7 mins read | Creating Change

Turning the tide on plastic pollution with Ocean Bottle

Single use plastic pollution in the ocean

I don’t know about you, but when I think of the ocean now, it only takes a moment before the bluey, greeny, swirls and waves to become littered with plastic pollution debris and bad decisions.

The truth is, we as everyday people haven’t let this happen. Decades of global leaders putting profit ahead of people and the planet are what’s brought us here. You might have seen the news this week that only 12% of the UK’s household plastic alone is likely to be recycled.

But that doesn’t mean we are powerless to make real change happen! From investing in the right sort of life-long products to backing campaigns that put pressure on policy makers – we the people can clean up our oceans, cancel our toxic relationship with single-use plastic and build a safer, more equitable world for everyone (the non-human world included) to live in.

Sounds good, right? That’s why for Plastic Free July, I (Kayleigh here by the way) reached out to one of my favourite fellow B Corp brands, Ocean Bottle, for a bit of help shedding light on the problem we currently face, but more importantly, how we can go about solving it – and together I think we really can do it!

Okay, that’s enough of me rabbiting on. Let’s do this.

Just to get started, can you give us a little intro to who Ocean Bottle are?

We’re Ocean Bottle, we’re a B Corp too and have been around for three years. We’re on a mission to bring people together to turn the tide on plastic. Essentially, we make great, functional reusable water bottles – an alternative to single-use plastic, but that’s not quite enough for us. We also collect 1000 ocean-bound plastic bottles for every bottle sold, that number is never compromised on.

“Right now, a truckload of plastic ends up in our ocean every 30 seconds. And sadly, the rate is only increasing.”

Reuseable water bottle at the beach

That’s a pretty shocking statistic, but it is great to see companies like Ocean Bottle taking action to reduce this. Why has ocean plastic pollution has got to this level?

The demand is accelerating things, but also, as a result of COVID, oil companies basically found a new way to move through the economy, and a lot more plastic was produced. So, we’ve kind of taken a few steps back as to where we were.

At the moment, only 9% of worldwide waste is recycled. And a lot of it gets sent from countries in the Global North such as the UK, USA & Europe, to countries in the Global South, like Indonesia, Haiti, Colombia, and Africa. A lot of this is illegal waste. But the Global North also sell our waste to these countries.

The issue with this, beyond producing and using single-use plastics in the first place, is that these developing countries don’t have the infrastructure to accept and recycle so much waste. So quite often, what happens is the waste makes its way to rivers and waterways and ends up in the ocean.

So you can think of it a bit like an analogy:

If your sink was overflowing, would you mop up the floor? Or would you turn off the tap? Well, up until recently, humankind’s response has been a bit like mopping the floor, and instead, we want to turn off the tap – that’s what we, at Ocean Bottle are trying to do.

Plastic Pollution Coalition Art Installation

Okay, so the issues are pretty clear now. What is Ocean Bottle’s approach to turning the tide?

So we focus on places where plastic pollution is worse. Indonesia has been notoriously bad, but there’s also Colombia, Africa, Egypt, and other parts that aren’t quite as recorded at the moment.

Ocean Bottle works with collectors who collect plastic, and exchange that plastic for money, along with access to tech goods, microfinance, tuition and financial security. It’s a mission of ours to create sustained social mobility, and not a fleeting source of income – when one day, hopefully, there will be little or no single-use plastic to collect.

Plastic collector in Indonesia being paid for work

That’s so awesome and that long term social-mobility really aligns with our mission as well. *high five* They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I think it takes the same for a B Corp business! Who do you partner with to ensure your impact work, really works?

Our partners include Plastic Bank, rePurpose Global and Plastics for Change. All Ocean Bottle partners are verified, accredited, and go through a rigorous partner examination.

Together, they are all looking to make the world of waste management much more regulated, systematic and far easier for people to access – which will save our oceans (and ultimately us too).

But to start making a real dent in this crisis, we need all companies and governments to help. We like to think we’ve done a lot already, and are proof it can be done!

So far, we’ve collected nearly 6 million kg’s of plastic which is enough to go around the world 2.5 times if you were to line up 500ml water bottles… and still counting.

Plastic collectors sorting ocean bound single use plastic

Okay, bold statement, but imagine a world where B Corp was the minimum standard for all operating businesses. What a difference that would make! On that note… What are a few of the best changes you’ve personally made to reduce or remove single-use plastic?

Obviously, passing on single-use plastic bottles, I think that’s an absolute no-brainer because there’s so many places you can get water to refill and you drink all the time so it’s a natural thing to have on you as a bottle. Now it’s second nature, I have my phone, my keys and my bottle.

But some other swaps that I’ve done away from single-use plastic are fruit and veg. So really trying not to buy stuff wrapped in plastic. Quite often you do have to shop around a bit more. And occasionally it’s more expensive. But I think there are some really good swaps that you can do there. (Kayleigh jumping in here to recommend Odd Box for plastic free, surplus fruit and veg that would otherwise go to waste)

I think buying in bulk is always really good. We have Faith In Nature Shampoo, Conditioner, and Shower Gel in our household and they are massive. The bar of soap didn’t quite work for me. But we use these giant refills, which we get a big container of once a year, then they just get sent back and refilled!

All brilliant swaps, and ones we do over here at Pala too. You’ve said how governments and companies are integral to driving real change. Can you recommend any organisations or people that are campaigning for this to happen and we could support?

Yeah, definitely, I’d look at rePurpose Global who’s one of our partners. I would also look at Surfers Against Sewage who are a UK based charity, and doing a great job in terms of encouraging people to be plastic-free, but also be smarter about what’s happening to their rivers and our waterways.

And then another organisation is called SeaLegacy, which was founded by a friend of ours called Cristina Mittermeier, who’s a National Geographic photographer, a huge campaigner, and an activist who talks a lot about how we can combat climate change if we speak and listen to the more marginalised people in in the world.

Surfers Against Sewage Beach Clean

Brilliant! Have noted a few petitions to start signing right away. Just before you go, I have to ask, how do you see the world better?

Wow, that’s exciting. So I think I see the world better when the war on ocean plastic is finished, obviously. But more when governments and prime ministers actually take on board how critical this situation is, and affect policy change. I think, you know, there’s a lot that we can do to have to affect change with our purchasing power. But real change is going to happen in the courts. So when we start banning some single-use and when we started exporting so much waste.

Want to know more about Pala’s materials and sustainability credentials? Check out our journal entry from last year’s Plastic Free July.