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How these giant companies are working together to find the best ways to reuse ocean plastic

‘We think of [ocean-bound plastic] as waste, but it’s not. It’s actually a lost opportunity.’

How these giant companies are working together to find the best ways to reuse ocean plastic
[Photo: HP]
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In an effort to reroute plastic waste that would otherwise end up polluting our oceans, businesses are already finding ways to incorporate ocean-bound plastic into their products. But, discovering that there’s strength in numbers, some are joining a consortium of companies called NextWave Plastics to share their learnings and achieve the plastic diversion on a greater scale.

Nonprofit Lonely Whale is responsible for bringing those businesses together. It started the NextWave initiative in 2017 with the goal of permanently cleaning up 25,000 metric tons of plastic waste by 2025 that was either on its way to the ocean or already in the ocean. The plastic it collects is being used in products built by companies including Ikea, Dell, and Herman Miller.

Dune Ives of Lonely Whale [Photo: courtesy NextWave Plastics]
“We think of [ocean-bound plastic] as waste, but it’s not,” says Lonely Whale CEO Dune Ives. “It’s actually a lost opportunity. We’re losing money and we’re polluting our ocean and our communities.”

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Ives joins us on the World Changing Ideas podcast—along with Jane Abernethy and Ellen Jackowski, chief sustainability officers at Humanscale and HP, respectively. Humanscale and HP are two of the very carefully curated companies chosen to be in the consortium.

Ellen Jackowski of HP [Photo: courtesy NextWave Plastics]
As well as selecting companies that will follow through on the environmental goals, the nonprofit wants to create human impact for the people on the front lines of the plastic-waste crisis. When building plastic supply chains around the world, the businesses have to consider the needs of the local communities. For instance, HP, which uses the equivalent of a million plastic bottles per day in its products, now sources plastic from Haiti and upcycles the ocean-bound plastic into printer cartridges, desktop fans, and even entire laptops.

[Photo: HP]
Sourcing plastic in this way doesn’t require much change in designing or making products, Abernethy says, though she acknowledges “it’s a much deeper set of considerations. Instead of saying, ‘Let’s just find the best price,’ the questions become: Is it a benefit for those communities? Are the folks who are gathering it [being] paid a living wage?”

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Jane Abernethy of Humanscale [Photo: courtesy NextWave Plastics]
Ives says that working with NextWave allows businesses to learn from others—and to share findings from their successes. For instance, HP can exchange learnings about its Haiti supply chain with rival Dell, which works with plastic in Indonesia. “It’s not every company that wants to come and sit at a table across from their competitors,” she says. Adds Abernethy: “We recognize that even if we use only ocean plastic in all of our products, we’re not going to solve the problem on our own.”

Besides, existing in a group together spurs competition—which Ives hopes could help NextWave outperform its 2025 goal. “Ellen and Jane could say, ‘I’ll see your 25,000 metric tons, and I’ll raise you 150,000 metric tons,'” Ives says. “This group would be like, ‘All right, it’s on.’ Let’s bring that energy.”

You can listen and subscribe to World Changing Ideas on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.