Soapbox – January



From Shore to Store: Opportunity in Ocean Plastics

By Rob Ianelli

Every year the oceans are bearing an additional weight of 8 million metric tons of discarded plastic. That’s close to one garbage truck per minute dumping its load into the sea. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that researchers have stipulated that without any immediate actions, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

These startling figures have been syndicated across hundreds of media outlets and created a growing wave of interest in developing solutions. In fact, the issue of ocean plastic has been discussed as early as the mid 1970s with the National Academy of Sciences estimating that 14 billion pounds of garbage was being dumped into the ocean every year. That’s more than 1.5 million pounds per hour.

A recent study released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation noted that plastics production has grown 20 fold since 1964, reaching 311 million tons in 2014, and it is expected to double again in the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050, with no end in sight.

At a conference earlier this year, I had the pleasure of joining Sylvia Earle at a private dinner. She proclaimed, “The world thought the oceans were unbreakable,” and the outcome we see now is simply the compounding result of this dangerous kind of antiquated thinking. Her thoughts echoed with me.

Something needs to change in how we approach the issues facing the ocean. Our company, Oceanworks, has done just that. Oceanworks is a private company, meaning we are not a nonprofit, NGO, working group or a think-tank. We differ from our peers only in that we have investors to account for and a forthcoming goal to establish our services into not only a repeatable process, but also a scalable global operation that massively impacts the collection and reutilization of verified ocean plastics into sustainable products.

Our journey with ocean plastics began in 2015, when I was optimistic that we would have the success we have now, but certainly unsure as to what the future entailed. Having become more educated on the ocean plastics issue, I wanted to do something about it. At that time, I had a robust sunglasses manufacturing program overseas supporting two eyewear brands I owned and operated. I decided the best way to immediately do something about ocean plastic was to make a pair of sunglasses from the material.

Jump ahead to June 8, 2016, World Oceans Day, when my team and I launched the world’s first sunglasses made from recovered high-density polyethylene (HDPE) ocean plastic. We decided to use Kickstarter as a means to gauge the interest of consumers and leverage the press opportunities focused on the ocean. The ability to tell a story about a growing plastics problem and a definable solution with video, design and engineering proved insatiable to our backers. Norton Point, an eyewear brand, was fully funded in six days and went on to double our funding goal in 30 days.

Shortly thereafter, dozens of major consumer brand companies were contacting us. It became clear early on that the attention we were garnering was not directed toward what we made, but, more importantly, how we did it. We learned early on that major brands had two main requirements to address before incorporating ocean plastic into their products.

First, they required assurance that the material is truly ocean plastic. In response, we have developed a verified supply chain system to ensure chain of custody and origin of material.

Second, they wanted to know if the material(s) available would be suitable for the products that they wanted to make. Immediately we realized that we had to “de-risk” ocean plastics and work directly with brands’ nominated suppliers and factories to troubleshoot the engineering modifications required for successful production.

We quickly realized that to become a successful private company in ocean plastics we needed to build as much value as possible. In the fall of 2018 we launched the world’s first verified ocean plastic marketplace and also developed a correlating brand for consumers to recognize.

OceansMade is our brand uniting and creating value for ocean plastic collectors, processors, manufacturers, brands and consumers to come together around a single purpose: to clean up as much plastic from the oceans as possible. The products produced with material sourced from this marketplace will be adorned with the OceansMade logo, and consumers will have the confidence to know that what they are purchasing is verified from shore to store.

In summary, ocean plastics abound with possibilities. But we cannot tackle this alone. We all have a responsibility to act. Whether you are a citizen or a business, your support of our efforts will create a positive effect for our oceans and the future generations who depend on how we manage our resources today.

Rob Ianelli is the CEO of Oceanworks Inc. He is a serial entrepreneur who has founded successful companies in the consumer product, marketing and sustainability industry. Passionate about pursuing market opportunities and transforming societal problems into compelling high-impact businesses, Ianelli has a keen understanding of how to create powerful results for customers, partners and the environment.