Meet the Mom Taking on Hollywood and Amazon to End Single-Use Plastics: 'People Are Fed Up'

Habits of Waste founder Sheila Morovati wants society to rethink our plastic addiction, one change at a time: "Everyone who lives on this planet is an environmentalist and a part of the solution"

Sheila Morovati
Sheila Morovati. Photo: Taghi Naderzad

Sheila Morovati has seen how big changes can start small.

A few years ago, the L.A.-based mom of two found herself getting frustrated when a favorite local restaurant kept giving her family straws even when they didn't ask for any. She knew it was more than a mere annoyance — up to 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the U.S., adding to the plastic pollution floating in the ocean near her home.

"We are living and breathing this problem here," says Morovati, 44.

The activist had already learned that as one person, she could make a difference — in 2009, she started a successful campaign to divert used crayons that restaurants give children to schools in need of art supplies. Her non-profit Crayon Collection now operates in all 50 states and nine countries and has redirected more than 20 million crayons from the landfill.

So Morovati took her straw concerns to the beach community of Malibu, where in 2018 she helped push for a plastic straw ban, one of the first of its kind in the world.

As the child of Iranian immigrants (she and her family fled the revolution in the country when she was an infant), Morovati was raised in a home where little was wasted.

"We did not have the luxury to waste," she says. "You don't have the choice and so you learn how to be more mindful from the get-go. You think, 'How can this be done differently?'"

That mindset, along with her degree in sociology from UCLA, led her to explore another wasteful curiosity: Why was it, she wondered, that take-out orders invariably included plastic cutlery, whether you needed it or not?

"We get all this plastic thrown at us we didn't ask for," says Morovati.

It was, she determined, a kind of bad plastic habit we've all developed — Americans discard an estimated 40 billion pieces of plastic cutlery each year.

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Morovati started another non-profit, Habits of Waste, to take on the big delivery companies with a #cutoutcutlery campaign, eventually convincing Uber Eats, Postmates, GrubHub and DoorDash to change the default setting on their food delivery form.

"Now the norm is that no one receives plastic cutlery unless you ask for it," she says. "Default settings are a huge environmental opportunity."

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The change, she says, has kept 122 million cutlery packets out of the waste stream just from Postmates orders alone.

Morovati knows that with 380 tons of plastic produced in the world each year, cutting down on the number of plastic straws or forks Americans use isn't going to solve a climate crisis so dire that one UN official declared we are "firmly on track toward an unlivable world."

But, she says, "it's a conversation starter. People can wrap their heads around this little action and it opens their mind into a whole different way of thinking."

Ultimately, that's what Morovati wants to do.

"It's so important for everyone that lives on this planet to understand that they are an environmentalist," she says. "You are a part of the story. You are a part of the solution."

To that end, Habits of Waste has taken on a number of campaigns aimed at individuals, like #barsoverbottles, which argues for choosing solid soaps, shampoos and conditioners rather than products that come in a bottle — but it's also taking on bigger players like Hollywood and retail giants like Amazon.

Jennifer Lopez and Maluma in Marry Me. Barry Wetcher/Universal Pictures

The group has already seen wins in Hollywood with its #Lights, Camera, Plastic? campaign urging studios to reconsider showing single-use plastics on screen. Habits of Waste successfully worked with director Kat Coiro on her recent Jennifer Lopez film Marry Me, which featured Lopez's character carrying a blinged-out reusable water bottle and Owen Wilson's character carrying a stainless steel lunchbox.

What we see on TV and in the movies matters: "When smoking was removed from the screen, it was a nose dive for how much people smoke," Morovati says. "We want to make to make single use plastics uncool — because it is uncool."

Next up is a drive to push Amazon, Target and Walmart to reduce packaging when shipping.

"We're trying to use our collective voice to inspire the biggest companies out there to make the change," she says. "People are fed up. We need to show them society doesn't want this anymore."

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