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United By Blue and Method Turn Ocean Plastic Into a Resource
February 6, 2012
United By Blue is an ocean-friendly brand of apparel. For every product we sell, we remove 1 pound of trash from oceans and waterways around the world through company organized and hosted cleanups. In other words, we sell clothes, pick up trash, and do our own dirty work.
At each of our cleanups, our volunteers ask us, “What do you do with all that trash?” Until recently, our answer was that we would send it to landfills or recycling centers. Over 14 billion pounds of trash enter oceans and waterways every year, and much of it ends up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in any of the 4 less famous patches of photodegrading plastic soup, and on islands thousands of miles from shores.
Waste in landfills and recycling centers is much better than in marine ecosystems. But it only took us one cleanup to recognize that all this plastic marine waste is a resource, and we’ve wanted to do something with it since the beginning.
Over the summer of 2011, we became a Certified B Corporation, which means that we’re part of a growing community of businesses dedicated to using business to solve social and environmental problems. It means that we must consider stakeholder value above shareholder value. And more importantly, it means that we were able to leverage the community to connect with another B Corp: Method Soap.
Method Soap had announced an interest in using recovered ocean plastic in bottles for their cleaning products, and since we’re in the business of collecting ocean trash, our partnership was a no brainer. B Labs, the overseeing body for B Corporations, made the introduction, and we sent over our first batch of ocean plastic to Envision, the plastic recycling company that processes the material on behalf of Method. In 2012, we’ll be one of Method’s main suppliers of ocean plastic, and we’ll send them 12,000 pounds of types 2, 4, and 5 plastic to use in bottles for their cleaning products.
This partnership doesn’t come with a manual, and nothing quite like it has ever been done before. On our end, we face the challenge of collecting and sorting the trash. We already sort and count our recyclables at the end of every cleanup, and separating out the 2, 4, and 5 plastics that Method will require adds another step to our cleanup process and asks even more patience of our tired volunteers. We hope that Method will only be the first of many materials partners, and that we’ll eventually work with other companies who can use our other types of plastic, which will add more steps to our cleanup process.
Another challenge to contend with is the quality of the plastic itself. The plastic that we’re sending Method has been out in the elements, and has spent anywhere from days to years photodegrading under the sun. Ocean plastic and virgin plastic will need to be integrated without sacrificing material integrity. We’ll also need to measure and track plastic that’s too degraded for use in Method Soap bottles.
But for all the challenges inherent in this partnership, there are far more opportunities. We hope that our model will be the beginning of others, both at UBB and at other companies, as more and more companies realize the value not only in remediating pollution, but in using it for something new.