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Commercializing the rising tide of ocean plastic

<p>Can a small group of beachcombers revolutionize plastics packaging?</p>

Last September, Method announced plans to develop bottles made from collected ocean plastic. In the company of EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Method co-founder Adam Lowry described our work to collect plastic from the beaches of California and Hawaii and convert them into new, recyclable bottles for method soap.

So, what have we been up to since then? Mostly cleaning beaches.

Method has participated in, alongside partners Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Kahuku Hawai’i Foundation, several beach cleanup days that resulted in collecting several thousand pounds of beach debris. The primary challenge encountered in these cleanups, aside from hauling hundreds of pounds of plastic from remote beach locations, has been retrieving the plastics before they degrade to tiny particles that are effectively impossible to collect in large quantities.

The range and quantity of plastic in the oceans is astounding. The debris collected from these beaches has varied from fishing baskets made of polypropylene to Russian shampoo bottles and Japanese bleach bottles made from HDPE, to car bumpers, ropes, water bottles, and buoys.

Although these cleanups have allowed us to gather plenty of plastic, they face real challenges of scale in creating a lasting supply chain. Fortunately, we’ve found some great potential partners. One is United by Blue, a Philadelphia-based fellow B Corp that designs and sells apparel to support its beach and waterways cleanup activities. United by Blue have been cleaning beaches at an impressive rate (over 1 pound of debris removed per shirt sold), and we hope to source from them the plastics we can use for our Ocean Plastic bottles (resins number 2, 4, and 5). And our partner organizations in Hawaii continue to be instrumental in diverting the immense amount of plastic that washes up on their beaches from the landfill and into our bottles.

On the technical end, our “plastic surgeons” (a.k.a. packaging engineers) have been working with our resin manufacturer, Envision Plastics, to fine tune the durability and strength of the Ocean Plastic bottle. The bottle’s entirely unconventional resin feedstock presents some tricky engineering challenges — primarily regarding consistency of thickness and material behavior — but nothing that our packaging engineers haven’t been able to address. The bottles are consistently a dark shade of grey — probably the sexiest package ever to be colored gun metal gray.

Lastly, we’ve been working hard on bringing the product to market. The product will be launching this fall, details to come. We’re extremely excited to get this item on shelves and reach a broader audience with our message about plastics in the ocean, what we’re doing about it, and how plastics need to be responsibly managed.

What makes Method’s work in ocean plastic even more exciting is the overall momentum that’s starting to build around recovering and using marine debris. We’ve heard from a few other companies looking at possible applications. Among the most interesting is Interface’s Net-Works project, where they are working with the Zoological Society of London to collect discarded fishing nets and convert them to nylon that can be used to make new carpeting. We’ve very impressed by their approach and have been speaking with Interface about partnering on cleanups to share useful materials.

Method’s team of People Against Dirty love our work on the Ocean Plastic project because it brings together three things that characterize our company and how we work. First, it addresses a real and material environmental problem — in this case, the accumulation of persistent plastics in the environment. Second, it relies on solid science and creativity to generate a solution. And third, it integrates sustainability into an innovative, effective, and engaging product design.

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