Changing the Course of Ocean Plastics

The downside of plastic waste in the oceans is their ever-increasing volume. But there is also good news, and it is often overlooked. As new recycling technologies come online to solve the growing problem of plastic waste in our world, start-ups around the world are focusing on reusing ocean plastics.

Plastic is just one element of ocean litter, but it gets almost all the attention due to its visibility, as much of it floats on or near the surface. Although impossible to quantify precisely, marine scientists estimated in 2015 that 150 million metric tons of plastic circulate in our oceans, with eight million tons added each year. With the volume of plastics manufactured doubling every 15 years, some experts estimate these figures to be considerably higher. The total volume of marine plastics is also expected to triple by 2040. Needless to say, promising recyclers will have an unlimited supply of materials for the foreseeable future.

Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, says: “Taking control of plastic waste is now such an important task that it requires a holistic and comprehensive approach that involves rethinking plastic chemistry, product design, recycling strategies and consumer use.

Discarded plastic has been in our oceans almost since we started making it, but it has grown exponentially since 1950. Until recently, however, there was no viable market for collecting and reusing waste. . This is crucial to make its harvesting, buying and selling profitable and therefore a goal to pursue for its reduction. Since the ocean plastics recycling industry is still in its infancy, market forces such as pricing, quality control and logistics are changing.

Who cleans?

While a limited number of organizations and companies are currently engaged in ocean plastic waste recycling, scale-ups are on the way.

Ocean Recovery Group (ORG), a joint venture between 4G Recycling and AE Global headquartered in South Florida with a facility in the Dominican Republic, is currently focusing its recovery and recycling efforts in the Caribbean region. In addition to its maritime operations, this group employs an “ocean-bound” initiative that works to intercept or “capture” plastics before they reach the sea. This bodes well for a model to be emulated for future recyclers, as it creates a two-pronged attack on the problem – stopping it before it reaches the sea and harvesting the waste that escapes the grips. plastics today recently described the group’s efforts in the article, “Recycling of ocean plastic is progressing near the United States.”

RSP Inc, a Milwaukee-based company, offers its customers its Oceanworks (including) Guaranteed products and specializes in verifying supply chain consistency with plastics harvested from oceans, beaches, rivers and shorelines.

International organisation Oceanamatica, whose mission is ocean debris cleanup but focuses on plastics, says on its website: “Plastics are a resource, not the enemy. It will be a decades-long effort.

A group called cleaning up the ocean aims to eliminate 90% of marine plastics and intends to go “bankrupt” once its work is completed.

Ambitious goals, yes, but are they realistic? Time and ingenuity will tell.

Where is he from ?

About 90% of plastic waste in the ocean comes from 10 rivers that flow from eight countries in Asia and India. The rivers of emerging economies are unfortunately becoming the dumping ground for hundreds of millions of people.

Many of these countries have not yet created the infrastructure or enacted regulations to reduce their commercial and consumer waste. Consequently, the streams and rivers that act as their waste disposal systems flow directly into the sea with disastrous results.

Commercial fishing fleets are among the worst culprits, contributing up to 40% of all ocean plastic waste when they discard worn or damaged nets instead of bringing them back to port for proper disposal. However, not all nets are discarded thoughtlessly, as they sometimes come loose from their trawl lines during storms.

Significant sources of marine plastic litter also include shipping containers lost at sea during storms, sport fishing gear that litters coastal areas, beach litter and countless lightweight materials blown by the wind just offshore. interior of the ribs.

To put the daunting challenge these companies face into perspective, according to Inhabitat, 67 ships spending a year at sea would collect less than 1% of current ocean plastic waste in the North Pacific alone. It looks like this project will stretch beyond a few decades.

Where is he going ?

Who does what with it? Once the raw material is harvested and sent to recyclers for processing, where can it go?

Recycled coastal plastics is dedicated to reducing European shores of plastic waste and getting it back into the food packaging supply chain. Work in partnership with a non-profit collection company based in Athens, Greece Keep the sea blue, whose efforts focus on achieving a plastic-free Mediterranean Sea, these two groups maintain regional production plants near tourist areas across Europe to collect much of the waste at its source. ‘Catch’ strategies such as these continue to evolve on coasts around the world in an attempt to reduce plastic waste before it enters the sea.

Once harvested, other types of partnerships develop to valorize the raw material taken from the ocean. Adidas sportswear company and environmental organization Parley are committed to incorporating recycled ocean plastic into their products. The Adidas/Parley Partnership made 11 million pairs of shoes in 2019 partly from recycled ocean plastics.



Image courtesy of Adidas/Parley
In 2015, Parley and adidas unveiled the Ultra Boost concept shoe made from reclaimed ocean plastics.

Fishing gear and apparel designer Grundens markets a range of gear made from recycled Alaskan fishing nets. Other companies are developing products from fishing nets, such as sunglasses, skateboards and cell phone cases.

These initiatives may be inconsequential on a global scale, but they are a step in the right direction and are gaining momentum. They are important in that we recognize the magnitude of the problem we have created and take action to change what we have created.

The future of marine plastic recycling

Plastics don’t go away. Our reliance on them will continue to grow with our growing population and the need for convenience and safety from plastic. Cynics would say that trying to recycle marine plastics is a lost cause due to the growing volume of polymer waste that ends up in the sea each year.

Those with a vision see a multi-faceted answer to our complex ocean plastics problem, with recycling being an important part of the overall strategy. As marine recyclers multiply and devise more efficient harvesting methods, the future of recycling ocean plastics is indeed bright.

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