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Ocean Plastics – The next business opportunity?

Rita Sampainho

With at least 8 million tonnes of plastic finding its way into the oceans each year, plastic pollution is now considered a ‘planetary crisis’. In response to this, nations have agreed to stop plastic waste entering the world’s oceans, a commitment sealed through a non-binding UN resolution on the 5th of December. But as we’ve seen with similar international agreements, national governments cannot tackle the problems alone. That begs the question for the private sector: is there a business opportunity?

For any company that makes anything, it’s highly likely that plastic will be involved at some stage. After all, plastic is one the most versatile, low cost and durable materials ever invented. But the widespread use of plastics across industries – combined with the traditional ‘use-dispose’ approach to material use – has resulted in unmanageable amounts of plastic ending up in the oceans.

The UN resolution can now serve as an incentive for companies to re-think plastic use across the product life-cycle. This can create opportunities for business to demonstrate their sustainability efforts by investing in sustainable innovation.

Some companies are going down the familiar road of setting sustainability targets. The classic sustainability leader, Unilever, which produces 2 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year, has committed to make all plastic reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

These are impressive efforts. But let’s also praise those companies that are truly pushing boundaries. Those that are cleverly thinking of ways to turn one of the most pressing environmental issues into a business opportunity. These pioneers are creating something so innovative that we really want to buy it. They are re-purposing ocean plastic into new products and working to reduce plastic production in the first place.

For example, Adidas, in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, is turning ocean plastic into a whole new range of sportswear, including trainers, swimwear and t-shirts. Dell is creating the first commercial-scale global ocean plastic supply chain by using ocean plastic as part of their new packaging system. And Bureo, a group of surfers whose mission is to find innovative solutions to prevent ocean plastics, transform discarded fishing nets into skateboards.

Saltwater brewery goes one step further, by producing something that feeds marine life, rather than killing it! The company uses the by-products of the brewing process to produce the ‘Edible Six Pack Ring’, which is 100% biodegradable, compostable and, as the name clearly suggests, edible! I would definitely cheer to that with a Saltwater LocAle!

We all know that reducing ocean plastic pollution, like many other environmental problems, will be painstaking process. It will require time, commitment and collaboration. But let’s try and use a different language to talk about the problem. Creating a solution shouldn’t be dull and overwhelming. It should be something to be excited about. It should be a business opportunity.

Companies should not think of reducing ocean plastic pollution as burden. Rather, they should see it as a window of opportunity to lead on creative and sustainable innovation. The future could be a business model shaped around commitments to creating positive change for the bottom line as well as the health of our oceans.

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