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The people on the front line of ocean plastic pollution prevention

By June 8, 20216 Comments

The life of plastic packaging carrying the Prevented Ocean Plastic logo starts when a discarded bottle is collected by a bottle collector in an at risk country, from within 50 kilometres of the ocean or major waterway.

Today we are not only celebrating UN World Oceans Day 2021 but also reaching an important milestone of preventing 20,000 tonnes of plastic from entering the ocean. That’s the equivalent of 800,000,000 individual bottles. This equates to 10% of the total amount of plastic water bottles which are consumed in the UK every year or 12 bottles for every person living in the UK.

Each bottle has been collected, sorted, cleaned, baled, and processed into flake, before being transformed into recycled plastic packaging for products ranging from fresh berries to frozen fish to shampoo. Ultimately travelling thousands of miles – and going through seven different stages of the supply chain – Prevented Ocean Plastic stand outs for its traceability.

Every single batch of Prevented Ocean Plastic can be tracked from shore to shelf and comes with a documented chain of custody. Achieving this is the result of 10 years of operational planning and development, and people are our critical differentiator.

Measurable impact at scale can only be delivered through detailed monitoring and reporting, and the complexity of working in these at risk countries cannot be underestimated. The OECD estimates that by 2030, 40 million people, or 1% of the global workforce, will be employed by ocean-based industries. Though they work on land, bottle collectors play a vital role in protecting our oceans from plastic waste. They are part of a global community of informal workers, who earn their living by salvaging discarded materials.

Globally 24 million people are involved in recycling – 80% of which is informal. In many developing countries they supply the only form of waste collection, yet their work goes largely unrecognized. Often marginalized and operating within a highly unregulated recycling system – a “Wild West” – we believe that more support is needed.

The Prevented Ocean Plastic programme supports bottle collectors by providing them with consistent and reliable payment for what they collect. For many bottle collectors, salvaging materials is their main source of income to support their families. They provide us and the world’s oceans with a valuable service.

In 2020, bottle collectors collectively prevented 500 million bottles from reaching the ocean and in the first quarter of this year, an additional 160 million bottles. But there is more work to be done – as this number represents only a small fraction of the number of water bottles which are placed onto the market annually. To put these figures into context, the UK’s 10 largest supermarkets sold 2.46 billion water bottles in 2019 alone!

However, for bottle collectors, earning a living from collecting plastic is only viable if the plastic continues to have sufficient monetary worth. Plastic packaging has value but 95% of it is lost after just one time use – equating to a loss of $80-120 billion annually.

Through the Prevented Ocean Plastic programme, value is being reapplied to the plastic material. This is the only way that we can ensure that on a global scale, plastic will no longer be perceived as waste.

Providing 100% traceability allows us to not only track the plastic, but also assess the monetary value of the plastic material at the point where it is recirculated back into the economy for second use. This batch-by-batch control is critical for our customers and also for our suppliers; it sits at the core of our ambition to put ocean-bound plastic at the heart of the circular economy.

Today it is important to recognise not only what has been achieved in keeping these bottles from entering the ocean to date, but also the opportunity for what more can be done – and the difference that will make to people on the front line, as well as our planet.

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