We had the good fortune of connecting with Elizabeth Sherr and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elizabeth, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
After finishing my masters in marine science in the Basque Country, I moved to Barcelona for work and found a place walking distance to the sea, where I feel most happy. However, my happy place soon became a place where I felt sad and angry as I would wake up to a trash covered beach every morning from picnics and parties the day before. It wasn’t just a few bottles here and there either, rather a constant cycle of piles of beer cans, plastic bottles, liquor bottles, straws, cigarette butts and more spread along the coast. So, I decided to turn my negative feelings into positive actions.
I recently realized that picking up trash has been one of my “hobbies” since 15 years ago, starting from the suburbs of New York where I grew up, to the coasts of Florida where I was head of the Surfrider Foundation club at my university, to anytime and anywhere during my solo backpacking travels. Therefore, making morning beach cleanups part of my daily routine at the Barcelona beach felt like the least I could do. However, in addition to city cleaners doing their best to pick up the trash, it was impossible to collect it all. The sea needed more help and more people needed to be aware of the scale of this issue.
I started posting videos of my cleanups on Tik Tok and the approach to my videos was to raise awareness through a positive lens because I wanted viewers to be curious and feel inspired to do the same in their own communities. To make it more fun for myself and inviting for viewers, I created what I called a “Trash Challenge.” I said that for each follower, I would pick up a piece of trash. At the end of every video, I shared how many pieces I collected that day. This idea went viral with one video reachin 1.3M views, which is still so crazy to me. The followers, however, were not the goal. I simply wanted to reach a wider audience to share the message that we all can partake in daily actions to protect the oceans. After gaining a surprising amount of support, I needed many more hands to complete the Trash Challenge. People from all over the world started commenting that they picked 3 pieces of trash on their way to school, 300 pieces over the weekend, 1,000 pieces with their friends, 2,000 with their family — all to add to the Challenge!
The positive attention gained from the Trash Challenge somehow reached the European Parliament who had asked me to help them with another Trash Challenge for World Ocean Day 2021. We came up with the goal of picking up 502,000 pieces of trash in advance of World Ocean Day to represent the number of kilograms (502kg) the average European produces in municipal waste per year. Though it was a really ambitious goal, I believed the power of positive communication through social media could get us there.
I made frequent videos of my cleanups, plastic pollution, and the importance of protecting our oceans on Tik Tok and Instagram as part of this campaign with the call to action to comment how (1) many pieces of trash viewers collected and (2) from which country they participated. At the end of the campaign, our results showed that people from at least 33 countries participated in the challenge, and we overachieved our goal reaching close to 800k pieces! Since then (nearly a year ago), my activism has continued and I have had the privilege of being part of several ocean-related campaigns, activities and events all while making connections, both in person and virtually, with like-minded ocean and nature lovers.
Even though this question is asking how I came up with this idea for my business, which I do not have, I suppose you can call me a content creator, though I prefer ocean/sustainability activist or communicator. Just like every piece of trash counts, every positive message we share counts. The more we raise awareness, the more we can connect with each other and make a change. Hopefully in the future, I’ll take on my activism role full time. Down the line, I have a dream of creating an organization within the theme of marine conservation and “local action, global impact,” however, ideas for that are still secret for now.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
People often tell me they really like how my approach to marine conservation is positive and inspiring. I think it’s easy for any of us, myself included, to dive into “eco anxiety” and sometimes feel hopeless and helpless about the scale of our plastic pollution and, more broadly, destruction of nature. In line with the latest IPCC reports, I firmly believe that it’s not too late to make our blue planet healthy again. So, I try to raise light on the issue by showing actions people can take in their daily lives to become more sustainable and to help protect the environment. By making videos of beach cleanups and ocean facts and asking viewers to take action in their own environments, I often receive messages with photos of people picking up trash from all over the world. The fact that my videos have inspired them to act in their local communities helps me stay motivated to continue on my journey to be an ocean steward, even when it is hard sometimes.
Though I am proud of where I am professionally since my videos have led me to be part of several environmental/sustainable campaigns and collaborations, I’m not where I want to be yet. I know this is just the beginning of my activism journey, and that’s actually the most exciting part. Soon, I will be working from full time to part time in my current job so I can dedicate more time to pursue life as a freelancing ocean activist, which is a huge risk itself! The most difficult challenge, so far, has been balancing my real work life to my activism-content-creating work life, all on top of my mental, physical and social health. The lesson I learned is that there’s always going to be a challenge and a hill to get to where you want to be, but if you keep pushing and work hard, you’ll eventually get past that hill and a steadier road will follow. Also, having an agenda and prioritizing tasks is extremely important. It’s better to not say yes to everything and be proud of the results for the commitments you did say yes to. I also learned that when I feel overwhelmed, sometimes it’s best to simply reconnect with nature. Most of my work requires me to be on my computer and phone, so it’s necessary to take moments to detach and spend time outside in the places you love.
Even if social media were not as popular as it is today, I would still be doing the same actions to protect the environment as I do now. However, we are extremely lucky that we have this tool to educate each other on important topics (often in less than three minutes) and use our passions to make connections around the world. Science communication has always been a passion of mine because throughout my studies in marine science, it was clear to me that there was a gap between scientists and the public. Often, scientific findings are communicated in ways that are not easy to understand, or not communicated at all. It was therefore that my focus in marine science fell within conservation, communication and policy. I plan to take my communications further and more personally through YouTube and blogs this year. I really hope that through my activism and social channels, that I will be able to build a community with other activists and organizations and people who want to be “living blue” for our oceans (my handle is @lizlivingble, and I think we can all live blue together!). There are so many amazing groups and people doing awesome things for our oceans, and I would love to connect us all so that people can know where conservation activities/opportunities are happening around the world as well as track our accomplishments so we can really see how “local action, global impact” makes a difference!
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
One sunny morning, you should definitely start the day with sunrise at Barceloneta beach. If you’re feeling sporty, you can even rent stand up paddle boards and enjoy the views on the clear Mediterranean Sea. Bring a bag in case you find any trash to clean the beach, and then freshen up with a coconut smoothie at Coco House and try their vegan baked goods, or go for an açaí bowl at FitBar.
In no particular order, here are some favorite things to do/places I recommend:
-Get lost in the old streets of the Gothic Quarter and checkout the Barcelona cathedral.
-Go vintage or second hand shopping in Raval (some faves are Humana and Bogo Vintage)
-Check out the skater scene at the Macba
-Go to a local bakery, grab some produce at a local fruiteria and make a picnic at Park Ciutadella. From there, you can walk and see the marvelous Arc de Triumph.
-I’ve only been once to both, but Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia are definitely worth seeing, designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí
-Watch the sunset and listen to street artists from the stairs at Plaça d’Espanya
-Another great sunset spot is the views from the bunkers of Carmel, where you get a 360º city view
-Right within the city, you can find peace in Montjuic where there are big green parks and a castle to visit. For eating, I recommend La Caseta del Migdia which is an outdoor restaurant with a menu del dia where you can view the sea and port, often with live music (check opening hours). Or, if you want simple tapas with a city view, check out Salts bar.
-In the Born district, walk around Passeig del Born for outdoor seating and cozy shops where you’ll also find the Basilica of -Santa Maria del Mar, a beautiful medieval Basilica that is free to enter, as well as the Santa Caterina Market. This market is filled with local restaurants and fresh cheeses, meats, produce, fish, olives and nuts (try to bring your own containers and bags!)
-I highly recommend tapas bar hopping in born. Some faves are: La Xampanyeria (it’s a cava (Spanish version of champagne) bar with amazing small plates, Bastaix (unique variety), La Punctual (beautiful indoor and delicious classics), Rec Comtal 21 (local and outdoors with great classics), Eldiset (pricier but fancier vibe). End with gelato (with vegan options) at Gocce de latte.
-If you want to buy tourist souvenirs, walk down Las Ramblas and make sure you stop at the Mercado de la Boqueria, which is probably the most famous public market of the city.
-Take a day trip to Sitges, about 30-45 minutes via train from Barcleona. This charming beach town has a lot to offer with seaside restaurants, boutiques, and small calas along the beach.
-Take a weekend trip to Costa Brava along the north coast from Barcelona reaching near the border of France. The towns along the sea are beautiful with unique nature and a popular summer destination for locals and tourists alike (and checkout wine Catalan tastings nearby!)
-Take a train from Plaza de Cataluna in the city and in 20 minutes you can stop at Serra de Collserola for nature trails. Then, enjoy local cuisine at the Can Borrell restaurant.
-The Gracia district is also very charming and has two plazas for outdoor aperitivos, and several small music bars.
-If you want a less touristy beach than Barceloneta, then simply hop on the train towards Badalona.
-There are so many museums in Barcelona, so do some research to see which ones may interest you the most. A new one I recently went to, which has been very popular this year, is the Moco Museum. Important to know that every first Sunday of the month, many museums are free with reservation.
This list can go on and on…I love Barcelona so much.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This is such a hard question because I am extremely thankful for the support I’ve had from my family, friends, and ocean organizations I’ve participated with all along the way! It’s not easy to put yourself out there on social media, but it’s also a great way to communicate one’s passion and inspire change. So, I would like to dedicate this shoutout to Dr. Sylvia Earle, a renowned ocean scientisit who has been a huge inspiration throughout my marine science journey. Since middle school, I read her books and watched her documentaries and in an interview on plastic pollution she once said, “You might not care even if you know, but you can’t care if you don’t know.” This quote really sticks with me because if one idea or one video can teach someone about our plastic issue and interest him/her/they to do something about it, that’s a huge win to me.
Other: Tik Tok: https://www.tiktok.com/@lizlivingblue? La Vangaurdia article: https://www.lavanguardia.com/natural/20210608/7512753/elizabeth-sherr-tik-tok-viral-limpiar-oceanos-reto-mundial-trashchallenge-basura-abandonada.html Earth Echo International alumna: https://www.earthecho.org/team/elizabeth-sherr Oceanamogi Communication and Awareness member: https://oceanogami.com/our-team/