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The epic “Planet or Plastic?” Nat Geo cover is just the beginning

It kicks off a multi-year campaign to fight plastic pollution that includes a $10 million partnership with Sky and a collaboration with The North Face.

The epic “Planet or Plastic?” Nat Geo cover is just the beginning
[Photo: courtesy of National Geographic]

It’s a simple question. “Planet or plastic?” Since it was unveiled yesterday, National Geographic‘s new magazine cover of a plastic bag-as-iceberg has stopped many people in their tracks by conveying the size, scope, and severity of the issue surrounding plastics pollution with jarring clarity. The provocative cover story is the start of a multi-year campaign to raise awareness for reducing the prevalence of single-use plastics and the damage they cause to the environment.

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After sheets of clear plastic trash have been washed in the Buriganga River, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a woman spreads them out to dry, turning them regularly—while also tending to her son. The plastic will eventually be sold to a recycler. Less than a fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally. In the U.S. it’s less than 10 percent. [Photo: Randy Olson/National Geographic]
Around the new issue, the U.S., U.K., and India editions of National Geographic will be shipped wrapped in paper instead of plastic, with the goal of wrapping all global editions in paper by the end of 2019. This week, the magazine is also “polluting” its Instagram feed so its 90 million followers will see dramatic photos of plastic pollution.

National Geographic Partners chief marketing officer Jill Cress says that the brand is uniquely positioned to deliver real impact through consumer education and science: “The plastic crisis wasn’t created overnight and it won’t be solved overnight, but we believe that through sustained consumer engagement, investments in science, and partnerships with other like-minded organizations, this is an environmental challenge that we can effectively tackle.”

The brand worked with the McCann agency to develop the initiative, and it includes video content that outlines the basics of the crisis, as well as tips to help your everyday routine like, “How to Cleanse Your Beauty Regime of Microplastic.

An old plastic fishing net snares a loggerhead turtle in the Mediterranean off Spain. The turtle could stretch its neck above water to breathe but would have died had the photographer not freed it. “Ghost fishing” by derelict gear is a big threat to sea turtles. [Photo: Jordi Chias/National Geographic]
Beyond its own lineup of content, Nat Geo is launching a scientific endeavor through the National Geographic Society to better document how plastic reaches the world’s oceans and to fill critical knowledge gaps. A partnership with U.K. broadcaster Sky will dedicate $10 million to identify and champion projects and groundbreaking technologies designed to reduce plastic waste and its impact on oceans. It’s also teaming up with brands like The North Face and Swell to produce products aimed at bringing attention to the crisis and providing single-use plastics alternatives. The North Face collaboration launches on May 23 with the limited Bottle Source Collection, a line of shirts made from recycled plastic bottles diverted from National Park waste streams.

“As the most followed brand on Instagram and a global media company that reaches consumers in 172 countries, we want to use our reach for impact and rally our audiences around solving global challenges like the plastics crisis,” Cress says. “When you combine that with the solutions that our explorers and scientists are developing, we are a brand that is uniquely positioned to make real progress toward addressing the growing plastics crisis.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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