Ocean pollution doesn’t wash “away”

A single-use plastic crisis lives in our waters. You can help.

There’s no denying ocean pollution is a problem. By now, most of us have read the stat over and over again: If things don’t change, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. It’s estimated 8–12 million tons of plastic pour into oceans every year. With numbers like those, it can be overwhelming and difficult to think about how one person can make an impact. 

Being aware of the issue is the first step to making a change, and there are many ways to take on the plastic pollution issue.

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Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash

One important way to make a difference is to support brands that have committed to making their products better for the environment. A significant part of this is designing for recyclability and using recycled content, and TerraCycle works with brands to do this by creating recycling programs, free to the public to use, for items not accepted through public systems.

Another way we do this is by supplying manufacturers unique recycled materials (such as cosmetics packaging, drink pouches, even cigarette butts!) from the items people collect through our programs. Companies buy this material from us, transforming what most would consider “trash” into new products, allowing you, the consumer, to make a difference.

Sea the change

Beach and ocean plastic is the littered plastic found in marine environments such as oceans, beaches, rivers, and lakes. It is considered non-recyclable municipally because due to exposure to the sun, sand, and water, it is highly degraded and considered too low-value and unstable to collect and integrate into new products and packaging. Thus, this material is typically headed to landfills.

We believe everything can be recycled, and with the growing attention to the ocean plastic problem, saw an opportunity to clean up shores, educate people, and create a new supply chain. Working directly with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other beach cleanup groups already picking up litter from beaches and waterways, we collected shipments of rigid plastics through beach cleanup efforts, at no cost to participants. 

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Beach cleanup organizations and NGOs were essential to building up a new supply chain for the Head & Shoulders project. Photo via P&G.

Then, we worked with brands to integrate this typically non-recyclable plastic into their products. The first company to do this was Procter & Gamble, who teamed up with us and our partner SUEZ in Europe to source, develop, and put out the first fully recyclable shampoo bottle made with beach plastic for the world’s #1 shampoo brand, Head & Shoulders. 

Creating a product that people could buy out of a common but unusual material such as beach plastic engaged people of all ages and backgrounds around the ocean pollution issue, and what could be done about it. The project would go on to win an award from the United Nations (which we were happy to share with our collectors), and iterations of the bottle have since expanded to 13 markets around the world!

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TerraCycle was named a winner of the United Nations Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activity award in recognition of its work with Procter & Gamble and SUEZ. Photo via P&G.

Waves of change

With the success of the Head & Shoulders bottle, P&G Hair Care brought a beach plastic Herbal Essences run to the US with catchy sayings like Love Your Shore, Sea the Change, and Waves of Change on the bottles. Sold at over 1,500 Target stores to start, available now at grocery chain Kroger, and launching with other retailers in the near future, this activation by a beloved brand reached people and was intended to raise awareness and educate at the same time.

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Labels on the Herbal Essences bottles made with TerraCycle’s beach plastic. Photo via P&G.

Across the sea in Europe, P&G’s Fairy brand debuted its ocean plastic dish soap bottle. containing 100 percent post-consumer recycled content (PCR), 10 percent of which is ocean plastic supplied by TerraCycle. REN Skincare, a Unilever brand, uses in its formulations active ingredients from the ocean, such as Atlantic Kelp, so working with us to create their own ocean plastic bottle was a natural fit.

Sea the difference

The bigger the brand, the bigger the impact, so we are incredibly proud of the work we’ve done to bring solutions to sustainable brands on a mission to do the right thing. It is the role of business to be a reflection of your desires, and if you continue to demand more recyclability, recycled content, and products that are better for our oceans—more brands will follow.

Companies understand people care about the environment and are increasingly likely to choose brands driving change, so many have been introducing products and packaging using what is known as ocean-bound plastic. This is plastic collected within 30 miles of a waterway in areas with poor waste management (including urban areas, like streets), making it a possible risk to reach the ocean.

Often comparable to curbside-quality and plentiful to collect, ocean-bound plastic captures the value of litter that very generally might find its way into the ocean, but is not necessarily found in marine environments at all; our ocean plastic removes material from marine environments, offering new use for otherwise low-quality, non-recyclable material.

More Plastics in the Ocean than Fish: a Solution?
Our CEO Tom Szaky holds a mixed bag of plastic items found on the beach, including toys, goggles, and packaging—all different plastic types damaged by sun and sand. Photo via World Economic Forum.

There are oceans of opportunities to help the planet

While there is no single solution to the plastic pollution issue, we can aim to build toward a better environment. We face challenges, but we’ve also made steps in the right direction toward new solutions. To further these advancements we must continue to vote for the future we want with our dollar—a sustainable future. 

Recycle right where you live by learning what is accepted in your region, separating your recyclables, and striving to reduce contamination by non-recyclables and food waste. Prevent litter using the proper receptacle and encourage others to do so. Use durable items to replace some disposable ones, such as bottled drinks with a reusable a bottle. And above all, be knowledgeable about what you buy and change the world by consuming differently.

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