Our oceans are facing a massive plastic pollution crisis. A whopping  8.8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans every single year. And the impact on marine wildlife is absolutely horrendous. From a plastic straw stuck in the nostril of a sea turtle, to a deceased whale being found with piles of plastic bags and other garbage in its stomach, it’s pretty obvious our marine plastic pollution problem needs some viable solutions and fast.

While our emerging knowledge around plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is prompting many to seek plastic-free lifestyles, as well as campaign for more advanced waste collection technology and services, some companies are actually seeing the excess ocean plastic as a largely untapped business opportunity.

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We certainly aren’t running out of ocean plastics anytime soon, allowing it to be embraced as a resource for innovative product design and business models. As new ideas emerge around how to use ocean plastics for clothing, packaging, and even social health and community improvement, we are entering a new era where the solutions to plastic pollution are both innovative and incredibly useful.

Method Soaps: Cleaning Up Our Oceans

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Method is a cleaning product company born in 2001 to two founders that envisioned a revolutionary and eco-friendly way to clean our homes and ourselves. Over the years they’ve developed and improved upon their own recipes for items like hand soap and laundry detergents that rely on naturally-derived ingredients that avoid the toxins and irritating tendencies often associated with mainstream cleaning agents.

Sustainability has always been a part of the vision for the company, boasting plastic soap bottles made from 100% post-consumer content  as well as its utilization of an LEED certified soap factory in Chicago in 2015.

Folks started catching wind of a truly innovative take on ocean plastic that Method was developing in 2011 when the company unveiled a prototype soap bottle that was composed of a blend of post-consumer recycle plastic as well as recovered ocean plastic. Method employees and volunteers gathered discarded plastic on the beaches of Hawaii and it was then used to create this novel packaging design. A unique gray color of the material emerged after the various plastics were mixed and melted together. The new design earned Method a Dieline Package Design Award in 2013 for Editor’s Choice. And while recovered ocean plastic is only yet being used as part of a blend in packaging for one single product in Method’s extensive line, this accomplishment appears to be an encouraging start to a more sustainable packaging program. Where else might we be able to utilize harmful ocean plastic in place of virgin plastic in packaging materials in the future?

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Pharrell Thinks You’ll Be Happy To Wear Garbage! (And We Agree)

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When you consider clothing that carries a sustainability factor, things like organic cotton materials and buying second-hand items probably come to mind. It appears we can now add recovered ocean plastic to the list of wardrobe innovations for the environmentally aware.

Singer Pharrell is currently championing an awesome clothing line that aims to put recovered ocean plastics to good use. Partnering with clothing company G-Star RAW, the singer is helping introduce the world to denim that is made partially from recovered ocean plastics. The special line is called RAW for the Oceans and just recently debuted its Fall and Winter lines for this season.

Recovered ocean plastic is shredded into fibers alongside plastic water bottles, then formed into the snazzy jeans, shirts and hoodies that make up the RAW for the Oceans line. The line has been around for three seasons and claims at this point to have collected and repurposed two million plastic containers recovered from beaches lining the globe. A new outfit is certainly a better look than coastlines littered with plastic bottles, wouldn’t you agree?

Plastic Bank: Cashing In On Plastic Pollution

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A hurting planet is often tied to hurting people. Pollution and a degraded environment can be associated with many social ills including poverty which plagues billions worldwide. Luckily, a company called Plastic Bank has come up with a solution for helping to address both poverty and pollution at once.

Plastic Bank created a term called “social plastic” which treats discarded plastic as a form of currency. Individuals living in impoverished communities collect plastic from coastlines or in the city and bring them to a recycling center where they are pelletized after collection. In exchange for the plastics brought in, the plastic collectors may obtain currency, WiFi access, or electricity to charge their mobile phones.

And what happens to pelletized plastics is pretty awesome. An increasing number of companies are looking to work with Plastic Bank in order to tap into this new source of plastic that rivals virgin plastic. This social plastic may become material to be used by 3D printers, turned into cosmetic packaging for products made by Lush, and even packaging for cleaning company Seventh Generation. Suddenly the seemingly useless plastics that could clog gutters and beaches becomes desirable by the impoverished who can directly benefit from these materials and actually assist in creating sustainable products with many large companies worldwide.

The Big Picture

First off, we have to give major props to these companies that have taken the initiative to help solve a global problem of epic proportions. Combatting ocean plastics is going to take a lot of work and the fact these companies are willing to step up to the plate makes them sustainability superstars!

Next, there’s a great take away message from what these companies are doing. While we don’t want to forget that plastic pollution in our oceans is a very real problem, we also don’t want to become paralyzed or defeated by being caught up in the doom and gloom of the situation. Not only is the problem of plastic pollution acting as a destructive agent, it’s also an agent of positive change and an invitation for creative thinking and innovation. Perhaps we can start to look at plastic pollution as a teaching element – an opportunity to explore greater design ideas for the products we use every day, as well as consider how we take care of those around us in our communities.

Pollution may be incredibly troublesome, but we can all work to turn this pollution into recycled, eco-friendly products with a bit of innovation. This isn’t an excuse to contribute more plastics to our marine environments, but rather an opportunity to utilize a new and widely available resource for the greater good of planet and people.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.

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Lead image source: Antonio Fancubierta/Flickr