She Got Her Start Saving Animals. Now She's Set Her Sights on Saving the Ocean

The founder of Freekibble now has her sights set on plastic pollution removal in the ocean. Mimi Ausland

Mimi Ausland has big plans for the planet. The 23-year-old is perhaps best known as the founder of Freekibble, an interactive quiz website that encourages users to answer animal trivia questions to fuel donations of pet food to shelters across the U.S.

"Looking back on it, I believe the experience showed me that people want to make a difference and that small actions can create big impact," Ausland tells MNN. "Freekibble not only grew my interest in giving back but also in business — specifically in finding ways to combine impact with business. It gave me the belief that if you care about something enough, you can make a difference."

Freekibble is now eleven years old, and is estimated to have donated nearly $14 million in food and funding to homeless dogs and cats at shelters, rescues and food banks across the country. The website has expanded to include cat litter donations, vaccinations and monthly causes highlighting different animals in need and the people who support them.

Once honored as the 2008 ASPCA Kid of the Year, Ausland isn't a kid anymore, but she's still an activist. Her next big move (literally) is the ocean — specifically, plastic pollution. Her new website, Free the Ocean (FTO), is similar to Freekibble in that it's a quiz website that "rewards" you (whether you're right or wrong) when you answer the daily trivia question. Your reward, this time, funds the removal of plastic from the ocean.

A Ghana beach covered in trash
Trash and debris litter Accra beach in Ghana. Muntaka Chasant [SS by SA 4.0]/Wikimedia Commons

"My inspiration behind FTO was to create a way for people around the world to have a free and fast impact on the very serious issue of plastic pollution," Ausland says. "By combining trivia with impact, you're giving people an educational and (hopefully!) fun way to have a tangible impact."

How exactly does it work? 100 percent of the ad revenue generated on the website goes toward removing plastic. Those funds go directly to their cause partner, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii. The nonprofit organizes beach clean-ups and coastal stewardship through social media and a hard-working grassroots team of volunteers. "They're an amazing organization hard at work protecting treasured coastlines by removing plastic and educating the next generation on how to create a world without waste," says Ausland.

Freekibble creator Mimi Ausland with Sustainable Coastlines CEO Rafael
Ausland with the CEO of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, Rafael Bergstrom. Mimi Ausland

It's predicted that 18 billions of trash enter the ocean every year. National Geographic estimates that there are about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean and counting. Most of these items will never biodegrade, leading to the creation of massive "trash islands," with the most famous being the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

Living in Santa Monica, California, it makes sense that this cause is close to Ausland's heart. She adds, "I also want FTO to create awareness of the plastic issue and inspire day-to-day behavioral changes — which is really the most important part of real change. My hope is for FTO to be a bright spot in people's day and leave them with a feeling that they've made a difference, because they have."