As more companies incorporate ocean bound plastic into their products and packaging, how can third-party certification help ensure that businesses and consumers can trust the claims made?
OceanCycle provides third-party certification for the Prevented Ocean Plastic™ programme, initially launched in partnership with Bantam Materials Ltd in 2019. OceanCycle is the creation of social entrepreneurs, Robert Goodwin and Ryan Schoenike. Robert got his start working on the ocean plastic problem in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake where he helped set up a recycling system, and Ryan founded a company making some of the very first consumer products out of the material collected.
Originally OceanCycle wanted to make their own products, yet they quickly realized that the best way to prevent ocean plastic pollution at scale was to support other companies. In that process, they identified two marketplace needs: first, trust and traceability to prove the origins of the plastic material, and second, working across the supply chain in a way which would make it easy and cost-effective for companies to get involved.
To develop the certification programme, they took inspiration from leading bodies such as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and GRS (Global Recycle Standard), and leveraged Robert’s experience setting up grassroots plastic collection systems. The resulting programme focuses specifically on communities at risk of ocean plastic pollution without formal waste management systems – whereby if not collected, plastic would end up in the ocean.
How does OceanCycle certification work?
OceanCycle certification sets out the principles and standards which must be met by all partners and businesses working across the supply chain, from the grassroots bottle collectors all the way through to manufacturing. In its simplest form, the programme requires everyone to work according to the same procedures to ensure that the plastic material travelling across the supply chain is kept separate from other non-certified plastic, tracking weight balances throughout the production process. The plastic is accounted for every step of the way through an unbroken documented chain of custody, whereby 100% visibility is maintained with regard to where the plastic has come from and where it is going.
While to the consumer, the story may simply start with the Prevented Ocean Plastic logo on a product, a considerable amount of work takes place behind the scenes. Certification with OceanCycle is far from a tick-box exercise – it is earned and not given. In order to meet the criteria, each factory has to meet five quality standards, from ethical sourcing and environmental practices to documentation and certification standards. The process can take anywhere between 3 to 5 months and entails at least two on-site visits. The certification lasts for 12 months and every shipment of material is checked and approved.
Working in communities most at risk of ocean plastic pollution often implies working in less secure and informal economies. Building and maintaining relationships is therefor a crucial part of their work, often taking years to develop. Relationships are built on mutual trust and the bottle collector community is a vital part of their eco-system.
Why third-party certification matters
Certification across a supply chain benefits all parties involved. For bottle collectors, factory owners and employees, being part of an audited programme means that they operate under ISO quality management standards. Income is reliable and consistent, while health, safety and environmental regulations are abided by. For retailers and brands, incorporating ocean bound plastic into their products which is third-party certified can set them apart from competitors, as green washing and false claims become much more unlikely. This is increasingly important for consumers too. Through certification, consumers can trust that ocean bound plastic claims made on products and packaging can be validated. For OceanCycle, certification is about setting the bar in an unchartered territory of ocean bound plastic.
“Many companies are beginning to incorporate ocean bound plastics into their products but there is confusion in the marketplace as to what ocean plastic is and whether those recycling efforts are actually having an impact on the addressing the problem.”-Robert Goodwin – OceanCycle
While preventing ocean plastic pollution at scale is the key objective, OceanCycle certification is what enables the Prevented Ocean Plastic™ programme to operate according to a shared set of robust and high-quality standards. As the market for recycled ocean bound plastic grows, it will be increasingly important for both businesses and consumers to be able to distinguish between those who walk the talk, and those who don’t.