The Ocean Cleanup Valorizationteam checking plastic catch
Recycling

Introducing the Ocean Plastic Standard

The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization. This means that we rely on support from companies, philanthropists, and the general public to help us reach our goal of ridding the oceans of plastic. But outside support can be inconsistent – there are ebbs and flows to the number of donations we receive and, if we are to achieve our goal, we must have the means to get there.

One way we have thought to supplement, and potentially even one day help to fully support, our operations, is to create products from the plastic returned from the ocean. We have conducted studies that show that a lot of the plastic is viable for recycling into new material, so we decided to create beautiful, sustainable products from our catch and use the proceeds to fund our mission.

Now that we have brought our first plastic catch onshore, the process has begun to transform the plastic into a product. Well before this journey set in motion, we were considering how we can not only make a product from ocean plastic, but a product that consumers trust is made of ocean plastic.

ENSURING TRANSPARENCY IN OUR PRODUCTS

Being open about our journey, whether good news or bad news, is one of our communication principles. Our work affects everyone, so we believe it is necessary to be upfront about what we’re doing. We knew that when we launched products made of ocean plastic, we wanted full transparency in this process as well; meaning, we wanted consumers to know that the item they receive is actually made of plastic removed from the ocean.

As of today, the market is saturated with “ocean” plastic products – a lot of which are processed into single-use packaging, but there is little traceability and, in some cases, there is little plastic collected from the ocean in the products. In fact, most claims of ocean plastic origin are not backed by traceable and verified data, so there is no way to know for sure if the product is what it says it is. Therefore, to stay consistent with our commitment to transparency, we wanted to ensure traceability all the way back to the point of catch; so, we explored our options and determined that a third-party expert would be the best way to go. In 2018 we began researching entities capable of verifying the plastic origin and we connected with DNV GL, an independent global verification body combining technical, digital and industry expertise to help companies drive trust and sustainability. Following initial explorative conversations and once we were certain there weren’t any standards suitable for our purposes, DNV GL agreed to establish a standard to verify the ocean plastic origin and help bring transparency to the market, from which we would adopt the steps to achieve verification.

The aim of verification is to prove the plastic’s origin (in this case, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). As no such standard exists for harvested ocean plastic, DNV GL had to create an entirely new one – which is based on their experience with other well-established chain-of-custody models and their knowledge of this application on food products, wild-catch fisheries, and forestry, for example. A chain of custody model essentially validates a specific sustainability claim made along the entire value chain. While developed by DNV GL, the standard has gone through a very comprehensive two-step consultation process where external stakeholders and companies relevant to the standard have validated the model.

With the newly established chain of custody standard, we can confirm the origin of the plastic retrieved from any body of water. More specifically, in our case, this allows the plastic used in the products to have its origin and authenticity verified by an independent third party.

Auditors verifying material log at plastic pre-sorting facility
Auditors verifying material log at plastic pre-sorting facility
Auditors confirm material after it has been sealed and transferred for recycling
Auditors confirm material after it has been sealed and transferred for recycling
Crew checking material inventory to ensure traceability at pre-sorting facility
Crew checking material inventory to ensure traceability at pre-sorting facility
Plastic bag
Numbering bags containing plastic catch
Numbering bags containing plastic catch
Plastic catch extracted from System 001/B
Plastic catch extracted from System 001/B
Accumulation of plastic debris within System 001/B in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Accumulation of plastic debris within System 001/B in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

WHAT IS THE OCEAN PLASTIC STANDARD?

The standard brought by DNV GL is a chain of custody model; more specifically, it is an identity preserved model (IPM); an IPM provides the highest level of traceably and integrity in a chain of custody model. Followers of the IPM established by DNV GL are required to prove the source of the material and that it has not been mixed with other materials; this is done by confirming three main components: material integrity, traceability, and mass balance.

  1. Material integrity means that material gathered from the GPGP is not mixed with material from other sources. Numbered seals and tags applied to storage containers ensure that the material can be traced through audits, that demonstrate material has not been added.
  2. The location, integrity, mass, and usage of the plastic are made traceable through a combination of detailed documentation. This evidence is maintained from sea to shore, throughout the recycling process, and all the way until the product is in the consumer’s hands. GPS coordinates will accompany the product once it is available and will show where we extracted it from in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
  3. Lastly, the mass balance is simply the dry weight of the plastic from when it was captured in the ocean, to the end of the recycling process when it is transformed into a product. This overall weight should remain constant throughout the process.

Once we meet these criteria, DNV GL can verify that the plastic used in our product has come from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, giving us the transparency we are striving to achieve, and, most importantly, giving consumers trust in their purchases.

A MODEL FOR EVERYONE

The standard has been developed by DNV GL and they offer their services to anyone who wants to build this level of trust. We have chosen to be the first to adopt this chain of custody approach and DNV GL, as a third party, verifies the source of the materials in our products. The standard can be followed by anybody and is freely accessible; all it does is lay out how one can maintain traceability in their chain of custody. DNV GL states that the reason behind offering the steps of verification for free is to encourage more people to get on board and help to create more transparency in the market; it is also a way for the company to give back to the environment in their own way.

Our goal is to create a product out of our plastic catch (which isn’t guaranteed considering this has not been done before) that, once available, can be verified to have been made out of ocean plastic. If other organizations join us in adopting this chain of custody model, consumers can have greater diversity in their ocean plastic products, and we can all trust that our oceans are only that much cleaner of plastic.


To learn more about the standard and how your organization can adopt this chain of custody model to bring full transparency to products made of ocean plastic, you can visit DNV GL’s website.