As you may have heard, there’s a soupy mix of plastic trash swirling in the North Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. This so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch has grown over the years as we use and throw away ever more disposable stuff. Meanwhile, we keep cranking out virgin plastic (made from oil, by the way).
It might be obvious: Recycling that ocean trash back into new products could help keep our oceans clean and reduce our use of new materials. Method, the stylish San Francisco-based cleaning products company, has been trying to do just that for over a year now.
Last summer, Method participated in a California Coastal Cleanup Day in the San Francisco bay area, collecting plastic trash that had washed up on the city’s shores. During the cleanup, they set aside several hundred pounds of certain plastics (numbers 2, 4, and 5) to see if that old material could be processed into new packaging.
Recycling ocean plastic is difficult because ultraviolet light from the sun changes the material’s composition and makes it more brittle. But, working with Envision Plastics in Los Angeles, Method developed "an entirely new process … that allows us to clean, blend, and remanufacture low quality material into high quality plastic." They’re calling the new material Ocean PCR. It’s 100 percent post-consumer high-density polyethylene, 25 percent of which is plastic collected from the ocean.
With their concept proved, Method is now trying to use this Ocean PCR for a production run of laundry detergent bottles. To that end, they’re tapping into a network of ocean cleanup organizations to help them gather enough plastic. If you live in Oahu, for instance, you can help Method gather trash on December 3.
This is not, of course, the solution to the problem of plastic waste. There’s too much trash in the Pacific for Method to clean up. And Method hasn’t said whether this recycling process is more expensive. It probably is. Ocean trash is certainly labor-intensive to source.
But the company’s goals are humbler: 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’s already on the planet."