Conscious People: Interview with Kate Nelson @plasticfreemermaid

Arun Jayara July 09, 2020
Conscious People: Interview with Kate Nelson @plasticfreemermaid

Be prepared to jump out of your chair after reading this post, because Kate Nelson is changing the world and her words will have you wanting to get behind her and do the same.

Kate has been on a mission to reduce the amount of plastic pollution the world consumes since discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of ocean where the currents converge and our non-biodegradable trash collects and creates dead zones. Soon after, Kate is co-founded the nonprofit Save the Mermaids, which encourages women to act as ambassadors to the ocean and offers ocean adventure and education to youth in Southern California. After years of lobbying politicians, an elder activist advised her that people won't change unless something impacts their health or their wallets. With this in mind, she has begun evaluating how her health and wallet have benefited from quitting plastics and plans to share this nature-centric perspective.

Originally from the United States, Kate fell in love with the romantic, rugged Australian coast and has settled for the moment in blissful Byron Bay. Kate surfs, practices yoga and loves this tropical climate for gardening and outdoor adventures. She shares her journey at @plasticfreemermaid and her current campaign, #TOPLESSfortheSEA, urges you to go topless on your coffees. Skip the plastic lid!

Take the Mermaid Pledge to Ban Plastic

We got chatting to Kate about her movement and how she consciously creates an eco-friendly lifestyle for herself.

Interview with Kate Nelson

1. Tell us about your environmental consciousness - has it always been like this or was there a moment which sparked change?

I was raised to always leave a place better than how I found it. When we went camping, we would clean all around our site and to the neighbouring sites as well. I also had parents that loved outdoor adventures, so an appreciation for nature was instilled in me at a young age. In college I got certified to scuba dive and I was absolutely blown away by the incredible underwater world. I started volunteering my time with ocean conservation non-profits; the more I learned about pollution and other threats to the marine ecosystem, the more I was motivated to get involved for positive change.  

2. What is your vision for the plastic free movement and some goals you have in the coming years?

Ideally, legislation in place that reduces the supply of single-use disposable plastics. I have been working on banning plastic bags in NSW for over a year now; the government has vowed to put a ban in place, but it is taking far longer than we would hope. Despite heavy lobbying, it is just a waiting game for the government to slowly ban plastic bags, then we can start to push for a ban on the next disposable item that are made from a material that never biodegrades. It's hugely frustrating, but then you see countries in Asia and Africa banning these items purely because they don't have the waste management systems or wealth to deal with such irresponsible pollution. If we could be so humble as to learn from these developing nations, it could do us--and the world--so much good.

In the meantime, I hope to keep building consciousness around plastic pollution and, more importantly, the easy solutions that in fact make life more beautiful without plastic in it!

Save the mermaids - ban plastic

3. What has been your biggest success to date with this beautiful mission of yours?

Just after college I formed a non-profit organisation called Save the Mermaids with my girlfriends. We felt upset by the species-wide addiction to plastics, yet instead of protesting on the streets we wanted to be solution-oriented and inspire people to have hope. We were able to successfully lobby our City Council--dressed as mermaids of course--to ban plastic bags in our home town of Santa Barbara.

4. Your Instagram is a gorgeous collection of outdoor inspiration, tell us about how the environment inspires you and how do you stay in greater harmony with the earth?

I feel very connected to the rhythms of nature; the wax and wane of the moon, the ebb and flow of the tide, the inhale and exhale in my own body. I have dedicated time and energy to be barefoot outside and develop a relationship with the outdoors, because I am acutely aware that I breathe air from the trees, drink water that falls from the sky, and eat food that blossoms up out of the earth's skin. The thought actually fills me with immense awe at how perfect our planet operates, and how fortunate we are to be so intricately interwoven amongst these natural systems. With this awareness, I intentionally venture out to spend time in nature to cherish being a part of nature as well as welcome in more experiences--both the simple and truly breathtaking.

Feeling the sun on my skin or a wave rolling across my back underwater. Witnessing a rainbow stretch just momentarily across the expansive sky or walking through the woods to discover a half moon of private sand for a secret skinny dip. While the trees literally keep our body alive, these sorts of experiences keep our spirit alive--and thriving.

Australians use over 4M plastic bags every year.

5. What are your hot tips that people can use now to start being more environmentally conscious?

Baby steps. Take on what is reasonable for you. Don't think it will come overnight. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.

I decided to focus on plastics, because I noticed how much plastic was in my daily life and I realised "I am in control of my life, therefore I am in control of how much plastic I use--or don't use." So, I started phasing it out. Taking an audit of your plastic use over a month or a two-week period can also help you build awareness. Try keeping EVERY bit of plastic you use. Then identify what is non-essential! Start to replace the plastic items with reusable items or alter your routine, you might surprise yourself with the creative hacks you come up with!

6. What does your wellness lifestyle look like in a day? How do you stay happy and healthy?

Quitting plastics has actually been the best thing for my health since I started yoga. I practice and teach yoga daily; this keeps me active, which I find helps me want to eat healthier as well. I am quite aware of my physical structure, thus sensitive to what I eat and drink as it directly impacts how I feel. Since I quit plastics, I have learned to be more intentional about my food and drink choices. Takeaway coffee cups, despite looking like paper or cardboard, are in fact lined with a thin layer of plastic! So, coffee stopped being an automatic "yes!" If I think coffee might give me a good kick in the butt for the day, I'll bring my own mug. Otherwise I might say yes to the social gathering of friends in the morning, but wait until I get home to brew myself a self-love infused turmeric ginger tea or blend up a green smoothie.

Since I have to say no to most takeaway items and all things packaged in plastic, I have ended up getting really creative in the kitchen. It makes me happy to experiment with actual foods and not just take down the chemicals and additives found in processed foods; my body surely enjoys the extra care.

Save the mermaids

7. How can we join you and support your cause?

I am working on a program to help wean the world off plastics, so as I prepare to fully launch the I Quit Plastics program please peruse the blog portion of the website ( and also follow my instagram @plasticfreemermaid for tips and opportunities to jump on board with social campaigns, events, petitions, etc. My current campaign is to remind you to bring your own coffee mug to the cafe, but if you forget, at least skip the plastic lid and go topless! Get involved: #ToplessForTheSea  

Quick Q's

You'll always find in my fridge...

My beauty products! My philosophy with beauty and hygienic care is if you can't eat it, you probably shouldn't smear it on your skin. Whatever we absorb through our skin goes straight into our bloodstream! All those lotions, plumper creams, sunscreens are all packed with chemicals. A bit of coconut oil and a drop of essential oil will work wonders. I also make my own deodorant, toothpaste, lotions, and zinc-based sunscreen. If you were looking for food: rocket. Or as we call it in the states, Arugula.

If I could have dinner with one inspirational person it would be...

Richard Branson. He has built an incredible empire after many failed attempts, is open about his path, and so encouraging to all of us to pursue all that comes our way. Plus he dressed as a mermaid for World Ocean's Day this year to raise awareness for preventing further pollution. I respect a billionaire who's not afraid to get scaly.

My favourite quote is....

This keeps me committed: 

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

This keeps me wandering and wondering: 

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever." Jacques Cousteau

My non-negotiable self-care practice...

Yoga. Taking time to stretch, sweat, breath, and bring stillness to my mind.

My number one wellness tip...

Quit plastics. It will really amaze you as your life transforms into a plant-rich, garden growing, home-made, DIY lifestyle. If you're not quite there yet, then invest in coconut oil. And use it for EVERYTHING.  

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