4ocean is “Changing the Tide on Ocean Pollution”
Two entrepreneurs are effectively eradicating plastic pollution by creating the first economy for ocean plastic.
Facing a Tidal Wave of Plastic
For Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze, it was the surfing trip of a lifetime when the two recent college grads went to Bali to enjoy big waves and exotic beaches. Once there, they were taken aback at all the trash piled up along the shore, spoiling their dream vacation. A local lifeguard told them the beach had been cleaned earlier in the day and what they saw washed ashore within the past few hours. Their trip of a lifetime turned into a long-term commitment to clean the oceans of plastic waste.
“When you spend that much time on the water you really have an affinity for the ocean and an appreciation for it,” Schulze says to CNBC Make It.
Cooper and Schulze both grew up with a love of surfing, boating, fishing, and sandy beaches. The two met at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and became friends. As they looked into the problem of plastic waste, they were stunned at the alarming magnitude of the problem.
They found that an average of 8 million metric tons of plastic waste ends up in the world’s oceans each year, according to figures published in Science. That’s on top of an estimated 150 million metric tons already circulating in marine environments. It had been widely reported that plastic debris kills about one million marine animals a year due to entanglement, suffocation, or ingestion. They also found that plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change according to an IUCN Issues Brief. If that was not enough, they learned that plastics are now in parts of oceans that humans have never seen according to marine biologist and microplastics expert Dr. Lucy Woodall.
Making the Impossible Possible
How could these two millennials fresh out of college come up with a viable plan to help fix this global problem? If they started a nonprofit, they would be dependent on donations to keep the operation going. With that comes time and energy used to drive charity functions, find donors, and request donations. They had to plan another way to make the most significant impact. They prepared a business plan that would make better use of their time and resources, putting their efforts into actual cleaning, educating, and building a global community to help tackle the widespread problem.
“The overproduction and consumption of single-use plastics is the cause of the ocean plastic crisis. The real solution is changing people’s behaviors on land. We have a finite amount of time to act, so education is key,” says Cooper.
Their plan was genius; they would create a demand for ocean plastic. In 2017, Cooper and Schulze formed 4ocean. This global company removes trash from oceans and coastlines, helps create sustainable economies around the world, and inspires people to work toward cleaner oceans. Through job creation, using the latest technology, and raising awareness about the impact of plastic and trash in the ocean, the company is building the first economy for ocean plastic.
With their limited capital, Cooper and Schulze produced high-quality bracelets from recycled plastics they collected and sold them through the 4ocean website. The entire operation is fully funded by the sales of the bracelets, sold for $20 apiece. For every bracelet sold, 4ocean pledges to remove one pound of trash.
In just a year they sold over one million bracelets bringing in over $20 million. Profits are used to support cleanup operations, as donations for ocean-related nonprofits, and to build an infrastructure to support future growth. In a few short years of business, 4ocean has collected over 10 million pounds of ocean trash and built a global infrastructure to fight plastic pollution in our oceans. The company currently employs 300 people in the U.S., Indonesia, Haiti, and Guatemala.
Plans include expansion of new business solutions such as reselling collected materials and contracting with governments and industry for waterway cleanup services. 4ocean’s business model serves as an inspiration for other companies to create solutions to help solve this global crisis.
Raising the Bar on Effective Stewardship
Cleanup is mainly accomplished by hand and with handheld tools like fishing nets. Vessels, boom systems, and skimmers are some of the equipment used in recovering ocean plastic. Each cleanup operation is carefully documented from start to finish. Before and after photos are taken of a cleanup site as well as of each crew and while they work. Trash is bagged, weighed, documented, and transported to a regional facility where data is logged into their TrashTracker program.
Once the plastic reaches the facility, it is sorted by type, color, and condition. Recycling partners receive the plastic where it is flaked, washed, and pelletized. 4ocean uses the pellets to manufacture products for funding purposes. Materials that cannot be recycled are disposed of in the most sustainable way possible through local facilities to convert into electricity or use responsibly as landfill.
Cooper and Schulze hope 4ocean becomes the world’s largest organization dedicated to cleaning ocean plastic waste. They have garnered prestigious awards and recognitions for their efforts, among them, the Forbes 30 Under 30: Social Entrepreneurs 2019, Newsweek Creative Class of 2019, SURFER magazine Agent of Change 2018, FAU College of Business: 2019 Outstanding Young Owls Award, and the 2019 American Business Awards: Gold Stevie Award Winner. They also helped make a new Guinness World Record for the Largest Under Water Clean Up with 633 divers retrieving over 1,600 pounds of trash and 60 pounds of fishing line in 2019.
Not Just Cleanup
The company spearheads an outreach and education program, creating awareness of ocean plastic pollution and inspiring people to act. Through lesson plans prepared for educators, local beach cleanups, and local events, their goal is to change consumption habits to prevent plastic pollution in our oceans. Additionally, 4ocean has donated nearly $700,000 to organizations focused on ocean cleanup and marine conservation.
4ocean Upcycling finds new ways to transform waste materials into innovative products and materials. The company uses these new products to fund ocean cleanup, expand awareness efforts, and reduce the use of virgin plastics. On a larger scale, 4ocean is looking into construction projects such as furniture, schools, and other possibilities. Each project will have a substantial impact on the ocean plastic crisis, drawing interest for others to join in the effort.
Recovered and recycled ocean plastics are processed into several raw material resin types under the 4ocean Plastic brand. These recycled plastics can be used to replace virgin plastics and are suitable for a variety of applications. 4ocean’s in-depth documentation process sets a new standard for accurate and accountable reporting of upcycled ocean materials. They will undergo a GreenCircle Certification process to audit and verify 4ocean Plastic is sourced from oceans, rivers, and coastlines.
“We’re creating an economy for the removal of plastic from the ocean. Our reclaimed plastics are turned into high quality pellets that manufacturers can transform into meaningful and sustainable products,” says Schulze.
Be a Part of the Solution
Plastic production, consumption, and waste are expected to rise in the coming years, and we could be facing disastrous consequences. Failure to act is not optional if we are serious about preserving a livable planet. Americans recycle only 1 or 2% of plastic waste. Each of us could do our part by responsibly recycling our plastic waste materials and choosing reusable items instead of disposable ones.
“I want to have an area where not only I get to [enjoy] but my kids can grow up and enjoy the ocean, as well. And, at the rate we’re going, with the way plastic is being produced and how it’s being handled, it’s threatening that entire situation severely,” Schulze says to CNBC Make It. “So, you know, it’s our opportunity to do something now to have a better future for everybody.”
Learn more about 4ocean and how you can get involved by visiting 4ocean.com.