The extent of plastic pollution in the ocean is sometimes hard to fathom. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, some 10 metric tons of plastic fragments enter the Pacific Ocean every day from the Los Angeles area alone. Fish in the North Pacific ingest between 12,000 and 24,000 tons of the stuff each year, while 97.5 percent of all Laysan albatross chicks have plastic particles in their stomachs. One recent report concluded that there are over 165 millions of plastic in the ocean today, and that by 2050, the weight of all the plastic pollution in the seas will be greater than that of all the fish.
The sheer scale of the issue is such that addressing it requires multiple approaches. Reducing or ideally eliminating future pollution is obviously essential; that's a major motivation behind the growing movement to ban plastic shopping bags, and the urgings of many to cut as much plastic use out of our everyday lives as possible.
Removing the plastic pollution that is already in the ocean is a greater challenge, not least because so much of it is in the form of microplastics. (Despite its seemingly relentless momentum, the much-publicized Ocean Cleanup project has been heavily critiqued and questioned by a number of scientists.) Collecting larger scale debris is theoretically easier, at least when it washes up on coastlines, which has spurred numerous beach cleanup efforts around the world.
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A Vancouver-based outfit called Plastic Bank is taking that one step further, by turning discarded plastic into a commodity and repurposing it as what founder David Katz calls "social plastic."
Currently operating in Haiti, and hoping to expand elsewhere, Plastic Bank works in concert with the country's Ramase Lajan (or "picking up money") collection centers. People turn in bottles or other plastics to Ramase Lajan, and are paid in cash (or, if they prefer, access to Wi-Fi or power to charge their mobile phones). The plastic is then crushed into pellets, which can then be formed into other products.
Plastic Bank encourages companies to use their "social plastic" instead of virgin plastic in their products, and whereas some companies (such as LUSH Cosmetics) are shifting some of their production in this direction, one startup is using this recycled plastic from the very beginning and putting it front and center of its mission statement.
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Norton Point came out of an idea by co-founder Ryan Schoenike to create eyewear that utilized recycled plastic waste; after initially struggling to find a way to source that recycled material, they came across Plastic Bank and forged a partnership. The startup launched its "Sea Plastic Differently" line of sunglasses on World Ocean Day, June 8, and is partnering with the Ocean Conservancy for education and outreach. Norton Point pledges to invest 5 percent of its proceeds into education,cleanup and remediation activities, and proclaims that for each pair of sunglasses purchased, it will clean up one pound of ocean plastic.
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