Method successfully recycles plastic from North Pacific Gyre
Method, in partnership with Envision Plastics (the technology leader in curbside collected, recycled polyolefin plastics), has developed a novel and potentially profound new plastic material; Ocean PCR. The idea was born when, after achieving 100% post-consumer material in our packaging, we started asking ourselves a simple question: what is the ultimate post-consumer material?
That led us to ocean plastic. What if we could gather some of the plastic floating in the North Pacific Gyre, and make bottles out 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 was able to make bottles out of Ocean PCR. It is 100% post-consumer HDPE, 25% of which is plastic we have collected from the Gyre.
Taking on such an audacious challenge requires 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 you make a high quality bottle out of degraded, brittle plastic that has been floating in the ocean for a decade or more?; and 2) how do you 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 to partner with.
Envision Plastics is one of the leading recyclers of HDPE in the world, and manufactures the PCR material in method’s laundry detergent bottles. When Rudi Becker (our packaging director 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. Since then Envision has donated line time, invented new processes, and busted through barriers to help us engineer Ocean PCR that has similar product performance to virgin HDPE resin. 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, method tapped into a network of beach cleanup organizations, particularly in Hawaii. Hawaii, as one of the most remote land masses on the planet, sits 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 would be to intercept the plastic that they 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.
Having successfully made bottles we can fill, the next step will be scaling it up and bringing this to market, something we intend to do 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 we already have. 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.
Source: Envision Plastics