Did you know there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean and that it takes, on average, 450 years to break down a plastic bottle? If that didn’t make you think twice, consider this: 93% of Americans ages 6 and older test positive to the presence of plastic in their blood from ocean trash ingested by fish.
The good thing is: it is not too late to make a change.
To start, we can raise awareness about how plastic is affecting our oceans and our health.
Bye Bye Plastic Bags is a social initiative driven by youth around the world to say no to plastic bags. Founders and sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen were so disgusted by the amount of plastic waste in Bali that they decided to do something about it. They have organized beach cleanups, given speeches and made petitions to ban the use, sale and production of plastic bags. The two teenagers have even done a hunger strike to get the attention of the Indonesian government. Thanks to their efforts, Bali will be plastic bag free by 2018.
Yet plastic bags are just one of the many products that end up in the ocean. Another large source of toxic pollutants are plastic water bottles. To tackle this issue, Harun Master, Tobias Gould and Taj Bhamra developed the Jerry bottle, a reusable water bottle made out of steel. It’s much more sustainable than plastic and it carries no health risk. Also, you’ll love the team’s passion. Not only do they work with schools and companies to promote healthy water habits, but they also donate 100% of their profits to clean water projects worldwide.
Now, what about the plastic that’s already in the ocean? How do we clean it up? While it may be a daunting task, some entrepreneurs have risen to the challenge of cleaning the ocean.
The Ocean Cleanup develops advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. Founder Boyan Slat became interested in cleaning the ocean after he went diving and saw more plastic bags than fish. Since then, he has been working on a plan to trap ocean plastic where it naturally accumulates. Current efforts to clean the ocean would take 79,000 years and cost billions of dollars, but Boyan and his team are convinced they can do better. In 2020, The Ocean Cleanup will deploy an artificial coastline between California and Hawaii to remove the Eastern Garbage Patch in 10 years for a fraction of the cost.
The Seabin Project is also helping to clean our oceans, one marina at a time. Best friends Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski created the innovative Seabin to suck up waste floating in marinas, ports and yacht clubs. The Seabin itself can be made from recycled materials, including plastics collected by other Seabins. What is perhaps most telling is how the founders define success: a world with waste-free oceans where we don’t need Seabins at all.
While some raise awareness of plastic pollution and others clean the ocean, many are on the road to zero waste through the recycling of plastic.
Plastics for Change is on a mission to change the societal and environmental impact of plastic. This social enterprise has developed an innovative fair trade process to alleviate plastic pollution while improving the lives of millions of waste pickers around the world. By increasing the value of discarded plastics they are helping to reduce plastic pollution, increase recycling rates and create jobs for the urban poor in developing countries.
Amsterdam-based Plastic Whale is the first professional plastic fishing company in the world. They believe plastic is not waste, but rather valuable raw material. For this reason, the company has built high-quality boats from plastic waste. In turn, these boats empower individuals and companies to clean Dutch waters while promoting zero waste living. To date, Plastic Whale has fished 35,000 bottles and 560 bags of plastic waste with help from over 3,000 fishermen.
United By Blue has pledged to remove one pound of trash from the ocean for every product sold. This Philadelphia-based company is an outdoor lifestyle brand with products ranging from clothing to camping gear. All of their products are made from sustainable materials, including recycled water bottles. Since its inception, United by Blue has led over 170 cleanups to remove more than 350,000 pounds of trash from oceans and waterways in over 25 states.
New York City startup Bionic Yarn has also found a way to create value from ocean plastic. Their patented yarn is both durable and sustainable, echoing their mission to achieve sustainability without compromising on quality. This caught the attention of music mogul Pharrell Williams who joined the company as Creative Director and has helped Bionic Yarn find its way into clothing from leading brands such as Topshop, Moncler and G-Star Raw.
Trashy Bags demonstrates that plastic waste can still be useful long after it has outlived its original purpose. This social enterprise based in Ghana creates products out of reclaimed plastic sachets and plastic water bottles. Every month, nearly 200,000 plastic sachets are collected and brought to the company. By incorporating complete sachets into their products, Trashy Bags displays in a very visible way that it’s possible to increase the life span of plastic packaging.
Bureo has made waves by using recycled fishing nets to make skateboards. The story began with founders Ben Kneppers, David Stover and Kevin Ahearn who travelled to Chile to launch “Net Positiva”: a recycling program which collects plastic nets from fishermen who would otherwise trash them in the ocean. This unique program helps support local fishing communities while providing skaters with a sustainable alternative that keeps our oceans clean.
Obviously, plastic is everywhere: our bottles, our clothes, our cosmetics, our cars and our smartphones. What’s not so obvious is that plastic has made its way into our oceans creating a global health and environmental crisis. However, things don’t need to be this way and these inspiring companies are proof of that.
Raising awareness, cleaning the ocean and recycling plastic are all steps we can take to save the oceans now.
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