Improving the Health of Oceans through Recycling

By World Ocean Festival supporter TerraCycle .

It is estimated that 10-20 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year. These include microplastics, which impose severe degradation to natural capital suffered by animals and their habitats. Recent reports confirm that deep-sea animals down in the Mariana Trench, Earth’s deepest point, are ingesting this pollution, which has also found its way into the Arctic. If things don’t change, we could see more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

But what is it exactly that needs to change, and where does all this plastic come from? The root of the issue boils down to economics. More than 300 million tons of new, virgin plastic are produced globally per year. Demand for plastic in lieu of durable, reusable and more recyclable materials, such as metal or glass, has increased. It is now more economically viable to use virgin plastic in new production than it is to use recycled plastic, as the cost of processing and logistics for recycled material is greater than what they can be sold for on backend channels.

The lack of economic incentive to recycle plastic tracks it for linear disposal, the avenue by which these materials end up polluted in our oceans and waterways. One tangible, immediate way individuals and communities can circumvent economic limitations and improve the health of oceans is through TerraCycle’s Beach Plastic Cleanup Program. The program is free and offers local beach cleanup organizations the opportunity to recycle collected beach plastic for the first time.

Beach cleanup organizations and other ocean-minded NGOs already partake in the important practice of picking waste up off of shorelines and working to restore ecosystems. However, because beach plastic is multi-compositional and is prone to UV damage and contamination, this waste is considered difficult-to-recycle and has been largely sent to landfill and incineration upon collection.

The Beach Plastic Cleanup Program invests in the collection, processing and integration of beach plastics in new production, and creates a market for these materials. Earlier this year, TerraCycle announced a partnership with consumer product giant Procter & Gamble to put out the world’s first fully recyclable shampoo bottle made with recycled beach plastic.

So far the world’s largest production run of recyclable shampoo bottles (180,000, to be exact) made with beach plastic, the pilot is for the world’s #1 shampoo brand, Head & Shoulders, and integrates plastic collected through the Beach Plastic Cleanup Program.

Cleaning up our oceans by keeping beach plastic off shorelines and out of landfills really comes down to seeing all plastic waste as valuable. And while recycling is one aspect of clean ocean action that provides a solution for both the world’s plastic waste problem (and the increasing strain on the earth’s finite resources), it is only a reaction to the systemic issue that is present: the culture of overconsumption and perception of plastic disposability.

Individuals are in a position to improve the health of the world’s oceans by changing the way they consume plastic. Invest in durable, reusable products and packaging configurations, and avoid multi-compositional plastic (especially single-use plastics, like straws, “disposable” cutlery). Participating in more sustainable consumption habits and recycling allows consumers to tackle the world’s ocean waste problem from both ends, investing in the health and safety of our waterways.