…You can change the world by an action as simple as picking up one piece of litter a day, every day. Our philosophy is that small actions by many people change the world.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dmytriy Pereklita a Toronto-based architect and founder of One Piece a Day. One Piece a Day is an environmentally friendly app that encourages people across the globe to pick up and responsibly dispose of one piece of trash they find every day.
Dmytriy started One Piece a Day after discovering the immense amount of pollution infiltrating the shores on Mexico’s Maya Riviera, and thought, “what if everybody in the world could just pick up one piece of trash a day?” As a diehard environmentalist, Dmytriy dedicates his free time to educating others on how we can each do our part to take care of the planet through simple actions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
My parents were immigrants from Ukraine, both were displaced after WW2, and arrived in Canada in the late 1950’s. We were a working-class family as my parents literally started from scratch, working several jobs to keep the family going. I think this is where I got my work ethic, watching them work to the ground, pounding pavement every day. At heart, my parents were both artists: My dad constantly wrote poetry and painted, while my mom was always busy with making pottery, embroidery and making Easter eggs. Everyone was always busy working and creating beautiful things.
I was a boy scout and fell in love with nature and the Canadian wilderness in summer camps. I loved canoeing, the call of the loon and watching sunsets over dark cedar lined, cold lakes of northern Ontario. I loved playing basketball and football. I excelled in football and by senior year was co-captain of the high school football team, MVP and Toronto city all-star. But even as city all-star, I still worked in a slaughterhouse to raise money for university. This is when I first became vegetarian.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and One Piece A Day are trying to change in our world today?
Our focus is on litter and plastic pollution. We are living in a time where there is so much litter on the planet that the impact on the environment is unprecedented. Currently, there are about 46,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean. There are 6 garbage patches in our oceans. The most famous one known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to contain approximately 1.8 trillion pieces of litter, mainly plastic. The impact that this is having on the oceans is devastating: 1 million sea birds are dying from plastic ingestion every year, and hundreds of thousands of sea animals are dying each year from plastic ingestion or entanglement in plastic.
What most people are not aware of is that every single person contributes to this and here’s why. Our lives as consumers are completely inundate by single use plastic. It wraps our bread, our sandwiches, our coffee and beverage we buy and drink, our soap, shampoo, our toothpaste, yogurt containers, fruits, meats and vegetables we buy daily. In short, almost everything we consume comes in plastic. What most people don’t realize is that 91% of plastics don’t get recycled, and that according to the World Economic Forum, 32% of all plastics end up in our oceans annually.
So we are fighting for a clean planet that is free of plastic pollution, and that starts with awareness and every person on the planet changing their behavior with regards to litter and single use plastic.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
As a runner, I have been picking up litter on my runs as far as I can remember. I really started to notice litter on my travels.
Years ago, I remember standing on the Great Wall of China and the person beside me just threw a coke can over the edge! I was shocked. I looked over the edge and was dumbstruck to see the base of this incredible monument & world heritage treasure completely littered with garbage!
I started taking pictures of litter I found on my travels & family holidays and was thinking that it would important to somehow to document and share this litter trend growing around the world.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
There actually was an “AHA” moment!
Five years ago, I went for a run on the beach on a family trip to Mexico. I had never encountered this much litter in my life. This was the Maya Riviera. This was supposed to be one of the most beautiful places in Mexico and the Caribbean, and it was full of litter as far as the eye could see.
I did what I always do and started to pick up the litter. In 45 minutes, I picked up about 4 huge bags of litter plus many handfuls and 2 plastic buckets full. The worst part was the point I had to turn around and head back. I just remember standing there staring up the north coast of Mexico thinking that for every piece that I had picked up I was leaving thousands behind.
It felt like I had been hit in the head with a 2×4. I didn’t’ understand what this was, what I had run into. It was bigger than me. It was bigger than any one person alone.
All the way back to my hotel I kept thinking, “what can I do about this?” I kept taking photos along the way with my phone, and then it hit me: What if everyone on the planet picked up just one piece of litter a day? And what if we could use the technology sitting in 2.4 billion’s people’s pockets to reach out and inspire everyone to do this? The idea for the One Piece A Day app was born! Two years later, One Piece a Day went live, inspiring every person on the planet to pick up one piece of litter a day.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Well I started to trying to develop the app myself. My son was about 7 years old then and has always been a bit tech savvy. So, instead of reading bedtime stories at night we would try to design the app ourselves.
We didn’t have too much success and months went by. We didn’t have any money for this project as this was always going to be a not-for-profit and couldn’t afford the large app developers in Canada or the USA. I remember being on a run with my sister in law and sharing my frustrations. She said — “D, you have it all wrong. You need to find a group of young tech guys who are out there somewhere who can help you build the app on a shoestring budget.” So that’s what we did. It was a leap of faith, but it worked. We found a young team in India who helped us, and we’ve been working with them since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading One Piece A Day?
One of my favourite stories was one day waking up and looking on the app leaderboard. There was a new group with an unfamiliar name to me. The Tholuthando Children’s Home logged over 2500 pieces of litter on the app on one weekend. We talk and lecture at schools all the time, but this didn’t look like any school name we’d ever seen.
We googled them and found that it was a home for abandoned children in South Africa outside of Johannesburg. This just blew us away. They are still my favourite group of users on the app. I always show their photo to school kids in Canada we speak to and it still chokes me up to this day.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I would say that the funniest and perhaps toughest thing occurred on the day we submitted our app to Apple and Google for approvals and launching. After more than a year of work, multiple setbacks, trial and error, we finally submitted our work! It was a great day of celebration and I was feeling really good, like we had accomplished something really important.
Within a few hours of hitting the send button, a close friend of mine sent me a TED Talk out of the blue of a group who created a litter app in California about 8 months before us. We had no idea someone had already released a similar app and I felt like someone popped my balloon. It was like Google launching the first smart phone and within hours learning that Apple had launched their Iphone a few months before! I suppose the mistake was that we did not fully and thoroughly research the marketplace before we started.
The lesson learned there was that if you have an idea today, in 2020, you need to act on it immediately. Chances are that there are other people who have a similar idea and are acting on it as you sit there watching TV contemplating whether to start tomorrow.
The other lesson is: To solve global problems, you need to collaborate with like minded people. I am actually excited and looking forward to meeting the team in California in person one day and working to join forces to tackle this issue together. I want to give them all a big hug and say — “I love your work. Now, let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to business together!”
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
We are very lucky to have had the support of great environmentalists like Dr. David Suzuki, who very early on in the life of One Piece A Day sent us an encouraging endorsement of our work and mission. He said that he shared an idea in a CBC interview suggesting that if everyone picked up one piece of litter a day, together we can have a real impact. In a way, we made his idea into a real project through the One Piece a Day app and our global community of users. Having a environmental heavyweight like Dr. Suzuki express support for our work was huge.
We also received a heartwarming letter of support for our work from Sir David Attenborough in England. Given his role of helping turn the tide in the fight against plastic pollution in the UK and Europe, this endorsement was key for us. It helps us keep going when the going gets tough, knowing that we are making a difference and have people like Dr. Suzuki and Sir David Attenborough thinking of us, having our back.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
One of the most influential people in my life has been Tony Robins. My partner Karen and I have completed many of his seminars and I’m part of the Antony Robbins Leadership team. Tony has indirectly helped me with this cause by giving us the tools to overcome personal inertia and doubt. That nagging thought of “I’m just one person — how can I help solve a complex global issue?” Boom — done. Sometimes the only person holding you back is you. Just do it!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The root of the problem is single use plastic. We recognized this early on. After doing a talk at a school in Toronto 2 years ago, two grade 3 girls approached us and asked a seemingly simple question: What happens to the recycling after you pick it up? Our answer was, well you HOPE it gets recycled (In my mind I’m thinking — 91% of plastics do not get recycled).
This inspired us to create a parallel mode on the APP called REFUSE SINGLE USE PLASTIC. It tracks and rewards users every time you make a choice to use a sustainable product versus a single use item. The analogy is this: if you walk into your kitchen, its flooded with water, and the faucet is overflowing, you don’t reach for the mop first — you turn of the tap.
This is our central message to the planet today: Turn of the plastic tap. This applies to individuals (bring a reusable water bottle and coffee mug everywhere you go), to communities (if you organize an event, don’t serve single use water bottles, coffee cups that can’t be recycled and plastic straws).
Our message to governments is to legislate the ban of single use plastics. Corporations are like a fast-moving train that will not change course unless forced to do so or see a business case for changing. There are some studies that predict that between plastic pollution, overfishing and climate change, the ocean will be void of life by 2050. If this is too extreme, it is generally accepted by the scientific community that plastic will outnumber sea life by weight by 2050 if nothing is done to curb our obsession with plastic. Both are terrifying and worth legislating.
As individuals and communities — sign a petitions and lobby your local, state and federal government representatives and log all the plastic pollution you pick up or refuse using the One Piece a Day app.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t wait. The time is now! If you have an idea and you’re passionate about it, don’t wait. You must jump on it quickly or miss the opportunity and read about someone else doing it and succeeding.
- Don’t stop learning. We are in an age of learning. To survive and thrive in this new world of continuing disruption, learning needs to be part of your daily diet. Karen and I are always reading or listening to webinars and master classes. At 53 years young, I am thirsting for knowledge now more than ever before.
- Get a team. No person is an island and you need help to get to where you want to go.One Piece a Day would not be what it is today without the help of a tight knit community of leaders including Tamara Conway, our MD, Karen Mak, my partner and visionary, our Board of Directors, and the thousands of people using our app around the world today.
- Make sure your goal is bigger than you, larger than life. Steven Kotler, an author who I admire says if your goal does not intimidate you, it’s too small and will not inspire you.
- You are more powerful than you think. We are working on V3.2 of the app which includes a map of all of our users around the world. When I first looked at this map last week, I was almost in tears. We have users on almost all continents and countless countries. We are making a difference and it started with a simple idea.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
After having spoken to thousands of students from kindergarten to College and University, our message is this: You are never too young, or too old to make a difference, and don’t ever let anyone tell you any different! To young people under 12, we see you. You are all environmentalists at heart. You feel the earth and her pain and want to help because its right. To the older youth over 12, do not get overwhelmed, don’t get cynical. It’s too easy to do that and give up and do nothing.
Our belief to you is this: You can change the world by an action as simple as picking up one piece of litter a day, every day. Our philosophy is that small actions by many people change the world
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have breakfast with Elon Musk. I’m in awe of his fearlessness and ability to continually change the world for the better through business and design. He has this incredible ability to make change happen through his different companies and various endeavours. In our lifetime, he is revolutionizing industries against incredible odds and the pressure of longstanding titans of industry against him. Incredibly inspiring.
How can our readers follow you online?
We are very active on Instagram and Facebook. We’re also currently working our new website which should be live soon!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you so much for having me!