Plastic Waste from North Pacific Ocean Gyre Successfully Recycled

method and Envision Team Up to Create New Plastic Material:
Ocean PCR
 

Method, in partnership with Envision Plastics (the technology leader in curbside collected, recycled polyolefin plastics), has developed a novel and potentially profound new plastic material; Ocean PCR.  The idea was born when, after achieving 100% post-consumer material in our packaging, we started asking
ourselves a simple question: what is the ultimate post-consumer material?

That led us to ocean plastic. What if we could gather some of the plastic floating in the North Pacific Gyre, and make bottles out it? We would be taking trash and upcycling it into something useful that could be recycled again and again. And more importantly, it could serve as a platform for communicating the real solution to humanity’s legacy of plastic pollution:  using the plastic that is already on the planet.

Well, we’ve done it. Recently, method was able to make bottles out of Ocean PCR. It is 100% post-consumer HDPE, 25% of which is plastic we have collected from the Gyre.

Debris Washes up on Kanapou Bay Beach - courtesy of NOAA

 

Taking on such an audacious challenge requires putting aside the reasons why something won’t work, and inventing new solutions. Making bottles out of ocean
plastic has meant overcoming two primary challenges: 1) How do you make a high quality bottle out of degraded, brittle plastic that has been floating in the
ocean for a decade or more?; and 2) how do you establish a supply chain for a
material that’s floating in the ocean 2000 miles off the West Coast? To solve these problems, method looked to the experts to partner with.

Envision Plastics is one of the leading recyclers of HDPE in the
world, and manufactures the PCR material in method’s laundry detergent bottles. When Rudi Becker (our packaging director at method) and I first approached Envision about our idea, we did so with apprehension, not knowing how our business partner would respond to such a crazy idea. To our
delight, the people at Envision, already in the recycling business, were well
aware of the issues of our plastic pollution problem, and eager to do something
big to address. Since then Envision has donated line time, invented new processes, and busted through barriers to help us engineer Ocean PCR that has similar product performance to virgin HDPE resin. In fact, an entirely new process has been created that allows us to clean, blend, and remanufacture low quality material into high quality plastic.

On the supply chain side, method tapped into a network of beach cleanup organizations, particularly in Hawaii. Hawaii, as one of the most remote land masses on the planet, sits at the southern edge of the Gyre. Because of the ocean winds and currents in the region, much of the plastic from the Gyre ends up washing up on the beaches of Hawaii.  The strategy would be to intercept the plastic that they collect, normally bound for landfill, and divert it to Envision. Having participated in some of these cleanups ourselves, we have picked up bleach bottles from Japan and household items from mainland USA, on beaches in Hawaii.  During one cleanup, a Hawaiian monk seal and a green sea turtle crawled up on the beach while we were picking up plastic.

Sea Turtle on Kahuku Beach

Two endangered species, making their home on a remote beach made of plastic.

Having successfully made bottles we can fill, the next step will be scaling it up and bringing this to market, something we intend to do with a major US retailer. Imagine the proposition of this method product – for every one you buy, you take 15 grams of plastic out of the ocean. Pretty cool. The point, of course, is not to clean up the Gyre. The scientists who study this problem will tell you there is no practical way to clean it up; the area is just too remote, and the plastic too
small. The goal is to raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution, and to point us toward the solution already in front of us – using the plastic that we already have. That way, more people will ask for it, and more manufacturers will make it. And perhaps we’ll be one step closer to a more verdant and sustainable world.

Stay tuned!

…and check back next week for Rudi Becker’s report for more details on how we did it. Rudi is method’s resinator, otherwise known as our packaging director.

- Adam

Read more about it at:

Press release:  http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/method-unveils-breakthrough-bottle-made-of-ocean-plastic-1561925.htm

Articles:  http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/09/method-prototype-detergent-bottle-one-quarter-ocean-gyre-recovered-plastic.php

http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2011/09/15/method-makes-new-recycled-plastic-bottle-garbage-sea

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15 thoughts on “Plastic Waste from North Pacific Ocean Gyre Successfully Recycled

  1. Pingback: Plastic systems. » Cass Harris

  2. Pingback: Une ‘Method’ pour nettoyer nos océans | EPEA Paris

  3. Hey Team,
    Great to see someone getting actively involved.
    We also have big clean ups along our coastline every couple of months here in New Zealand.
    Im really keen to get a team together and get out into the gyre and actually start cleaning the mess up……why no-one has started is beyond me.
    Lets just start sucking all the plastic up and recycle it.
    Im currently working on a big project on using this plastic and turning it into a viable aggregate for concrete and road (tarmac) use.

    • Is it possible to suck the plastic up even if its , as the article says, in very small pieces and spread out in a remote place the size of Texas ? how about plastic bags that line the floors of some harbors ? how about dump mining for plastic ? why not take all the household trash generated around the world and put it all on conveyor belts and take out all the plastics and metals etc out before they are dumped ? have never understood why trash is not utilized efficiently

      • Andrew,

        Thanks for your comment. As we currently understand it, it may be environmentally harmful to try to suck up the plastic already afloat in the ocean. With the plastic, you would suck up micro-organisms that are food to many forms of marine life. Hopefully by bringing light to the issue of marine debris, we can get countries around the world from dumping in our oceans. Meanwhile we will continue to support companies like Method, who are actively supporting beach cleanups and using the collected materials in their packaging as recycled content.

        As to your other questions, there is some limited mining of landfills and dumps already occurring in some parts of the world. Mexico is one country where this is occurring. In the future, we believe that this will become more widespread. Meanwhile we need to encourage recycling so that we stop landfilling materials that can be reused and recycled. If we stop the flow to the landfills, perhaps mining will become more cost efficient in the future. As far as preventing household trash from being landfilled, we support a “pay as you throw” policy where recycled materials are picked up at the curbside for free and you pay to have your trash taken away. There are pitfalls with this approach, but it would promote recovery vs. disposal.

        Thanks again for your comment and if we can get more people to think the way that you do about the waste problem, we can make great strides in reducing our carbon footprint, reducing the amount that we dispose in landfills, or burn in incinerators.

  4. Pingback: Upcycling the Great Pacific Garbage Patch | GIFAM Green Living Blog

  5. Hello,

    I have read with great interest your supply chain system and have the same question as to “Scaling” the concept to fill a larger demand. I would love to find out who you have spoken with relevant to methods of removing plastics of all sizes from the Gyre. If you could point me in that direction that would be great! Thanks for all of your work!

    Bradley.

    • Hi Bradley,

      Thanks for reading our blog. We at Envision along with Adam Lowry and Rudi Becker of Method have been working at the scaling issue for awhile. Adam and Rudi have been taking the lead on actual plastics recovery while we have focused on the more technical aspects of converting that material back into a usable plastic form.

      I know that they are involved with several cleanup groups along the West coast and also in Hawaii. They also have had some contact with Captain Charles Moore of Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Captain Moore has done some of the research into the “5 Gyres”.

      We are hoping to have amassed enough material by later this year to support whatever initiatives Method may have in the works using ocean plastic.

  6. Hello Bradley,
    I am a common uneducated street person, but I like to pick up litter everywhere and recycle often. (So please forgive my spelling too.) I read an article that featured a pic of sample sea water from the pacific gyre. I couldn’t help but notice that the plastic floated on the top of the container while the zooplankton sank. What about growing zooplankton in a controlled enviroment to restaulk the ocean while simutainiosly “skimming” for plastics? Also, I am courious how the architecs of recycled island plan on reclaiming ALL of the ocean plastic into a building matierial? I was thinking mabey by adding an epoxy to the most difficult types of plastics, then molding that into something like hollow or solid blocks?
    Thank you for reading my post Bradley.
    -Ziggybeth.

    • Unfortunately, the most common way is dumping. It wasn’t that many years ago that even New York City dumped its trash at sea. The number of trash scows leaving New York Harbor everyday to dump in the Atlantic was astounding. Fortunately NYC abandoned that practice years ago.

      While much of what is dumped sinks to the bottom of the ocean, many forms of plastic float and constitute what is found floating in the “Five Gyres”. It is going to take awhile to reverse the trend, but the first thing that has to happen is for less developed nations with limited landfill space to cease ocean dumping. The amount of trash in the oceans due to common littering is insignificant.

  7. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all is needed to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like
    yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very web smart so I’m not 100% positive. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks

  8. Recycling plastics is not the optimal solution. Banning it is.

    1) Can’t turn low quality plastic into high quality w/o high costs

    2) I don’t like how you guys talk about collecting plastic trash off the ocean when in the end you guys are not collecting trash off the ocean, you guys are just diverting it. So much for Ocean PCR.

    3) people will continue to litter even when there are recycling bins around. Littering is one of the most significant sources of marine debris. Banning it is the optimal solution

    • Mike,

      Thanks for your comment. I suggest that you take a look at our website (www.envisionplastics.com) to see what is possible by recycling plastics. With regard to your comments:

      Mike: “1) Can’t turn low quality plastic into high quality w/o high costs.”
      Our reply: There are costs to recycle plastics into grades of material suitable for its original use (high quality). However, these costs are competitive with the costs of producing new plastics AND it takes 90% less energy to produce a pound of recycled plastic than a pound of new plastic. Starts to make sense doesn’t it? You replace a pound of new plastic with a pound of recycled plastic using only 10% of the energy to produce the new plastic. It becomes a very desirable reduction in carbon footprint.

      Mike: “2) I don’t like how you guys talk about collecting plastic trash off the ocean when in the end you guys are not collecting trash off the ocean, you guys are just diverting it. So much for Ocean Plastic.”
      Our reply: I think that you may be misunderstanding the use of the word “diversion” from the article. The plastic was collected from beaches in Hawaii where it washed up from the Pacific. It was not litter. It was debris washed up from the ocean. The plastic picked up from the beaches by volunteers was “diverted” from being landfilled and shipped to our recycling center in Southern California. It is recycled Ocean Plastic.

      Mike: “3) people will continue to litter even when there are recycling bins around. Littering is one of the most significant sources of marine debris. Banning it (plastic) is the optimal solution.”
      Our reply: Litter is an issue that we all understand and rally around because it is so visible. However, in the overall scheme of solid waste disposal, litter is an infinitesimal problem (at least here in North America). So we see it, we deplore it, but litter is an education issue, not necessarily a solid waste disposal problem. The plastic that is found in the 5 gyres is predominantly made up of disposed trash from ocean going vessels and less developed countries who still dump their trash at sea, versus other forms of waste management. If we can get the dumping to stop, we stand a chance of cleaning up the gyres over time.

      As far as banning plastics are concerned: it is used in so many products and applications all over the world, that is unlikely to ever happen. The alternatives to plastic in most of these applications have their own environmental issues which are not for debate here. Since the use of plastic is only going to continue to grow as the world population grows, why not have sustainable solutions, like plastics recycling that replace production of new plastics at much lower rates of energy usage.

      Please visit our website and check out other archived articles here on our blog site for more information. Thanks again for your comment.

  9. Pingback: what if earth was the gate, the decider, the yes/no guide for what we do & don’t do? | The Salted Banana

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