Richard Arterbury, founder of the Ocean Blue Project, began developing an interest in plastic pollution and protecting our ocean wildlife the way so many others across the country and world have: attending a beach cleanup. At the time, he was working full time and went to a cleanup for fun with his son, but he began sending emails and organizing further cleanups himself with dedicated volunteers. After seeing what a huge impact these cleanups and related educational efforts had had with just a few people, he decided to form his own nonprofit and see how he could continue to grow and expand cleanup efforts.
8 years since the formation of the Ocean Blue Project, the organization helps to provide resources for student groups, community organizations, and concerned citizens across the country who want to organize their own cleanups or river restoration projects. Ocean Blue’s volunteers picked up 50,000 pounds of plastic waste from beaches in 2018 alone, with a significant percentage of that plastic headed to recycling centers instead of the landfill, and they have an ambitious goal of planting one million trees in support of river restoration by 2025.
For Arterbury, a key component of Ocean Blue’s success in expanding to new areas has been a commitment to listening to communities. By starting from a positive mindset and sharing values and solutions instead of passing judgment, Arterbury and Ocean Blue have been able to learn where communities stand and proceeding from there instead of trying to do things the same exact way in each cleanup or restoration project. As Arterbury puts it, “everyone has a piece of passion in them”, and the core of his work is teaching passionate people who have an interest in giving back to their community where opportunities lie and how to take advantage of them.
Though Arterbury and Ocean Blue have expanded a great deal since their first days in Oregon, the state still stands out for its casual but dedicated commitment to beach cleanups and looking after our natural areas: “it’s just what people do in Oregon!” In a state with more trees than people and incredible biodiversity, Arterbury says it’s not uncommon to see 20, 50, or even 100 people at a beach cleanup, and he’s met people who walk the beach every single day and pick up trash. For Oregonians who want to help out and give back, Arterbury recommends finding a local nonprofit and offering to volunteer. Working together, we can transform the way our country and world use plastics and begin to protect our wildlife and environment: “[change] starts out small but keeps growing with time, driven by passion”.