Senior Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic (The Story of Stuff Project) and Founder, Samudra Skin & Sea
Shilpi is responsible for the development and implementation of communications strategies that advance the goals of the Break Free From Plastic global movement. Shilpi builds alliances and communications flows between Europe, Asia, and North America and draws out stories from Break Free member organizations to share with the world.
Prior to joining Break Free From Plastic, Shilpi worked at Mission Blue/ Syliva Earle Alliance to further their mission of igniting public support for a global network of marine protected areas. She brings a decade of experience in ocean advocacy and conservation policy including coalition building around plastic waste prevention. Shilpi is also the founder of Samudra Skin & Sea, an ocean-inspired skincare line featuring wild harvested, local seaweed. Using clean ingredients, zero-waste packaging, and brand activism, her goal is to bring key issues facing the ocean to everyday consumers.
She holds a Master’s degree in Earth and Environmental Resources Management, with a concentration in marine affairs from the University of South Carolina, and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Policy from Virginia Tech University. Her writing has been published in The Economist; Yes! magazine; the Stanford Journal of Law, Science & Policy; Huffington Post, and National Geographic Ocean Views.
What is the educational and career path that led to your current career?
It was a study abroad trip to Cairns, Australia, home to the Great Barrier Reef, when I was a college undergrad at Virginia Tech University. Being exposed to the human impacts on the environment, specifically, the ocean, sparked a lifelong desire to protect our blue planet. I took my interest a step further and focused my efforts in graduate school on marine protected areas – creating underwater national parks to safeguard earth’s most precious resources. After being introduced to the rocky inter-tidal ecosystem (and the magical world of seaweeds), my curiosity led me to the world of underwater exploration and a human-powered submersible in a later position! For the last 10 years, my work in ocean advocacy has ranged from fisheries policy, marine protected areas, seaweed ecology, and plastic pollution, with an emphasis on science, policy, and communications. In July 2017, I was recruited to take the role as a Senior Communications Officer to amplify the work of the organizations behind the Break Free From Plastic movement, shifting my focus on ocean plastics to communities most impacted.
What environmental issues are of most concern to you?
I’m currently all plastics all the time. The focus of my work with Break Free From Plastic is telling the REAL story behind plastic pollution. The ocean is the most visible part of the problem, but plastic pollutes during the entire course of its life cycle – from extraction to production to disposal. In fact, plastic production, which is fossil fuel based is expected to increase by 40% in the next decade, and this part of the process, the production, and refinement of plastic, is already having grave impacts on communities that live near these facilities. Further, Asia is constantly portrayed as the region responsible for plastic pollution, which is simply inaccurate as it doesn’t get to the root part of the problem. As an Indian American, this concept is not only infuriating but false on multiple levels. For one, here in the US, we have been shipping our waste overseas for decades, and in fact, only 9% of our plastic waste has been recycled since the 1950’s. Second, corporations in the global north are predatorily opening markets in countries in Asia and Africa knowing that there is no where for this waste to go. As someone who cares deeply about the well-being of our planet, the intersectionality of plastics with climate change, environmental justice, and human health is equally important to communicate alongside ocean plastics. And this why I am ever-so-inspired to work as a communicator for Break Free: having the privilege to amplify the work of the incredible activists fighting against the entire plastics life cycle is incredibly rewarding. Our movement is literally changing the relationship we have with plastic at a global level. Join the movement by visiting: www.breakfreefromplastic.org and stay tuned for the release of Story of Plastic, the first feature-length documentary unveiling the true cost of plastic pollution.
What inspired you to start your business and how did you take the leap to start it?
I sort of fell into seaweeds use in health and wellness through my research on the conservation and socio-economic aspects of the plant. A trip to India in 2014 opened my eyes to Ayurveda, sustainable seaweed farming, and socio-economic empowerment which sparked a desire to create the line. Seaweed, considered a superfood, is chockful of vitamins, antioxidants, and over 60 trace minerals that also feed and nourish skin. We use edible grade kelp which is grown in the nutrient-rich waters of the Mendocino coast, which is hand-harvested to ensure conservation and quality (the two go hand in hand). We have a less-is-more mentality when it comes to skincare, and use pure ingredients to create our formulas. There are no sulfates, parabens, fragrances, glutens, dyes, or artificial synthetics in our products — and of course, we are proudly plastic-free!