Recycling has been part of the American psyche for the better part of 40 years. Beginning in the early 1980s, our society decided to start making a better effort to recycle plastics, paper, glass, and a few other materials. But for most of us, seeing the fruits of our recycling labors has been fleeting. We assume recycling works because we are told it does. Yet we have never seen any viable proof.
Well, we now have at least one tangible example. It is an example demonstrating what happens when a recycling plan comes full circle. It can be discovered by looking into the operations of a nonprofit organization known as The Ocean Cleanup.
Addressing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Perhaps you have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a large concentration of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. The garbage patch is approximately 617,000 square miles in total area. That is a lot of trash. The Ocean Cleanup was formed in 2013 to do something about it.
Founders wanted to slowly reduce the size of the garbage patch while simultaneously preventing additional trash from flowing into the world’s oceans from polluted rivers. But like every nonprofit, they need money to do what they do. Enter their recycling plan.
The Ocean Cleanup got together with Microsoft for the 2018 version of its annual hackathon. The result was updated software utilizing artificial intelligence to help the nonprofit track plastic waste and better manage its automatic collection machines.
Sunglasses from Plastic Waste
Hackathon advancements have made the organization more efficient. Technology has streamlined certain portions of their operation so much so that they are now manufacturing sunglasses from the plastic waste they recover. They are selling the sunglasses for $200 per pair. Guess where that money goes? Back into the organization. The sunglasses are helping to fund continued cleanup of the garbage heap.
This may be the moment you realize The Ocean Cleanup’s recycling plan has come full circle. They embarked on a plan to clean up the ocean, used some of the plastic they collected to make sunglasses, and are now diverting sales revenues to go out and retrieve even more garbage.
Customers can buy the sunglasses and know they are helping to support a good cause. And if they are interested, each pair of sunglasses comes with a QR code. Scan that code with a smartphone and you will be given access to more information, including details about where the plastic in those particular sunglasses came from.
Simple in Principle, Complicated in Practice
What The Ocean Cleanup is doing is not so amazing in principle. It may be complicated in practice, but the concept of plastic recycling is an old one. We just don’t do it as often as we should because it’s not cheap. Recycling plastics takes a lot of money and effort.
Seraphim Plastics, a Tennessee company that recycles everything from used water bottles to plastic pallets, explains that some plastics are more easily recycled than others. Profitability really boils down to the market. If there is a strong market for a particular type of plastic, companies like theirs can make money recycling it. If not, the plastic goes into landfills.
The Ocean Cleanup has a slight advantage over for-profit businesses in that they do not have a certain margin they have to reach. Still, they have to be very careful about how much it costs them to collect and recycle plastic waste. It appears they are making it work, at least for now. They have a recycling plan that has come full circle.