DOWNTOWN Anna Cummins is making the grade these days.
The Santa Monica resident is on a mission to teach the young and the old about the way human consumption has created a garbage patch estimated to be the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean.
Although Cummins said she always had an interest in the environment-managing a compost pile in the backyard at age 14, her green mission didn’t begin until she heard Charles Moore, a chemist and avid sailor, speak.
In 1997, sailing back from a yacht race to Hawaii, the Long Beach-based Moore, decided to take a short cut across the North Pacific Gyre. Fishermen and sailors typically avoid the gyre due to a lack of currents and fish. Moore had supplies and was not in a hurry at the time. He decided to venture off the beaten path with shocking results.
Moore came upon a plastic ocean as far as the eye could see. Wrappers, bottles, caps, and refuge all hung in the sea. As he has spread the word, Cummins has been one of the people touched by his experience and inspired to do more.
“A lot of people talk about change, but it’s another thing to actually live it,” Sara Laimon, green ambassador director, at Environmental Charter High School, said.
Cummins carries around a stainless steel coffee mug everywhere she goes to cut down on all of the waste generated by lattes and tea. She also totes a portable bamboo utensil kit made by a friend who specializes in to-go-ware, avoiding plastic waste from spoons and forks at restaurants.
Laimon, who has known and worked on projects with her over the past three years, said Cummins is a great example to others because she doesn’t just talk about change.
“Her life is dedicated to making sure it happens,” Laimon said.
Besides doing outreach to schools through her job at Algalita Marine Research, the non-profit that Charles Moore founded, Cummins has been involved in a variety of projects of late. She has launched her own campaign called Bringyourown, through which she encourages people to shun plastic and bring their own reusable cloth bags to grocery stores.
She recently received a grant from Patagonia, and outdoor clothing company that specializes in organic materials. Through the grant, Cummins received enough money to make 400 Bringyourown bags. For the grant, she decided to focus on making reusable produce bags seeing it as an area of neglect even by environmentally conscious folks like those who patronize farmers’ markets.
Cummins said she thought about contracting with a company in India to have smaller produce bags, which are made of old T-shirts, sewn together, but finally decided to keep it local, working with women her sister knows through her job as a social worker in nearby Lennox.
Those who are lucky enough to get one of the bags must sign a pledge saying they will use the bag 10 times and make a call to a local legislator to encourage them to ban plastic.
In addition to her Bringyourown campaign, Cummins was involved in doing ground control and writing the blog for junkraft, a 30-foot-long raft made of 15,000 bottles that her fiancé, Marcus Eriksen, sailed to Hawaii along with another Algalita Marine Research staffer to draw attention to the way plastic is polluting fish and sea.
“We’ve got to do something crazy to get the world’s attention,” Cummins said regarding the voyage.
Cummins is not just committed to stopping plastic ocean pollution. She also tries to reduce her carbon footprint by riding around on an Xtracycle, a bike that has a skateboard located behind the seat with bags where groceries and other items can be hauled comfortably around town. Cummins said people can take a ride on the Xtracycle’s additional skateboard seat and even surf on it if they like.
“The time is right to come up with more solutions,” Cummins said of her decision to try to avoid using a car as much as possible.
Cummins grew up in Rustic Canyon and has traveled extensively living in Argentina, Spain, and California’s central San Francisco Bay area. Even though she said she loves the bay area, Cummins admits her roots are deep. She also finds much to love about the place where she grew up including the Santa Monica bike culture and all of the Farmers’ Markets in town.
Besides riding her bike around town, enjoying Santa Monica’s walking culture, the talented Cummins can also be found on Wednesday nights playing her violin at a local tango night in Culver City.
“I think Anna’s one of the most raddest girls in all of Southern California not only does she have organizing and community change skills, she has skills about having fun and being playful. She’s just a huge light,” Laimon said.