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Blog: There’s no time to be timid

Greetings from Abu Dhabi. As the 2019 World Ocean Summit wraps up, and I prepare to head home, I’ve settled on my mantra for the year:

There’s no time to be timid.

Warming waters. Acidification. Marine debris. The ocean is the pulse of our planet and it needs our help.  We know that climate change is accelerating the troubles in our seas, compounding the hazards brought on from plastic waste in our waterways.  It can be depressing.  It should be depressing.  But it shouldn’t mean that we give up hope.  Instead, it should be the final push we need to boldly try new things, fail fast, and build new alliances to make change – in partnership, together.

Partnership is part of our name for a reason. Over the past five years, it has been The Recycling Partnership’s approach to work with others to tackle challenges, head on, with no wishful thinking.

Our approach?  Try new things.  Think we can do even better?  Wonderful.  Learn from mistakes and try again.  Play well with others.  Roll up your sleeves.  It’s not always easy to face challenges head on and it frequently calls for embracing a difficult conversation.

But what other choice do we have?  We can’t fail. If we fail our oceans, we fail our planet, and we fail our future.  So, we try new things, and then we do it all over again.  That’s what systems change is all about.

Systems change is a buzz word right now.  And it can quickly result in an academic exercise of evaluating the intersection of options.  But the truth is, systems change takes hard, repetitive, careful work.  Recycling can’t solve marine debris.  It can’t stop climate change.  But it is a tangible, immediate component that can positively impact both.  For that reason, I am very proud that The Partnership is working hard to break recycling out of its silo and connect it with important climate and water conservation activities.

Why am I involved in international marine debris discussions?  Simple.  The lessons I’ve learned after 20+ years of U.S. recycling system change gives me pretty good insight into how NOT to solve marine debris.

Here’s a snapshot on where we are with recycling in the U.S.: We have thousands of communities making their own decision of what/how/if to recycle.  We can cite dozens of projects focused on a singular corporate or material focus.  And until recently, very little coordination between initiatives.  Yes, it’s been busy – but is it enough?

In many ways, after decades of effort, the U.S. recycling system is barely more than the sum of its thousands of parts, delivering a frustratingly low 30ish percent recycling rate.  When it comes to oceans and the health of our planet…That. Will. Not. Work.

Competition will not deliver systems change.  Collaboration between science, business, policy, and public interest will.  Will it be easy?  No.  Will it be scary?  Sometimes. Will it take bold efforts and quick lessons learned?  Yes. And that is why I’m eager to continue to bring The Partnership’s lessons learned, expertise, and ethic of hard work to the cause.

Won’t you join me in calling for passionate dedication to collaboration?  Aren’t you eager to find opportunities to connect initiatives, build from each other’s successes, and learn from our collective mistakes?  I hope we’re all ready to approach the hard conversations head on, with heart, so that we don’t hide behind our wishes for what might be instead of what is.

The time is now, because there’s no time left to be timid.


Keefe Harrison

CEO Keefe Harrison at the Persian Gulf

P.S. – The Recycling Partnership team travels…a lot. That’s why we’re extra proud to be carbon neutral by supporting Native Energy’s Ethiopia Clean Water Project.