Last month, Method announced an ambitious plan to turn plastic trash from the ocean into detergent bottles. It was an exciting idea, but unlike every other material that Method uses in its products, there is no real supply chain for ocean plastic. It only comes from people actually going to the beach and picking up the trash, which doesn’t happen frequently enough to build a business model. Except that United By Blue, an apparel company that removes one pound of ocean trash for every product sold, does just that.
United By Blue has garnered plenty of attention for its ocean conservation model. Instead of throwing money at other organizations to handle its charitable works, the company organizes its own ocean cleanups, ensuring that it can generate real results (82,000 pounds of trash removed so far).
But what to do with all that plastic? Until recently, the company was just sending it to landfills and recycling facilities. Then founder Brian Linton saw a press release about Method’s ocean-plastic detergent bottles. He got in touch with Method, which was enthusiastic about the idea of having a reliable source of ocean plastic. For the past month, Method has been taking United By Blue’s plastic—types two, four, and five—and handing it off to plastic recycler Envision Plastics, which creates a material suitable for detergent bottles.
United By Blue can’t supply Method with all the ocean plastic it needs, but the apparel company does have a significant amount to give away. In just two recent ocean cleanups, United By Blue collected between 300 and 500 pounds of usable plastic for Method. In 2012, Linton and his crew expect to give Method at least 12,000 pounds of plastic. "It comes down to us wanting to make sure that our trash is being used in a good way. We’re not making money off this plastic," says Linton. "We make our money solely from the sale of our apparel."
Even after supplying Method with its ocean plastic needs, United By Blue is left with extra trash from its cleanups, including PET plastic, styrofoam, and car tires (seriously). Chicobags may take the PET plastic for its rePETe bags, and United By Blue hopes that a surfboard manufacturer will use its styrofoam for recycled surfboards. If nothing else, the new trash recycling initiatives will inspire ocean cleanup volunteers. It’s a lot more glamorous to think that the trash you’re collecting will end up in a surfboard or a Method product than in a landfill.