As a child, Dmytriy Pereklita looked up to Ulysses, the hero of Homer’s “The Odyssey.” That’s fitting, because just as Ulysses didn’t shy away from intimidating challenges (e.g., a cannibalistic cyclops), Pereklita doesn’t shy away from tackling the plastic waste emergency.
“And what he greatly thought, he nobly dared,” wrote Homer.
Pereklita dares to act on his pro-environment values. He is the founder and chief executive officer of One Piece A Day. One Piece A Day is a nonprofit initiative and app that has gamified the process of picking up litter. In the app, a user snaps a picture of the litter they will dispose of responsibly. Users then total the amount of litter they’ve picked up and will be placed on a leader board, which can serve to motivate further eco-friendly behavior.
“Don’t get overwhelmed into inaction: small steps by many people can change the world,” Pereklita said. “Like picking up one piece of litter a day. One person picking up one piece of litter a day is nothing. One million people picking up one piece a day can change the world.”
One Piece A Day’s goal is to get one million users on their app. That goal doesn’t sound so far-fetched since the app has already seen such major success. When you sign up, you will notice that more than 740,000 recorded pieces of trash have been picked up by users worldwide.
We were excited to chat with Pereklita to learn about his passion, his life journey and how he is working hard to leave his footprint.
Firsthand experiences lead to inspiration
So you may be thinking – a lot of people care about the environment. You even may have splurged on one of those expensive Hydro Flasks to reduce your reliance on single-use packaging. But what about Pereklita allowed him to lead such a successful movement?
Pereklita likes to use his personal experiences to his and others’ benefits. He hasn’t discarded his prior life events – he has recycled those lessons for further use.
“When I was in my early 20s, I was invited to join a development mission to Brazil. We spent six weeks in very remote rural areas and villages, which were very deeply poverty struck. Living and interacting with the people in these communities changed my life,” Pereklita recalled. “I had never been exposed to this depth of poverty, and in some cases, inhumanity. It opened up a deep vein of empathy in my soul and changed me forever.”
“I felt the world in a way I had never felt or seen before and realized that it is not enough to just take care of yourself & your family,” he continued. “We all have a real responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves. My entire life is divided into 2 parts – before and after this moment.”
Beyond Pereklita’s mission experiences, which opened his heart and gave him such a passion for cleaning up the world, he is also inspired by his architectural background. Both Pereklita and his partner Karen Mak are professional architects, and they founded DK Studio together to offer customers superior interior design services.
“In many ways, the desire for a clean planet is philosophically akin to architecture and design – both are trying to make the world a better and more beautiful place,” Pereklita said.
Pereklita specifically recalls an encounter he had with a plastic-destroyed Maya Riviera shoreline in Mexico. (The encounter was unexpected – he was staying at a nearby hotel with his wife and kids, and found the trash during his daily run along the beach.)
“I was dumbstruck by the amount of litter I saw there. It felt like with every step; I was stepping on plastic. I did what I have always done on my runs, which was to start picking up the litter,” he explained. “I picked up many handfuls, filled a few plastic buckets I found with litter and eventually filled four large contractor garbage bags that were lying on the beach. What hit me really hard though was the point at which I had to turn around and run back.”
“I remember standing on the shore of the Maya Riviera and staring at what felt like the entire north coast of Mexico, littered as far as the eye could see, thinking that for the hundreds of pieces I had picked up, I was leaving tens of thousands behind. I hadn’t even made a dent.”
Inspiration into action
The inspiration for the One Piece A Day followed Pereklita’s epiphany on that Mexican shoreline. “All the way back to my hotel my mind kept racing – I didn’t understand what I had run into, but I knew it was much bigger than me, or any one person alone,” he recalls.
“If it was bigger than a single person, I would ask the world to help. I thought if we could create an app that inspired every person on the planet to pick up just one piece of litter a day, we could really make a difference. The idea for the app was born,” Pereklita explained.
Aside from learning from Pereklita’s ability to be inspired by personal experiences, we can also learn about the power of the teachable moment. Future generations will be greatly affected by the planet we are leaving behind, so raising awareness among younger generations is a natural next step to improving the environment.
“A central part of our work at One Piece A Day has always been our work with schools, colleges and universities to raise awareness about the unprecedented levels of litter and plastic pollution on the planet,” Pereklita said.
“After having spoken to thousands of children and students, we realized that all children are environmentalists at heart. They feel the planet and want to help clean it up because it’s the right thing to do.”
Having hope is integral to the mission. “We have a lot of faith in the Generation Z youth,” he said. “We see great youth leaders like Greta Thunberg who are inspiring millions of people around the world. Gen Z youth are the ones who will put purpose over profit. This is huge. They will be the generation to help fix the planet.”
Also, Pereklita teaches us to dare to have substantial and idealistic dreams. If he could go back and give his younger self advice, it would be to not shy away from action.
“I would say be bold, be daring,” Pereklita said. “Find a cause and throw yourself fully into it. The world needs leaders, and you are not too young to make a difference.”
“In fact, the world is listening to our youth, perhaps like never before, “ he said. “There is too much at stake, too much to lose, between climate change, and plastic pollution. Don’t get overwhelmed into inaction. Small actions by many change the world. Go out there and be a leader – starting now!”
We were excited to talk further with Pereklita to learn more about him and One Piece A Day.
Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
I love traveling. I always get inspired and recharged, visiting new places. Travelling opens your mind and senses, and you feel fully alive and fully open to your life and where you are.
I love nature. I get inspired by the ever-changing beauty of nature. Sometimes it’s the grand majesty of the mountains or ocean. Sometimes inspirations come from watching the luminous green color of leaves illuminated by the sun. If you look carefully, every moment in nature is different, fresh and magical.
I get my best ideas while running and cycling. Much of the One Piece A Day app’s inspiration and design came to me on my runs. The trick is to catch the idea in the moment. You need to stop and write it down or voice record it. It’s important to capture the idea in the moment or you risk losing it!
What is one habit you recommend having?
One habit that has been a must in my life for two decades is my daily exercise routine. I don’t miss a single day and for the few days I have, due to travel or working around the clock, I will double up the workout the next day. It’s a combination of yoga and core strength workout. It keeps me fit and flexible. I will also tag on a run, walk or cycle ride, and will almost always pick up trash during these times.
What are some of the greatest struggles in developing a nonprofit organization? How do you overcome challenges with One Piece a Day?
The first challenge was creating something from nothing. I’m not a tech guy and never wrote an app or script before. We struggled for a while, wasting months, then ended up hiring a team to help us.
Possibly the biggest challenge in developing One Piece A Day was that we were creating an app to ask people to pick up litter. It’s not something that would make you money or make your skin radiant: we’re asking you to bend down and pick up trash and then take a picture of that litter! There’s still a bit of a stigma around this in society and it was a bit of an uphill struggle.
The way we overcome this stigma is to help teach people why we’re doing this. Our planet is facing unprecedented levels of litter and plastic pollution that are not only endangering our oceans and their inhabitants (one million seabirds die annually from plastic ingestion), they enter our food chain, the air we breathe and the water we drink. If every person on the planet would pick up just one piece of litter a day, and reconsider their behavior around single-use plastic, we can reverse this trend and start to heal the planet.
Why use One Piece a Day rather than just doing your part and picking up trash when you see it? What is the benefit of tracking these efforts in the app?
This is a question we get all the time. A few years ago, a woman from Alberta commented on one of our Instagram posts saying, “I’ve been picking up litter for 20 years – why do I need your app!”
The answer is multilayered. I have been picking litter for decades. I must have picked up tens of thousands of pieces of litter [while] running and hiking around the planet. What is a bit sad is that I will never know what my contribution was before we created the app.
Our philosophy is what you don’t record, you can’t see. What you can’t see you can’t measure, document and use in your fight against trash in your town, city or country. Once you start to log and track your litter picking action, you can actually see that you’re personally making a difference in cleaning the planet. And together with our global community of users, you realize that you are actually making a difference, and together we’re making an impact. It is inspiring to be part of a global community that is having a real impact on cleaning the plant.
For instance, in February of this year, our global community registered half a million pieces of litter logged on the app, and we are quickly approaching 750,000 pieces of litter cleaned up around the world. If we didn’t take the extra step to log our efforts, the magnitude of this effort would be lost.
We are also mapping the date, time and location of each piece logged, and upcoming V3.1 will be able to generate reports that can be used as documentation in the fight against litter in your local community. Logging locations and litter categories allows users and communities to target particular litter sources and hot spots. The app is actually a very powerful tool in the global fight against plastic and pollution.
It takes a little longer to log the litter on the app, but there are great upsides.
You speak out about plastic and its effect on our environment often. What should everyone understand about single-use plastics?
The most important message we want to convey is that we have all contributed to the plastic trashing of the planet. Currently there are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans with between 4 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic being dumped into our oceans every year (Science Magazine Feb 2015).
The disturbing truth about plastic is that despite our best intentions with recycling, less than 91 percent of plastics are actually recycled worldwide, and every year, a full 32 percent of all plastic packaging ends up in the oceans** (James Pennington, World Economic Forum Oct 2016). This means that if you consume three plastic bottled waters, one of those bottles will end up in the ocean within 12 months, one way or another.
Humanity needs to wake up to the fact that our daily actions are directly impacting the oceans and the planet in a deeply adverse way and link up that our consumer choices and behaviors are hurting the planet. Alternatives are available, but only until people link up in their minds that that little straw in your drink, or plastic lined coffee cup, clear plastic smoothie cup or plastic bag, etc. are contributing to the destruction of our oceans, our behaviors will not change.
Our message of hope is that there is a new generation of manufacturers rising around the world that are creating products that are fully plastic free, 100% organic, compostable alternatives to everything from plastic bags, straws, cutlery, take out containers etc. Because these are still not fully in the public eye, we have decided to add an e-commerce platform to One Piece A Day to offer consumers plastic free shopping choices.
What’s something, personal or professional, you’re currently working on achieving?
The most important project we’re working on includes building an e-commerce platform for One Piece A Day. So many people have asked us how to go plastic free in a plastic packaged world. There are plenty of alternatives coming out daily, but many are not readily available or fully visible to the public. Our mission is to bring plastic free alternatives to the public to give consumers a choice and help people transition to a plastic free life. Watch for the launch of the One Piece A Day plastic-free e-commerce platform!
Where do you see One Piece a Day in the next five years?
Our goal is to have one million users on the App. This is a tall order and will require huge effort and leveraging of all our resources. It’s daunting but I always believed that if a goal does not scare you, it’s probably too small!
We also see One Piece A Day as a meaningful movement that is playing a key role in the transition of our society from a single use plastic economy. This will require a full concerted effort using all of our resources and platforms including the app, our teaching and e-commerce platform!
Who did you look up to as a kid?
I grew up in the golden era of sports in basketball and football. I loved the NBA greats like Magic Johnson, Karim Abdul Jabbar, Larry Bird, Dr. J!
I was also an avid reader and loved Homer’s Odyssey. I always looked up to Ulysses. He had to endure constant unfathomable challenges, armies, beasts, demons internal and external, the loss and destruction of his entire navy, the decay and destabilization of his country in his absence. Through it all, his intelligence, strength, focus and steadfastness guided him home after a brutal 10-year journey. He was larger than life for me. I still think about him to this day and see the lessons in human nature behind the veils of myths and monsters.
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