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Waste Free Oceans: Transforming Ocean Plastics

Meet the Waste Free Oceans team! They’re fast becoming a global driver of collecting and transforming ocean plastic, achieving substantial reductions of ocean plastic that contribute to a circular economy. Here’s their story so far and their vision for the future.

Q:  What’s unique or innovative about Waste Free Oceans?

The Waste Free Oceans Foundation’s main goal is to reduce the global impact of marine litter. By mobilizing fisheries, recyclers, manufacturers, and policymakers, Waste Free Oceans aims to reduce, recycle and ultimately reuse marine litter, mitigating the impact on both the environment and natural resources.

We specialize in:

  • Marine litter clean-ups: Special  fishing trawls can each collect between 2-8 tonnes of floating litter
  • Beach  clean-ups: Partnerships with organisations going to local beaches
  • Policy advocacy:  Presentations and forums at the European Parliament and Commission.
  • Collaborations with partners on “closing the loop” projects, all designed to transform collected marine litter and to create new and innovative products
Waste Free Ocean, ocean plastics
Photo credit: Waste Free Oceans

Q: What inspired you to start?

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has made it well known that eight million metric tonnes of plastic waste leak into our oceans every year. This is the equivalent of one garbage truck dumping its load each minute. Without action,  there will be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025. By 2050, there will be more plastic waste in our oceans than fish.

We all need to take action today.  We need to reduce the amount of plastic leaking into our oceans. And we need to remove the debris found in our oceans right now.

At Waste Free Ocean, we’re tackling the latter since 2011, as an initiative of the European plastics industry to address the growing concern of marine plastics. WFO has since grown into an independent organization that operates worldwide. It relies on funding from public donations, project collaborations, and corporate partnerships.

Q: What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Waste Free Oceans joins hands with companies, big and small, who want to send a clear message of intelligent use of resources and protecting our ocean environments. Waste Free Oceans partnered with the green cleaning brand Ecover and manufacturer Logoplaste to combine plastic trawled from the sea with a plastic made from sugarcane and recycled plastic, in what was hailed as a world-first for packaging. Ecover used the launch of its Ocean Bottle washing-up liquid to highlight the long-term dangers of dumping plastic in the sea.

We’ve had a long history of success. Back in 2013, Waste Free Oceans successfully lobbied EU policymakers to secure subsidies from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for fishermen to perform marine cleanups, as ensured by Article 40. In 2012 WFO received the PBO (practical boat owner) award for Best Campaign or Initiative for our fishing for litter initiatives and promotion of practical solutions to address marine litter.

We’re overwhelmed by how much positive change we’ve achieved and won’t stop pushing for more!

Q: What're your plans for the next 6 months or year?

We’ve highlighted the growing need to control the amount of plastics in our rivers.

Given that rivers flow from inland areas to the seas, they are major transporters of marine litter. In fact, the ten rivers carrying the highest amounts accounted for 88 to 95 percent of the total global load of plastics in the oceans. Waste Free Oceans intends to focus its efforts in this area in the coming two years.

At the end of 2017,  Waste Free Oceans launched the Operation Castor in the Dominican Republic, aiming to collect solid waste on the Ozama and Isabela rivers. We aim to free the rivers from contamination in 2018. Now, Waste Free Oceans wishes to set up a regional plastics recycling center in the Dominican Republic, to educate the local population, bring the best recycling technology in the world to this region and produce Waste Free Oceans emergency shelters to respond to the massive housing deficit and future hurricane threats.

Q: What do you wish you’d known at the beginning? What’s been your biggest challenge? Has inspiration come from unexpected places?

Nowadays, the world is ready and waiting for products offering environmental solutions rather than more challenges. People are demanding sustainable choices and are now ready to pay for them. When we first started our foundation, people were not yet aware of the impact of marine litter, nor were they prepared to get involved. Today, it has become clear that instead of extracting more natural resources to produce even more plastic products, we can make use of what’s already freely available in our oceans.

Q: What’s on your list of ‘best-kept secrets’ and why? Can you share one of them?

Our best-kept secret is a project which we will start developing this year, by turning ocean plastic into social emergency shelters worldwide. Ocean plastic can be combined with mixed waste in order to create panels that will then become emergency shelters for people who have suffered from hurricane threats or for those who live in areas where there is a massive housing deficit.

Photo credit: Waste-Free oceans

Q: It’s hit the news recently that that collecting marine litter is only half the battle. Workers rights who process plastics need protecting too, for example in China. What's your gut reaction to this issue?

The economic reality in the region is severe and it also has a great impact on the environment. Although the plastics industry created employment in the area, the working conditions are extremely poor and the wellbeing of the workers, as well as the natural beauty of the country, are slowly disintegrating.

Q: How can people get involved?

There are various approaches to tackling the global issue of plastic waste in seas. While prevention of dumping is key, brand owners and companies can get involved in recycling waste into new and sustainable products. The value chain begins with collection at sea.

As public awareness is increasing, Waste Free Oceans is confident in its capacity to develop new partnerships worldwide and engage in practically oriented actions to reduce the amount of floating debris. With the growing global call for action to address marine litter and continuous pollution of water ecosystems, Waste Free Oceans aims to continue operating long term, with a strong desire to increase the operational capacity outside of Europe.

Get involved: https://www.wastefreeoceans.org

Buy ocean-inspired shirts, sweaters, and bags: https://www.wastefreeoceans.org/shop

Waste Free Oceans Logo
Photo credit: Waste Free Oceans
By Zoe Cuckow
Zoe is passionate about building networks and movements to accelerate social change and create system-wide change. She has previously worked for citizen-led change and worked in Uganda to empower university students through social entrepreneurship.
Photo by Matt Alaniz on Unsplash
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