posted September 19, 2011 by alexis |
this article was originally featured on treehugger. but since the lovely adam lowry authored it, we thought it should have a home here too. so, without further ado…
In 2006, Method reached a milestone – we made our first bottle entirely from post-consumer recycled plastic. In the 5 years since then, Method has continued to innovate, and we now make tens of millions of plastic bottles a year that are completely free from virgin plastic. After having achieved 100 percent PCR in nearly every Method bottle across our entire business, we started asking ourselves a simple question: what is the ultimate post-consumer material?
This led us to ocean plastic, and another question: what if we could gather some of the plastic floating in the North Pacific Gyre and make bottles out of it? We would be taking trash and upcycling it into something useful that could be recycled again and again. And more importantly, it could serve as a platform for communicating the real solution to humanity’s legacy of plastic pollution: using the plastic that is already on the planet.
Well, we’ve done it. Recently, Method, in partnership with Envision Plastics, was able to make prototype bottles out of a novel and potentially profound new plastic material, Ocean PCR. It is 100 percent post-consumer HDPE, 25% of which is plastic we have collected from the Gyre.
When we first embarked on this audacious challenge, we were told it was impossible – there would be no way we could get the high quality the Method brand demands from plastic made entirely of recycled bottles and ocean trash. Proving these naysayers wrong required putting aside the reasons why something won’t work, and inventing new solutions. Making bottles out of ocean plastic has meant overcoming two primary challenges:
1) How do we make a high quality bottle out of degraded, brittle plastic that has been floating in the ocean for a decade or more?
2) How do we establish a supply chain for a material that’s floating in the ocean 2000 miles off the West Coast? To solve these problems, Method looked to the experts.
Envision Plastics is one of the leading recyclers of HDPE in the world, as well as the company that manufactures the PCR material in Method’s laundry detergent bottles. When Rudi Becker (a packaging engineer at Method) and I first approached Envision about our idea, we did so with apprehension, not knowing how our business partner would respond to such a crazy idea. To our delight, the people at Envision, already in the recycling business, were well aware of the issues of our plastic pollution problem, and eager to do something big to address it.
Since then, Envision has donated line time, invented new processes, and busted through barriers to help us engineer Ocean PCR that is the same quality as virgin HDPE. In fact, an entirely new process has been created that allows us to clean, blend, and remanufacture low quality material into high quality plastic.
On the supply chain side, we tapped into a network of beach cleanup organizations, particularly in Hawaii. Hawaii is of the most remote land masses on the planet, and happens to sit at the southern edge of the Gyre. Because of the ocean winds and currents in the region, much of the plastic from the Gyre ends up washing up on the beaches of Hawaii.
The strategy was to intercept the plastic that these beach cleanup organizations collect, normally bound for landfill, and divert it to Envision. Having participated in some of these cleanups ourselves, we have picked up bleach bottles from Japan and household items from mainland USA on beaches in Hawaii. During one cleanup, a Hawaiian monk seal and a green sea turtle crawled up on the beach while we were picking up plastic. Two endangered species, making their home on a remote beach made of plastic.
A few steps remain before our Ocean PCR bottles bottles can land on store shelves. Our first task is to collect enough usable plastic to create a significant supply, a task we are taking up with several volunteer organizations on September 17th, International Coastal Cleanup Day.
The next step will be scaling it up and bringing this to market, something we hope to do in partnership with a major US retailer. Imagine the proposition of this Method product – for every one you buy, you take 15 grams of plastic out of the ocean. Pretty cool.
The point, of course, is not to clean up the Gyre. The scientists who study this problem will tell you there is no practical way to clean it up; the area is just too remote, and the plastic too small. The goal is to raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution, and to point us toward the solution already in front of us – using the plastic that’s already on the planet. That way, more people will ask for it, and more manufacturers will make it. And perhaps we’ll be one step closer to a more verdant and sustainable world.
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