Understanding the Ocean Plastic Crisis

When most people hear about the ocean plastic crisis, they think about hot button topics like the great pacific garbage patch which has received a great deal of publicity over the last decade. Here at Company, we want the public to understand that the true nature of this pollution crisis is not just found in the distant center of our oceans; it reaches every shore across the globe. Everyday plastic is continually dumped into the ocean where it is free to circulate. In the roughly 70 years since widespread plastic production began, the exponential rate of production and low rate of recycling have led to millions of pounds of plastic entering our oceans every year.

Plastic itself was heralded as a miracle material around the dawn of the 20th century. By harnessing natural and synthetic polymers, flexible plastic materials began to become widespread in the 1950s. Because of its low cost, waterproof properties, and ease of manufacturing, this new material quickly found its way into countless products. Now, almost 70 years since mass production began, we are dealing with the realities of widespread plastic use.

One of the reasons plastics were so highly valued was their sturdiness. Plastics did not shatter like glass or rot like wood. Instead, they remained flexible and resilient. While these properties make plastics an amazing commercial material, they have also made plastics a nightmare to get rid of. Since widespread production began, due to a lack of data, no one knows exactly how much plastic has become waste. Estimates on the topic vary from 1 billion to over 5 billion tons of total plastic waste in the world with a large portion of that waste ending up in waterways and, ultimately, the ocean.

Humans have historically used waterways to dispose of waste since organized societies first emerged. The basic concept is simple, throw your waste into moving water and it is carried away never to be seen again. While this practice had minimal impact when simply being used to remove sewage and food byproducts, the industrial revolution began the process of dumping hazardous and toxic waste into waterways. As long as the waste was carried away, it ceased to exist in the eyes of polluters and this process has remained in place for nearly 200 years.

Flash forward to the modern day and we see that this long established practice is finally catching up to us. Plastics will not simply go away when we dump them in the sea. The ocean’s cooling effect and saline environment actually help prevent the rapid decomposition of plastics’ high mass polymer structure. When you add the fact that plastics tend to be buoyant, the result is thousands of pounds of dumped plastic following currents until they eventually wash up elsewhere.

Company was founded as a direct result of this ocean plastic crisis. While on a trip to Bali, our founders Alex and Andrew discovered beaches, which should have been gorgeous tropical oases, instead covered in piles of plastic waste. They watched as more and more waste built up on the shores with every break of the waves while local fishermen battled through the deluge just to reach open water. Horrified by the sheer magnitude of this seemingly unending tide of plastic, Alex and Andrew decided to create a business focused on removing plastic from our most valuable natural resource.

Company is dedicated to funding plastic cleanup efforts across the world. We are able to fund this work by selling our bracelets. Instead of relying solely on donations, we developed a system where every bracelet we sell helps to fund the removal of at least one pound of plastic waste during one of our clean up projects. This approach both helps us maintain funding for our clean up projects and promotes awareness for this important cause.

Using a lifestyle brand to fund our cleanup may seem unconventional, but it allows us to use our profits as we see fit in ways that would not be possible for a non profit. In order to maintain transparency, we verify our clean up results and how our funds are allocated with the Better Business Bureau. Over 98% of our profits go towards our clean up efforts and we want our customers to be absolutely certain that every bracelet purchase goes directly towards plastic clean up.

We make all of our bracelets from recycled materials. The bracelets are made with a combination of post consumer plastic waste and about 5% ocean plastic and glass. While we promise to remove one pound of plastic for every bracelet sold, our current numbers actually far exceed this promise. Our bracelets not only contribute directly to funding our clean up efforts, but they also help spread awareness about the Company mission.

We take the profit from these sales and use it to manage facilities and hire clean up crews and ships to remove plastic 7 days a week. We currently are operating out of Florida, Bali, Haiti, and Texas after only two years in operation. As we continue to grow, we look forward to spreading the Company cleanup efforts to new locations around the globe. We are also investing in new technologies that we hope will help prevent plastic from reaching the Ocean and make removal easier.

Our mission is not only to remove plastic from our oceans. We aim to raise awareness of what pollution is doing and work to stop the flow of plastic into our waterways. Since we were kids, we’ve been told to cut the plastic six-pack rings from our cans to avoid wildlife getting caught in them. This kind of advice is aimed at risk management. It assumes the plastic will end up in nature and aims to mitigate the damage it will cause. While these risk management measures are extremely important for wildlife, we have to start focusing on strategies that do not just manage risk, but address the causes.

Removing plastic from shorelines and waterways is itself a form of risk management aimed at avoiding the spread of plastic into the ocean’s food chain. The reality of the ocean plastic crisis goes far beyond the waste we see washing up on shores. Plastics degrade slowly and are waterproof, which are two properties that make them both a valuable commercial material and an environmental hazard. Without human intervention, it could take a plastic bottle nearly five centuries to degrade. Sadly for our ocean’s wildlife, decomposition is not the same as erosion. The plastic debris we see littering shorelines and floating in the surf are just the tip of the iceberg.

While plastics may not rapidly degrade, they can easily erode. Between the constant movement of the seas and being dashed against sandy shores, large plastics can be worn down into countless tiny pieces of plastic over the span of only a few years. These microplastic granules may be nearly impossible to see, but they can have a huge environmental impact.

As microplastics circulate, they are consumed by invertebrates and small fish. While this is obviously troubling, the true danger lies in an effect known as biomagnification. Many plastic compounds are persistent, meaning they will be stored in the body because they cannot be broken down. If small plankton consume tiny quantities of micro plastic, they will probably be able to survive, but the persistent plastic chemicals will remain in their bodies.

When small fish consume those plankton in large quantities, they end up with a larger amount of persistent plastic chemicals in their bodies. This magnification increases up the food chain until larger marine predators like whales, dolphins, and seals end up containing dangerous levels of plastic chemicals. As these affects continue to amplify, the ability for humans to consume seafood safely will also be in jeopardy.

While some plastic pollution begins in the form of microplastics, a majority of microplastics in our oceans are created from the erosion of large plastic waste. Removing this waste and keeping it out of our oceans is one of the best ways to slow the exponential expansion of the ocean plastic crisis. The task of removing microplastics from our ocean is literally like trying to remove a needle from a 100-mile high haystack covering the entire USA. This is why it is so crucial that we collect large plastic waste from the ocean before they are eroded to the point that we can no longer hope to remove them. With millions of tons of plastic entering our oceans every year, cleaning it all up is a huge job.

Obviously combatting the ocean plastic crisis is not a task that our team at Company can achieve alone. Global crises require global solutions and we are proud to partner and donate to other organizations who share our core mission. We also conduct ocean cleanup operations around the globe where teams of local volunteers remove plastic from their shorelines. These local operations contribute to our mission but, because they are not funded by bracelet sales, we do not include the results of these operations in our total cleanup numbers. The counter on our website only reflects the achievements of the teams we fund so customers can get a clear idea of how much plastic we have removed as a result of their purchases, not the kindness of strangers. In reality, our efforts have removed far more plastic than these metrics suggest.

In addition to our clean up efforts, we are also proud to support the efforts of other organizations dedicated to helping the oceans. We donate to several non-profits and we recently partnered with 1% for the Planet in order to ensure that at least 1% of all of our profits go directly to funding various environmental efforts around the world. These actions help extend the good we can do with our bracelet sales without needing to pour expenses into creating and staffing new home bases across the globe. While we can’t be everywhere, we want our reach to extend as far as possible.

We are also happy to support environmental groups that are dedicated to making sure that plastic is properly recycled before it can end up in our oceans. Globally less than 10% of plastics are recycled and the remaining 90% of global plastic products end up split between landfills and waterways. Finding new ways to recycle these products and new methods for producing biodegradable plastic is a crucial step to making our use of plastic sustainable.

While we are extremely grateful for everyone willing to fund our mission or come out and volunteer, we know that not everyone can buy a bracelet or reach a cleanup site. Just because you aren’t working directly with Company doesn’t mean you can’t be part of our mission. There are so many simple things every person can do to help protect our ocean. Whether you make the choice to avoid single-use plastic or you just make sure your plastic waste ends up in the recycling bin instead of the garbage, we salute you for making these small life choices.

It takes billions of grains of sand to create a beach and it will take billions of people making small but important choices to keep them clean. The ocean is truly our greatest natural resource and now is the time to stand up as a global community to protect it. Whether you want to support our cause directly by buying a bracelet and becoming a volunteer or you just want to learn more about the ocean plastic crisis and the steps everyone can do to help, visit our website for more information. We know that if everyone who cares about the ocean contributed to cleaning them, we will be able to continue down this road to recovery and ensure that our marine environments continue to thrive for millennia.