Recycling

How Plastic Can Be Used Responsibly

On October 24, 2020, we presented our plan to fund the continuation of our cleanup using the plastic we extract, embodied in our first product: sunglasses. This is the first product made with the plastic we collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, with 100% of the proceeds going back towards the cleanup.

I believe this is a significant step in the fight to solve plastic pollution because:

  1.  We have been able to certify that this plastic has come from the middle of the ocean with the help of a public standard developed by DNV GL, and recycle it into a high quality, useful product; something which was always considered impossible because of the complex nature of ocean plastic.
  2. It allows us to maximize our impact on cleaning the oceans. As we’re a non-profit, all proceeds are reinvested into the mission; thanks to this, every pair is expected to allow us to clean 24 football fields worth of ocean.
    But there is something else we tried to achieve with this model: to show how plastic can be used responsibly. This is our first attempt at producing a product and we plan to improve with each line; but what we’ve been able to accomplish with these sunglasses I hope will already raise the bar of what it means for a product to be sustainable.

Here’s how:

RECYCLED MATERIALS

Everything that we could have made from recycled materials, we made using recycled materials.

  • The main story here is that the frames are made with the plastic we collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2019 while we were out testing our cleanup technology. A least 95% of the polymers in the plastic used to be trash floating in the middle of the ocean (the remaining content is comprised of the minimum number of additives to ensure the material has the desired look and retains thermal stability).
  • The sunglasses feature a very distinct set of stainless steel hinges and The Ocean Cleanup logo plates, which are, you guessed it, completely made from recycled metal.
  • The sunglasses come in a protective pouch made of polyester that has been fully recycled from used PET bottles.
  • The tubular hardshell case is shaped like a piece of Wilson, our first ocean cleanup system. In fact, the cases don’t just look like Wilson, they are made with Wilson – after we decommissioned the cleanup system, we used that material to make the cases.
  • The box that the product is shipped in is fully made from recycled cardboard fiber.

DURABLE MATERIALS FOR DURABLE APPLICATIONS

The second principle we follow is that durable materials should only be used in durable applications. The reason why plastic is entering our environment is that it either lost its value to the user or never had value in the first place.
Packaging inherently doesn’t maintain value; once you unpackage something, its job is done. Therefore, the packaging is completely plastic-free. Even the customs form, which normally comes in a transparent plastic envelope or is stuck to the package using plastic tape, in our case, it is simply glued to the box.

When it comes to the sunglasses, we designed them with utmost care to ensure they’re a high quality and desirable product that 1) is truly valuable, so users will want to take good care of it, and 2) is designed to last, so that the product retains its value over time. This is also the reason we chose a timeless design for the frames.

To minimize the chances of you losing the sunglasses, we made the temples adjustable, so that they’ll snugly fit on any head. For the same reason, we also added a ‘lost & found’ feature to the sunglasses. In case you forget your sunglasses somewhere, you may be lucky enough that someone scans the QR code on the inside of the temples, allowing us to reunite you with your product.

QR code on the inside of the frames connects the sunglasses to the user
QR code on the inside of the frames connects the sunglasses to the user

DESIGNED FOR END-OF-LIFE

At The Ocean Cleanup, we’ve will have only succeeded once we put ourselves out of business. This doesn’t just mean cleaning up the pollution that’s currently in the oceans and intercepting it in rivers before it reaches the oceans, but it’s also about preventing that anything we make from our catch doesn’t end up back into the environment. We believe this is our responsibility; to have a plan for the eventual disposal during the design phase of a product.

We, therefore, designed the product (as well as its packaging) with end-of-life in mind. This doesn’t just mean that everything is “recyclable” because the thing is that pretty much everything is recyclable, as we’ve now proven with this product made with our catch from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch! The key is that recycling it can be done easily and therefore is economical to do. Hence, we designed the hinges of the sunglasses to be simple to disassemble with only a small screwdriver, allowing anyone to separate the plastic from the stainless steel (we also have a how-to video to help with this). We also used commonly recycled plastic types: both the frames and the case are made from HDPE, which is clearly marked to ensure correct sorting, and the pouch is made from PET.

How to dismantle the sunglasses to recycle each part separately

If all else fails, for example, if you live somewhere without a suitable recycling infrastructure, you can get in touch with us so we can help you to ensure it gets properly recycled.
The box, too, has been designed for end of life. To ensure easy recycling here, the print on the box is water-based – the most environmentally friendly option.

MINIMIZING CARBON FOOTPRINT

Using ocean trash to clean up more ocean trash is undoubtedly beneficial to the oceans. That said, the remoteness of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch does mean that the material travels thousands of miles before ending up on your doorstep. This is why we collaborated with South Pole to compensate for the carbon emissions from fuel used during the collection of our material in the Pacific.

It is also why we sought to minimize the amount of packaging. We designed the box in a way that it can absorb impact while staying small. This minimizes the amount of transport emissions. It also prevents the need to put the ‘product box’ inside a bigger ‘shipping box’; something which is common but wasteful.

SETTING A NEW STANDARD?

Plastic is not a bad material, but it’s key that we use it in a responsible way. By launching a product that not only helps to clean the oceans but also demonstrates how plastic can be used sustainably and how we can turn pollution into a solution, we hope that we can inspire others to do the same.

Replay the product unveil

For more information about The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses and to get your own, click this button.