Bringing the Ocean to Society
14 Nov 2018
Smoking Kills – Not Only You!
Pock It - Don’t Drop It: a campaign by marine sciences student Leona Von Stein that might make our beaches and ocean free of cigarette butts.

The presence of plastic in the marine environment is not something we noticed now. It has been there for decades. We knew about it. At least some did. We just did not perceive it as such a big problem. We all know that has changed by now. Is there anyone out there who has not heard about marine plastic in the last year or so?

Plenty of people have opened many eyes and touched many hearts about plastics. Awareness is on the increase thanks to the effort of those who decided to take action. It is safe to say that we never spoke so much about plastic. Did we ever spoke so much about any environmental issue?

Around the world, citizens, NGOs, companies, researchers, and politicians have taken action and reached out to the masses. More and more people finally know how big of a problem plastic is. Our society was never so well informed about how we impact the planet and anything that lives on it. Little by little, people start to understand how not so sustainable consumption habits coupled with an apparently careless behaviour are posing serious threats to this planet that is home to all of mankind.

Single-use plastics have a huge target on them right now. Everyday there is a new country, a new city, a new company, a new institution banning them. Soon, laws and regulations will exist to control the production, use and disposal of things we used all our lives like plastic straws, plastic bottles and plastics bags. But what about the cigarette butts?

It is astonishing!  Cigarette butts are the most found litter item worldwide by count. Cigarette butts contain up to 7000 chemicals of which many are toxic or even carcinogenic. They are often made from cellulose acetate, a non-biodegradable plastic, leaking these chemicals that pollute millions of litres of water when carelessly dropped on the ground. Meaning, cigarette butts do harm aquatic organisms. The WHO estimates the discarded waste from cigarettes to be as high as 680 million kg.

When Leona Von Stein found out about this she knew she had to take action. Born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, she did not grown up exactly by the ocean. At age 15, she spent six months in New Zealand and that was when she felt in love for two things: travelling and our ocean. She has not spent much time away from the sea since then. This ocean lover started to also feel plenty of frustration and even anger when observing any marine pollution situation. Among many other feelings, she gets angry when some humans impact the place where other humans, for example, want to have fun and have quality times. She spent some time simply trying to understand how something so simple as carrying your own litter after a day at the beach and dispose it in an appropriate place is not seen as common sense by some people. She later learnt that there was a huge lack of awareness in some sectors of society. The truth is that many people really are not aware of what impact their actions have and they end up contributing to the destruction of the ecosystems we all depend on to live. 

Leona created her very own campaign to raise awareness on cigarette butts in 2018. Pock It - Don’t Drop It emerged from her belief that there are many people out there who want to become active, but often do not really know how to start. A problem she knows very well. This first initiative aimed at informing people about the problems associated to cigarette butts and inspiring them with practical ideas that could make a difference. Whether you are an individual smoker or you run a bar, there is something for you to implement.

Leona now has a life in Faro, in the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal. Motivated by her first campaign, she created her own Spot of Hope outside the beach house where she lives. The perfect weather, that glorious sunshine, the beauty of the coast, the delicious food and the friendliness of the locals attract millions of visitors to the Algarve every year. A small amount of them pass in front of her place in Praia the Faro. She installed an outdoor ashtray she built with an old container for those who are smoking nearby. Next to it, she always has some flyers about Pock It - Don’t Drop It. She just loves to watch strangers that pass by and notice her Spot of Hope. When they grab a flyer and walk towards a day on the sand or waves talking about cigarette butts, her smile says it all: mission accomplished!

EurOcean got recently in contact with Leona. We wanted to know what her drive is; where does her connection with the ocean comes from; why did she took action about the cigarettes butts. Here is what she told us:

My motivation is to learn as much as I can about the challenges and opportunities that we are facing concerning our environment. Not only do we depend on nature, it also plays such a vital role to our wellbeing. Seeing how us humans often do not realize how we treat the Earth we all live on makes me feel sad but it also motivates me to change something about it. It is also always great to know that I am by far not alone on this.

I was lucky to grow up in a way that I got to travel a lot and experience all different kinds of environments. This also opened my eyes to the big impact we have on the environment. One of these moments was surfing between plastic bags when I was volunteering in a kids surf camp in Hong Kong. At age 15 I did a six months high school year abroad and that was it: I always wanted to live by the ocean from then on.

I have since taken every chance to travel and stay in places longer than just a short visit and have lived in Costa Rica, San Francisco, France and now in Portugal. I enjoy water sports like sailing and swimming and also love to spend my time reading, hiking or going for dinner with friends.

I volunteered for the Surfrider Foundation and did a six months internship in their European headquarters, working on the plastic bag campaign. This and another internship at the department of the environment of the city of San Francisco has taught me a lot about work related to environmental protection.

My choice to start a master´s degree at the University of Algarve in Fisheries and Aquaculture was born when I wrote my bachelor´s thesis on sustainable aquaculture. Throughout my bachelor´s I have always tried to do every project and related every class to ocean topics.

I got very interested in questions related to marine protection, fisheries management and conservation. Aquaculture is such an important and ever growing industry that has a lot to do with these topics.

I have now developed a major interest in the farming of seaweeds as a sustainable resource for various industries such as the food industry and am excited to write my master thesis on this topic.

Obviously, Leona will not stop here. She has plans for further dissemination of Pock It - Don’t Drop It and she already has her hands in an experiment that may result in an ashtray box to be installed in places where people tend to gather like bars and restaurants.

Inspired? Want to learn more? Want to help Leona spreading the word and reach a bigger audience? It’s easy… tell her!