Turning Ocean Plastic into Packaging

Giving plastic pollution a new life
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It’s early June and the folks at The Ocean Legacy Foundation are preparing for a summer full of ocean cleanup expeditions and community engagement.

They’ll be spending the next few months on the waters of the Pacific Northwest, collecting plastic waste that’s littering our waters and shores, and training volunteers to do the same.

Plastic itself, however, isn’t the problem. It’s a durable material that’s fabulous for structures and products that are meant to last, but it’s widely being used for single-use packaging and disposable items, creating waste that won’t break down for centuries. Its proper disposal is simply not a priority, as evidenced by the estimated five trillion pieces of it floating in our oceans, poisoning marine life and disrupting ecosystems.

But what if there was an economic incentive to clean up the plastic that’s choking our oceans?

Pollution to packaging

Lush and Ocean Legacy have teamed up to create an innovative solution to ocean plastic pollution. Ocean Legacy operates plastic collection expeditions, removing harmful waste from the marine ecosystem. And Lush buyer Gary Calicdan has agreed to purchase this plastic for use in our 100% recycled plastic bottles and pots. It’s a match made in plastic heaven!

“We started out with Ocean Legacy as a Charity Pot partner,” says Calicdan. He soon realized the potential for their plastic to become part of our sustainable packaging and the partnership grew.

The value of ocean plastic

Historically, there hasn’t been much monetary incentive to clean up ocean plastic. The process of collecting, washing, sorting and reprocessing was simply too inefficient to be economically viable, and many recyclers wouldn’t accept the recovered material because it was badly degraded. This left cleanup efforts largely supported by donations, grants and dedicated volunteers.

Ocean Legacy has been operating as a non-profit since 2014, and the partnership with the Lush buying team marks the first time they’ll be able to sell the plastic they collect. For Chloé Dubois, Co-founder of Ocean Legacy, this marks the beginning of a movement to create an economy around ocean cleanup.

“This is really setting a precedent to allow us to offer incentive to the communities that we’re working with. The long-term vision is to set up these intake centers around the world where people can bring in waste plastics for compensation or other resources they may need…it’s really creating a springboard for the rest of the world to follow.”

Getting creative

Introducing a new source of recycled plastic to our supply chain comes with a unique set of challenges. First, we needed to ensure the new plastic would pass quality standards. To do this, the ocean plastic must go to a third-party processor whose operation turns the plastic into evenly-sized pellets, which can then be molded into bottles and pots.

Plastic processors are used to working with huge volumes of material to keep their operations as efficient as possible—and as Calicdan experienced, not many are willing to experiment with smaller volumes. Our initial test load of ocean plastic was a fraction of the tonnage typically sold to processors, and we needed recyclers that were willing to work with us on this project.

“I talked to a lot of people, but because of the small quantity, nobody accepted it. Finally, we were lucky enough to have Urban Resource Group (affiliated with Canada Fibers Ltd.) in Toronto accept the job for trial purposes,” he says. “They were willing to adjust their system to support this important cause. Their technological abilities allowed them to transform broken down pieces of ocean plastic into high-quality pellets that hit our standards. I’m very happy they accepted it…it’s been great having them as a partner in this initiative.”

Once the plastic was in its pellet form, Calicdan sent it to Plascon Plastics and Salbro bottles, the companies that make our black pots and bottles. Through experimentation, they’ve determined about a 5 percent blend of ocean plastic is best, with the other 95 percent being made up of other recycled material. Through the cooperation of our partners, this pilot project has provided valuable experience and knowledge for everyone involved.

“The trial has proved that we can use ocean plastic. We now know that a bigger quantity will be needed…but the main takeaway is that it’s possible,” says Calicdan.

The future of plastic packaging

The Ocean Legacy Foundation and their community partners will be working through the summer to collect ocean plastic to meet Urban Resource Group’s request for more plastic to process so they can scale up the trials. Calicdan is hopeful that our ocean plastic blended pots and bottles will be in production by the end of 2017, and on shop shelves shortly after that!

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