In October 2020, OceanCycle, a leading social enterprise focused on preventing ocean plastic pollution and improving livelihoods in coastal communities through certification and direct social interventions, and UL, a global safety science leader, announced that they were partnering on initiatives to align industry standards related to ocean-bound plastics, promote transparency of those standards, and develop the marketplace for ocean-bound plastics. The collaboration would
build on the initial standards for ocean-bound materials already established by each company. By pooling their efforts and expertise, the companies aimed to provide more clarity around ocean and ocean-bound plastics - and to thus boost manufacturer and purchaser confidence in these materials.
After two years of close collaboration, the newly aligned, strengthened industry standards are here. They include critical new social standards, ethical sourcing criteria, third-party, independent validation of all recycled ocean-bound plastics, clear definitions of ocean-bound materials and standards on where coastal collection should happen.
OceanCycle and UL define ocean-bound plastics as post-consumer plastic waste that has not yet reached the ocean but is at risk of entering waterways due to a lack of formal waste management and proximity to oceans. According to recent studies cited in a Pew Research Center report, more than 11 million metric tons of plastics enter oceans each year, and that rate is estimated to triple by 2040. UL and OceanCycle’s primary focus is on prevention because more than 80-90 percent of ocean plastic originates on land, and it is difficult to recycle material once it has entered the water.
Standards for recycled ocean-bound plastics promote real transparency, traceability and accountability for real change. Aligning UL and OceanCycle's standards has enabled the development of a 100% independent, third-party certification of ocean-bound plastics' recycling supply chains to help ensure that standards meet international quality, ethical, environmental and labour requirements. Purchasers of OceanCycle Certified (OCC) materials have end-to-end traceability, from bottle collection through manufacturing and can rely on their meeting the following criteria:
- Coastal collection standards: To maximise the impact on the ocean-bound plastic issue, these new standards clarify collection efforts should focus on areas within 30 miles of a coast or along river banks within 200 miles of the mouth of the water. Additionally, collection efforts should focus on areas that lack an established municipal waste management system.
- Ethically sourced: Must be collected in an ethical manner ensuring no harmful child labour and fair wages to collectors. Every factory, aggregation site and collection centre subscribe to a zero-tolerance policy regarding child labour, with a penalty of immediate exclusion from the program for any breach. Landfill collection is excluded due to its inherent risk to collectors and propensity for harmful labour practices.
- Clear standards for acceptable materials: Ensure collection efforts focus on the highest impact areas. Acceptable materials for collection must be post-consumer, and all post-industrial and imported waste must be excluded from certification.
- Documentation: Compliance with OCC end-to-end traceability, documented from bottle collection to final production-ready materials and manufacturing.
UL and OceanCycle will continue their collaboration to drive dialogue on standards and encourage the industry to agree on common definitions and processes — similar to what the Association of Plastic Recyclers achieved for post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics. While establishing new standards takes time, they can immediately serve as a guidepost for brands and companies looking to integrate ethically sourced, ocean-bound plastics into their supply chains and products.
Looking ahead, OceanCycle will work with UL and other industry leaders to help ensure recognition of and adherence to the new standards. The group will collaborate to improve market access to products made from ocean-bound plastics, assisting companies in using more sustainable, responsibly-sourced, recycled materials in their products.
"When we created the first certification for ocean-bound plastics, we leveraged our years of experience building grassroots supply chains in Haiti and developing global programmes focused on child protection. As we worked with many of the companies pioneering the use of ocean-bound plastics, we wanted to make sure we had the best procedures and standards in place, which is why we approached UL to collaborate. Learning from the incredible team at UL and sharing our field experiences allowed us to develop better standards that we believe will guide the industry for years to come," said Robert Goodwin, co-founder of OceanCycle.
OceanCycle created its first certification for ocean-bound plastics in 2018 and works with a network of partners to create sustainable and profitable recycling practices. Their focus is on putting an end to new plastics in the oceans by 2030 and providing transparency and traceability for ocean-bound plastics.