We all know that plastic in our oceans is an environmentally devastating problem that is only getting worse. According to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report, over 17 million tonnes of plastic entered the ocean in 2021, and that number is set to double or even triple by 2040. The collection and recycling of ocean-bound plastic has great potential to address this spread, but sadly, not enough businesses and consumers understand what it is, which has led to a general misunderstanding of the category.
For many, recycled ocean-bound plastic conjures up images of plastic being pulled directly from the sea or from around the neck of a sea turtle, which is simply not the case. Plastic pulled from the ocean has already been degraded by the salt and sun, making it very difficult to recycle at scale. At best, well-meaning companies try to engage with consumers by using this emotive but misleading imagery as a shorthand – and, at worst, bad actors in the industry deliberately conjure this image in order to greenwash or generate confusion.
Our operating definition of ocean-bound plastic is inspired by the pioneering work of Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering and 2022 MacArthur Fellow, Dr. Jenna Jambeck, and her team. They utilised various criteria in their research, and it is important to consider these factors together, rather than looking at one aspect of the problem in isolation.
- The country or region lacks proper waste management infrastructure and collection incentives.
- The infrastructure is being overwhelmed by population growth and/or increased tourism.
- There is a significant risk to wildlife and biodiversity if plastic contaminates their ecosystem.
- It is found within 50km (30mi) distance of an ocean coastline or major waterway that feeds into the ocean.
The Prevented Ocean Plastic programme focuses on addressing these concerns in tandem, working with at-risk coastal communities to create an intervention before this plastic reaches our waterways, where it can cause immeasurable harm.
What’s at stake?
As stated above, if things continue as they are, the annual flow of plastic entering the oceans could triple by 2040. Our ocean – and the biodiverse range of life within it – are already being harmed by plastic pollution. Any increase will be devastating – not just for marine life, but for all life on this planet.
Many responsible businesses are making the switch to use recycled ocean-bound plastic in their packaging to help address this crisis, but oversimplification and misleading imagery is creating mistrust and confusion for shoppers. That is why we don’t use stock footage, to ensure that all of our photography and videos come from our own work and experience.
We need to do better to avoid misleading shoppers and stakeholders alike, and to provide clarity as to what’s really at stake. We must convey both the magnitude and the complexity of the problem, clearly and openly. Transparency is the only way we will drive momentum for the transformational shift required to tackle the plastic crisis at scale, and build trust in consumers that they are making a better plastic choice.
The benefits of ocean-bound plastic
By taking a holistic approach, recycled ocean-bound plastic can do more than clean up the ocean, it creates real solutions to protect our environment for years to come.
Environmentally, that means intervening before plastic finds its way into our natural environment, oceans and waterways – putting in place waste management systems and infrastructure to stop the flow, then recycling the collected plastic for high quality use on the global market.
Socially, the process of transforming discarded plastic bottles into recycled plastic helps at-risk coastal communities by giving value to what was once considered waste. In addition to cleaning up their local environment, it provides a consistent, reliable and welcome income for thousands of people – which is monitored by our third-party audited Standards that adhere to the strictest quality, social and environmental standards, as well as a zero-tolerance policy for child labour.
That’s why the Prevented Ocean Plastic programme – which creates fully traceable, recycled plastic from ocean-bound material – focuses on regions without any formal waste management infrastructure. We’ve just opened a new collection centre in North Jakarta, Indonesia, where recycling rates are extremely low and infrastructure is lacking, and this is all part of our mission to open 25 high-capacity collection centres by 2025. Our repeatable and scalable model can be set up on any coastline at risk of ocean-bound plastic pollution, creating infrastructure that supports the environment and the local community.
Reduce and recycle
To address the ongoing plastic crisis, it’s clear we must ultimately reduce our plastic consumption. We also need to recycle the plastic that is already out there in our environment, so new products can be made from recycled plastic in order to support the circular economy. For this to happen at scale, we have to demystify ocean-bound plastic and educate both consumers and businesses on its environmental, social and economic potential. Ocean-bound plastic has a pivotal role to play in the cleansing of our oceans, and it’s time we understood that before it’s too late.