On average, more than 10 million tons of plastic enter our oceans each year, according to a study published by American Association of the Advancement of Science. Almost 60 years since plastics revolutionized consumer goods, our plastic problem has gotten out of control. There’s no denying the convenience and importance of plastics in our everyday lives; it is hard to even imagine a world without them. It may seem too late to eliminate pollution from our oceans, but it is possible to recover plastics that are at risk of further polluting our beaches and home to our marine life.
What is Ocean-Bound Plastic?
Recycled plastics use PCR (post-consumer resin), a great alternative to virgin plastic. However, most PCR plastics are recovered from our curbside recycling programs, not from our oceans. Ocean-bound plastic is exactly what it sounds like. These plastics are considered at risk of entering our oceans or rivers at the coastline and are recovered to be sorted, cleaned, and turned into resin for new use. The marine debris capable of turning into ocean-bound plastic is not collected from the ocean; it resides approximately 50 km (~31 miles) from coastlines that lack essential community-based recycling programs. Typically, these plastics are high density polyethylene (HDPE) one of the strongest plastics out there. This means that ocean-bound plastics can, in fact, be recycled multiple times, eliminating the need to produce virgin plastics.
You might be thinking; how do plastics end up at the coast in the first place? The misconception surrounding our ocean plastic problem is that you have to live on the coast, be at the beach, or purposely litter to contribute to the ocean landfill. We all can locate at least one body of water nearby, whether that be a lake, river, ocean, bay, or reservoir. These locations are susceptible to gathering plastics because the population surrounding them is known to have poor waste management systems according to a study done by ocean-bound plastic conceptualizer, Jenna Jamback, Ph.D. Not only do coastal regions have dense residential populations, but they also generate tourism - two large contributors to plastic pollution. The influx of plastic consumption in these areas, along with mismanaged waste collection has turned our coastlines into plastic feeding grounds.
The process of collecting ocean-bound plastic starts with locating ‘at-risk zones’, areas within 50 km of the coastline typically lacking professional recycling facilities or management programs. Professional recycling facilities have advanced sorting mechanisms that can detect different types of plastics and correctly categorize them so that they can be turned into new plastics later on. The absence of any organized system makes the coastline plastic problem even more complex; these unwanted materials skip the sorting process entirely and gather in landfills. Rain and natural forces push these lightweight plastics from the landfills closer to the coast through drains and flowing water streams. Plastic and packaging manufacturers are now finding sustainable ways to source materials, recognizing the value of these plastics that would otherwise end up in our ocean. To learn more about how to properly dispose of cosmetic packaging plastics so that they do not end up in the landfills, check out this post.
Recycled plastics can be used for producing sustainable, yet reliable packaging for all different types of personal care products. Innovation and advancements in plastic manufacturing have allowed brands, like Susteau, to incorporate recycled plastics into their packaging to lessen the environmental footprint left by the beauty industry.
Recycled Plastic at Susteau
Our bottles at Susteau are made up of over 95% recycled ocean-bound plastic. 100% recycled plastic is rare, because adding a colorant typically makes up 1% to 3% of the final weight of the plastic packaging. Our caps are made of 10% recycled plastic. Having a flip top cap, we needed to maintain the structural integrity of the hinge, therefore 10% is the maximum amount of plastic we could use in order to make sure the cap lasted long enough to use the product inside the bottle. The bottle and cap are both made of HDPE, meaning, you can leave your cap on your bottle to recycle the packaging when you’re done with it.
Why haven’t all brands converted to PCR plastics?
The truth is, repurposing plastic is expensive and the use of recycled plastics makes the supply chain more complex. Longer lead times are associated with PCR in addition to the higher costs. From a functional perspective, PCR is more fragile, so it has limited uses for flexible components. PCR is also known to have some limitations on aesthetics that include colored specks and a gray hue, making it difficult to use them for opaque or light-colored plastics.
The Future of Sustainable Plastics
The solution to our world’s plastic problem may be complex, but it is not impossible. Reducing the amount of plastic we consume is the first step to becoming a more sustainable shopper. Although buying plastics can’t be avoided, we can help eliminate the demand for virgin plastics by opting for more sustainable options like Ocean-Bound Plastics and other PCR materials. There is no such thing as an easy solution in the world of recycling. In fact, raw material innovation has a long way to go from here. Recognizing the importance of rescuing plastics from our coastlines will not only benefit our beaches, but also promote a happier and healthier ecosystem!
Sources used: https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/how-does-plastic-end-ocean; https://envisionplastics.com/faqs/ ; https://sustainablebrands.com/read/chemistry-materials-packaging/what-is-ocean-bound-plastic-and-should-it-be-our-focus
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