On Okinawa, a hermit crab resorts to a plastic bottle cap to protect its soft abdomen. Beachgoers collect the shells the crabs normally use, and they leave trash behind. (Shawn Miller/National Geographic)

A whale eats so much plastic that it dies. Trillions of pieces of plastic congeal into an oceanic garbage patch that’s bigger than Texas. A planet slowly suffocates in the detritus of one of mankind’s most useful inventions.

It sounds like the setup for a dystopian movie, but the scenario is all too real. Scientists estimate that up to 91 percent of plastic is never recycled, and plastic waste threatens oceans, beaches and animal life. It’s still unclear how long it takes many plastics to decompose. In the meantime, they’re a mainstay of human life — from fishing to food, transportation to textiles.

Can humans stop the tide of plastics that threatens their planet? National Geographic thinks so.

This month, it launched “Planet or Plastic?,” a multiyear initiative aimed at raising awareness of the global plastic crisis and reducing the amount of single-use plastic polluting the world’s oceans. Individuals can get involved by pledging to use fewer single-use plastic items such as grocery bags and plastic straws.

The magazine’s June issue dives into the crisis headfirst. It includes articles on the potential effects of plastic pollution on human health, art centered around the plastic-pollution crisis and an in-depth feature on how we got here. In an attempt to walk its talk, the magazine will now be sent to subscribers with a paper wrapper, not a plastic one.

There’s a bright side to the obvious scale of the problem, notes Laura Parker in the issue’s cover story: “There are no ocean-trash deniers, at least so far,” she writes. “To do something about it, we don’t have to remake our planet’s entire energy system.”

Carrying a reusable bag or water bottle may seem like a small action in the face of the 9 million tons of plastic waste that makes its way into oceans each year, but such steps are an important start. People know how to solve the plastic crisis: Properly dispose of and recycle the plastic we use, and reduce its production and consumption. Now it’s a matter of whether we want to move forward or keep drowning in a crisis of our own creation.