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Can We 3D Print Our Way to Plastic-Free Oceans?

Image credit: Clean Currents

It’s estimated that nearly 8 million tons of plastic flow into our oceans every year; even more goes into landfills. While there are many great companies focused on recovering this plastic, there is one developing a plan for what to do with those millions of tons after the cleanup is done.

I founded Clean Currents after spending some time backpacking around the world and noticed something disturbing: Everywhere I went, there were mountains of plastic. Littering Greek Islands, stretching along Turkish coastlines, covering French cities. Finally, when I saw crabs making shells out of the plastic debris, I thought, "If they can find a use for our trash, why can't we?" This question sparked my curiosity and, after gathering together a great team, I believe we’ve developed a plan to solve the world's ocean plastic problem for good.

The Plan

Create a proof of concept

Our first product, a reusable water bottle, acts as a proof of concept to demonstrate how ocean plastic can be 3D-printed into a great, consistent product. Before Clean Currents, turning ocean plastic into products was mostly done as an experiment, or as a gimmick. This phase of our plan is meant to prove that ocean plastic products really can work.

Grow our capabilities

With nearly 8 million tons of ocean plastic flowing into our oceans every year, we see the problem only having one solution: Demand. Designing thousands of products made from ocean plastic is phase two; suitcases, glasses, furniture, statues and a myriad of other products will be released continuously. Aided by dozens of professional designers, our company can create independent brands focused solely on each of these product categories, all for the goal of processing as much ocean plastic as possible. Creating a production facility able to fulfill millions of orders a year and, more importantly, millions of pounds of plastic, is the fastest way to pay for the cleanup of the world's oceans.

Let others choose what to make

We think our products will be popular, but we can only create so many. That's why our long-term goal is to start a 3D-print-on-demand service. Customers can upload any file they want and it will be printed with ocean plastic and shipped to their door in a matter of days. In addition, we will create specialty 3D printers that are seamlessly compatible with ocean plastic. We believe this third phase is where we can begin recovering more than 8 million tons of plastic a year and actually begin shrinking the total amount of ocean plastic. Through a combination of our own products, print-on-demand service, and specialty 3D printers, we believe we can achieve what others have thought impossible.

How we plan to recover all that plastic

To supply all of the ocean plastic needed for our ambitious projects, we plan on partnering with other great groups that are at the forefront of plastic recovery, including Oceanworks and The Ocean Cleanup Project. In addition to partnering with dedicated suppliers of plastic, we are developing our own recovery methods and machines. Each kind of location needs a unique solution; rivers, beaches, coastlines all require radical new approaches. To ensure that no place on Earth is ignored, these cleanup machines will be mass-produced and remain active and cleaning for years as a way to prevent any kind of future build-up from happening again.

I was inspired by groups such as TOMS Shoes to make things that truly matter, things that fill a need and help people. After learning that a huge part of ocean plastic is made up of single-use bottles, I knew that our first product needed to be recycling those into reusable bottles. We recently launched our Delta Water Bottle, made from 10 single-use bottles. It can be purchased on our website, and Sustainable Brands readers can save 20 percent with the discount code SUSTAINABLEBRANDS20.


Adam Smith is the founder of Clean Currents.

[Read more about Adam Smith]


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