This spring, Ashlan Cousteau and Anna Getty went topless, but it wasn’t just for fun – their posts were part of a wider movement in support of a new environmental action campaign, #foamfree.

When we – the 5 Gyres team – surveyed our community, we assumed it would be more educated and proactive about polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam – better known as styrofoam – but we were surprised.

Only half of the individuals we surveyed were able to property identify these plastics by the recycling number six, and less than 20 per cent said they would use social media to promote a polystyrene ban.

In response, our non-profit organisation – which first identified plastic microbead pollution in 2012 and then campaigned for a successful federal ban in 2015 – launched the #foamfree action campaign in March.

#foamfree is designed to do five key things:

  • Raise awareness about the facts on polystyrene
  • Encourage people to pledge to refuse these plastics
  • Connect individuals with polystyrene bans through an interactive map
  • Deliver the tools they need to start a ban
  • Amplify through direct action to elected representatives through email, phone call or tweet

The campaign also serves to raise awareness about preemptive legislation, the so-called “ban on bans,” which is a state-wide ban on the restriction of plastic containers – such as polystyrene and plastic bags – that’s been implemented in nine states since 2015.

Polystyrene products are made from styrene, a known carcinogen, which can leach into food and drinks.

A tongue-in-cheek take on the issue is delivered through the campaign’s video, with influencers David Stover of Bureo Skateboards and sports broadcaster Angela Sun from the Oakland A’s, challenging viewers to “go topless” by refusing a polystyrene lid, and demonstrating an athletic feat – completed with cup in hand – asking, “If I can do this without spilling – you can walk, right?” 


In response, the 5 Gyres community began posting #topless4oceans photos and videos on social media. “Polystyrene products are made from styrene, a known carcinogen, which can leach into food and drinks,” said our 5 Gyres Co-Founder & Research Director, Dr. Marcus Eriksen. Adding, "People don’t recognize that these products go beyond styrofoam cups - to lids, cutlery, and tableware. It’s a human health issue.”

This fall, #foamfree will expand through the release of the first-ever analysis of styrene leaching from polystyrene plastic into food and drinks, conducted by Chelsea Rochman at the University of Toronto. Through the campaign, 5 Gyres is working to support California polystyrene bans, such as the Ocean Pollution Reduction Act (SB 705), which would ban polystyrene foam food and drink containers in the state.

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 “We believe that raising awareness can do for polystyrene what we did for microbeads,” said 5 Gyres Co-Founder & Global Strategy Director Anna Cummins. “Polystyrene is this year’s plastic bag. Let’s get it banned.” #foamfree is supported by Klean Kanteen and Nordic Naturals, with non-profit partners from the Plastic Pollution Coalition, to Surfrider, to the Lonely Whale Foundation.

How #foamfree are you? Click here to take the pledge!

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This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action.