Shailene Woodley Fights to Protect Oceans With New Sustainable Partnerships

The advocate/actor says she’s determined to help turn the tide on marine pollution.

Plastic Pollution Ocean

Carmen Martínez Torrón / Getty Images

In the late summer of 2019, only months before the global pandemic would force the world to take a collective pause, Shailene Woodley found herself in the middle of the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic. The actor and avid environmentalist was participating in a fact-finding mission with Greenpeace to study the impact of plastics and microplastics on marine life. 

What they discovered in Sargasso, where natural currents create a vortex of gathering human garbage, was worse than Woodley could have imagined. In less than an hour, the crew had skimmed over a thousand pieces of various plastics from an area of water covering only two feet diameter of the ocean surface. 

“A thousand pieces that will live on to haunt the stomachs of my future children when they ingest wild fish,” she wrote in a piece for Time. “A thousand pieces that will never decompose. A thousand pieces that rattled a hopelessness into me. A guilt so profound, I’m still struggling with it today.”

Greenpeace would later release a report saying the concentration of microplastics discovered in the Sargasso Sea was greater than even the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which itself is now comparable in size to that of the surface area of France.

Shailene Woodley
Shailene Woodley. Shane Gross / Greenpeace

For Woodley, the experience made her vow to make changes in her personal life and fight harder to bring change to whatever products could help make a difference. 

“I will be more conscious with how I approach single-use plastics by replacing some of them with easily reusable products: stainless steel water bottles, reusable travel utensils, less consumption of single-use plastic snacks like chips and nuts,” she wrote. 

Her rallying cry also naturally brought offers to partner on initiatives directly focused on reducing ocean waste. Her first was a partnership with American Express on credit cards made from recycled ocean microplastics. Her second, which came during the pandemic and led to a masked journey halfway around the world, was with a firm focused on creating eyewear from discarded fishing nets and other ocean plastics. 

An invitation to see the world from a different point of view

Woodley, who has always been an environmentalist that just happens to be a Hollywood actress (instead of the more common other way around), does not enter into any of these arrangements without first doing a lot of homework. For her latest with sustainable eyewear company Karün, the 29-year-old traveled to Patagonia to meet personally with founder Thomas Kimber. 

"The first conversation we had, we were finishing each other's sentences in a way that I had never experienced," Woodley told Shape magazine. "Our ideas on what a future world could look like were so similar."

Karün, launched in 2012, uses recycled plastic—mainly nylon ghost nets, castaways from ships that haunt the oceans and injure or kill countless marine animals each year— to create stylish eyewear. To encourage the retrieval of these nets, as well as other harmful plastic waste, the company partners with over 200 micro-entrepreneurs in Southern Chile. 

“Cleaning ocean plastics becomes a source of income for micro-entrepreneurs in Patagonia,” Kimber said. “By doing so, they can scale their sustainable businesses and create economic opportunities.” 

The company’s motto, to see the world from a different point of view, as well as its commitment to working under a circular and regenerative model, likely spoke directly to the core lessons of what Woodley took from her time in the Sargasso. 

"Those microplastics—there's no way we will ever clean them up," Woodley added to Shape. "No matter how many eyeglasses we make. No matter how many other material goods we create using them.

"What we can change is consuming that plastic in the first place. I'm always much more focused on the human side of the environmentalist mission because until we address that, nothing will happen."

Woodley's collection with Karün includes 12 glasses in different styles and all made using regenerated nylon, recycled metals, and recycled polycarbonate. For her, working with a startup like this is yet another opportunity to help find creative solutions to troubling issues. 

"I don't want to save the ocean because my mind says it's the right thing to do,” she said. “I want to save the ocean because I can feel that she's suffering. I can feel that turtle drowning from the plastic in its belly. I can feel the temperatures rising on the algae that is killing other species. For me, everything is based in feeling and emotion.”

In addition to their new partnership with Woodley, Karün also launched a collection this past fall with National Geographic

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