On 26 July 2019, 22-year-old Sam Bencheghib asked the crowd of friends, supporters and media gathered around him, to take two deep breaths as a reminder of the importance that the oceans have in giving life.
Bencheghib was about to embark upon a 3,100-mile run across the United States of America from coast to coast. He planned to average 20 miles per day for six months, running from New York City to Los Angeles. The journey was going to take him across 13 states, through mountains, fields, dirt roads and highways. He would withstand scorching heat at some points, and icy air at others.
For such an enormous task, Bencheghib chose a purpose close to his heart: raising awareness about ocean pollution.
Growing up in Bali, Bencheghib and his siblings Gary and Kelly were directly confronted with the impact that plastic pollution has on the environment. According to Gary Bencheghib, “It was everywhere and you could not look away from it.”
Barely teenagers, they founded Make a Change Bali (now Make a Change World)—a youth-led environmental organization with the goal of cleaning the coastlines.
Ten years later, living in the United States Bencheghib realized that the impact that plastics have on the ocean is not always as visible to the inland American as it was to the siblings as they grew up in coastal Bali. The Ocean2Ocean run was designed to raise awareness about the prevalence of plastic pollution, to instigate action and to learn about the challenges that the United States faces in reducing its plastic footprint.
Bencheghib ensured that his challenge was not contributing to the plastic problem by running with shoes made from upcycled plastic trash. He also shopped with zero-waste packaging along the journey, bringing refillable containers to stores and eating from recyclable tins instead of single-use plastic containers. He also collected plastic trash as he ran, keeping it with him until he found somewhere to recycle it in his support campervan (whom he affectionately referred to as Jenny).
School talk, Photo by Make a Change World
Along his journey, he met with over 9,000 people to discuss the issue. He visited universities, schools, recycling facilities, environmental activists and governments. He learned that the plastic pollution problem is not visible to all, but it is everyone’s problem.
If we are to solve the issue, we need change from all—policymakers, producers, consumers, educators and youth.
Bencheghib’s Make a Change World project is in line with the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Clean Seas campaign, whose goal is to galvanize change amongst all stakeholders. The campaign encourages people to reduce plastic consumption by reusing existing plastics, pushing for innovation in the plastic supply chain and moving towards circularity.
UNEP’s Head of Public Advocacy and Communication Atif Butt said, “Sam Bencheghib’s epic run through 13 states, mobilizing governments, young people and the general public to fight against plastic pollution, is an inspiring feat. If Sam can run for 3055 miles for a healthier ocean, each of us can certainly make small efforts to challenge ourselves to do more for the environment in our day-to-day lives. From using a reusable bottle to refusing plastic straws, there are so many things that we could and should be doing that don’t require us to break a sweat!”
On 1 February 2020, after running 117 marathons, Sam Bencheghib concluded his run by jumping into the Pacific Ocean. “It’s hard to put into words what finishing this 3,055-mile journey across America and jumping into the Pacific Ocean feels like,” he said. “Although there were so many obstacles along the way, this run has taught me so much about the plastic industry in this country and the lack of awareness, education and action going on when it comes to plastic.”
Pacific Ocean, Photo by Devin L'amoreaux
Sam plans to continue his work. The next adventure will be to test floating trash booms to capture pollution on Bali’s streams and rivers. He also be raising awareness about his work in New York City after winning a contest organized by YouTubers Ryan Serhant, Casey Neistat and DudeWithSign.
Are you inspired by Sam Bencheghib? If you are also a running enthusiast, why not take up plogging (running whilst picking up litter)? Pledge here to reduce your plastic footprint.
About Clean Seas
The United Nations Environment Programme launched the Clean Seas Campaign in 2017 with the goal of galvanizing a global movement to turn the tide on plastic by reducing the use of unnecessary single-use plastics and phasing out intentionally added microplastics. Since then, 60 countries have pledged to do their part improve plastics management through, among other measures, reducing the prevalence of single-use plastics. Learn more about the campaign and how you can help, consider joining the global partnership on marine litter and follow our social media campaign @UNEP on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.