In 2019 the UN Industrial Development Organization published the report ‘Addressing the challenge of Marine Plastic Litter using Circular Economy methods‘. It estimates that 83 Mt of plastic waste has already accumulated in the oceans and an estimated 8 Mt of additional, mismanaged plastic waste entering oceans annually, at least 80% of which originates directly from land-based sources. It addresses the idea of using circular economy to clean the plastic in the ocean.
We all know marine plastic waste is a huge problem for marine life, but also for us since it ends up in the fish we eat. Since one of the premises to create a company is to try to solve a problem, some startup founders have stepped to the task of cleaning the plastic in the ocean. Meet the startups that will make possible to have a plastic-free ocean: some are cleaning the ocean itself, some are focusing on the rivers that transport the plastic waste and others clean marinas, but the all have the same aim.
The Ocean Cleanup
We’re not sure the Ocean Cleanup can be considered a startup anymore. Founded in 2013 by the Dutch inventor Boyan Slat (when he was 18 y.o.) the Netherlands, the company has more than 80 employees. Thanks to a crowd founding campaign, in 2015 completed a 30-vessel research expedition to produce the first high-resolution map of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in 2016 In June 2016, tested the first prototype of their barrier in the open ocean and currently is testing their latest solar ship and barrier prototype.
Cryptocurrency and mobile to clean plastic waste? This is what OceanPlastik offers. The startup wants to create an ecosystem to give cleaned up plastic waste a real value proposition and engage/reward everyone with a smartphone to help by localizing and cleaning up plastic waste from the environment. Users can tag (localize), collect and drop off tagged plastic objects by downloading the PTAGGER app on their smart phone. Users can drop off tagged and collected objects at collection points and recycling centers. Everyone who assists during the clean up process is automatically rewarded with crypto tokens.
4ocean hires boat captains and local workers to clean the ocean and coastlines full time. They decided to implement a business model that would allow them to grow quickly so they could pay workers, fund cleanups, and spread the word about the ocean plastic crisis. Therefore, 4ocean’s founders created the 4ocean bracelet. They pledged to pull a pound of trash from the ocean for each one purchased, using the profits to scale cleanup operations, make donations to ocean-related nonprofits, and build an organizational infrastructure to support future growth.
The world’s marinas, ports and yacht clubs are the perfect place to start cleaning our oceans. With no huge open ocean swells or storms inside the marinas, these relatively controlled environments provide the perfect locations for Seabin installations. The V5 Seabin unit is a “trash skimmer”. The unit acts as a floating garbage bin skimming the surface of the water by pumping water into the device. It can intercept: floating debris, macro and micro plastics and even micro fibres with an additional filter. It can equip oil absorbent pads, able to absorb petroleum-based surface oils and detergent predominant in most marinas around the world.
Large rivers push over 50 % of world’s plastic waste into the oceans every year. The Finnish company Riverrecycle traps waste in rivers and riverbeds, sorts it, recycles it and provides waste management. Afterwards, they recycle the end waste or process it into fuel, energy or raw material production. The company claims that its business model offers national and local governments a sustainable river cleaning service without the need for constant funding.
Parley Global Cleanup Network
Not a company per se, The Parley Global Cleanup Network is an alliance of organizations taking direct action against marine plastic pollution. Their cleanup collaborations remove plastic waste from beaches, remote islands, rivers, mangroves and high seas, and intercept ocean-bound plastics in coastal communities. Their main focus is what is called the AIR initiative:
- Avoid plastic wherever possible
- Intercept plastic waste
- Redesign the material itself
Mr. Trash Wheel
Mr. Trash Wheel, officially called the Inner Harbor Water Wheel, is a vessel that removes trash from the Jones Falls river in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s a project by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. The river’s current provides power to turn the water wheel, which lifts trash and debris from the water and deposits it into a dumpster barge. When there isn’t enough water current, a solar panel array provides additional power to keep the machine running. When the dumpster is full, it’s towed away by boat, and a new dumpster is put in place. Mr. Trash Wheel was invented by John Kellett in 2008, who launched a pilot vessel at that time. A larger vessel was later developed; it replaced the pilot vessel and was launched in May 2014.
Sadly, there are other initiatives, such as Suchitwa Sagaram that are dying out due to lack of funding. While other companies, like Plastic Odyssey, prefer to focus on prevention and spread their message against plastic pollution.
We’re just beginning to realise the scale of the problem. Part of the answer is simple: make and use less plastic. People and companies are starting to act and they are effectively reducing the use of plastic, but we also need to end the flow of plastics into the ocean by recycling them on land and to clean the plastic waste that is already polluting our oceans. Marine ecosystems are in danger and we can help them recover. These companies are already cleaning the oceans and we can have a part in it.