutions to plastic pollution.

One of our favorite projects with 5 Gyres is the Project Green Challenge Finals, hosted by our partner Turning Green. The project brings youth leaders from around the world who are working on environmental conservation projects in their own community to learn, connect, and grow their ideas. Klean partners Surfrider and Lonely Whale have participated in this project as well.

Our partnership with 5 Gyres is a perfect example of how we try to go beyond the check when it comes to giving back." Caroleigh Pierce, Klean Nonprofit Outreach Manager and 5 Gyres Ambassador.

Coral Triangle beach filled with trash

5 Gyres works towards solutions to the problem of plastic pollution.

Klean Nonprofit Outreach Manager, and 5 Gyres Ambassador, Caroleigh Pierce collects samples on an expedition.

What Working With 5 Gyres Means to Us

Working with 5 Gyres is an incredible partnership for Klean. Not only do we get to collaborate closely with like-minded folks and build relationships across industries, it’s also an important way that we get to support real change. Unlike us, 5 Gyres has the scientific research and leverage needed to put pressure on corporations and governments to make lasting policy changes. 

As Marcus Eriksen points out in an interview with Business Green, “what’s needed is extended producer responsibility: if you make something with plastic, you’ve got to have a lifecycle plan for it.” Remediating plastic pollution through individual consumer action is a part of the solution, but alone, it cannot solve the bigger problem. We need policy to stem the flow of plastic and make sustainable personal choices more accessible for everyone.

Klean Kanteen long-time partner with 5 Gyres