Giving Value to Waste

Since the beginning of The Ocean Cleanup®, we have always planned to do something valuable with the plastic we clean up. We must keep this plastic from entering the environment again – either by creating durable new products or processing it otherwise.

By giving ocean plastic a new purpose, we can turn the problem into a solution, and the funds we manage to raise this way will always go straight toward further cleanup.

“There is no such thing as waste – only wasted resources. When you can create value from waste, it isn’t waste anymore.”

– John Verhoeven, Recycling Manager

Proof of Concept
- The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses

In October 2020, The Ocean Cleanup launched the first product made with plastic caught in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses.

This served as the proof of concept that we can unlock the value in the ocean plastic catch: the material can be recycled into high-quality consumer products, giving people a tangible way to support us, so we can raise funding to clean more ocean.

The sunglasses are now completely out of stock (as of February 2022). In the future, we no longer intend to create our own products; instead, we will work with partners to develop products using The Ocean Cleanup Plastic. This will allow us to focus on our core mission of cleaning up: we aim to scale up our missions quickly and catch exponentially more plastic the more ocean systems we deploy.

How You Funded 500,000 Football Fields Worth of Ocean Cleaning
Boyan Slat unveiling the sunglasses
Boyan Slat presenting the sunglasses to an online audience in 2020
The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses with case and pouch, made with recycled materials
The Ocean Cleanup® Sunglasses with case and pouch, made with recycled materials
The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses
The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses

Ocean VS. River Trash

The Ocean Cleanup is currently conducting cleanup operations in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and some of the world’s most polluted rivers. The composition of trash extracted from the ocean differs from what we catch in rivers, as does the ownership of the catch. Due to these factors, our role in creating value for these two streams also differs:

Oceans Rivers
Composition Only certain types of plastic make their way out to the middle of the ocean. Compared to plastic retrieved from rivers, ocean plastic is also much more degraded due to decades of exposure to seawater and UV radiation from the sun. The diversity of trash in rivers is much more significant than for oceans. Here, we not only catch different types of plastic but also other types of waste.
Ownership The plastic we catch in oceans is located in international waters, making us the legal owners. Trash caught in rivers is mainly owned by the operators of the Interceptor™.
Waste management As legal owners, we ensure the ocean catch is processed it in accordance with our waste management policy, overseeing the entire value chain as we go. Working closely with the local operators, we review waste management plans, helping to identify and mitigate potential risks. Together, we aim to ensure a positive environmental impact.
Funding & Business model We recycle the majority of plastic, after which our partners process to make durable new products – while constantly looking for the best way to process any remaining waste. We support Interceptor™ Solution operators in developing business models for the extracted waste – by sharing our knowledge, experience, and access to our network.
Crew sorting plastic on deck after System 002 extraction, October 2021 Plastic pollution in Ozama river, Dominican Republic The Ocean Cleanup team developing the sunglasses with Safilo Granulate created from the catch from System 001/B. The plastic was later turned into sunglasses. Base material creation, July 2020

Ensuring Transparency

It is important that our donors, partners, and supporters are provided with transparency when it comes to our catch. That’s why we adhere to the Chain-of-Custody standard for our ocean plastic – certifying its origin, while also verifying our catch numbers from both rivers and oceans.

Certified Origin

Currently, there are many products made with ‘ocean’ plastic, but there is little traceability or proof to that claim, and, in some cases, there is only little plastic collected from the ocean in the products. Therefore, we met with . They agreed to create a standard to substantiate the quantities of plastic extracted from a particular origin (in this case, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch). As no such standard previously existed for harvested ocean plastic, DNV and The Ocean Cleanup partnered to create an entirely new one, based on the experience with other well-established chain-of-custody models.

We followed this standard for our first product – The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses – and we continue to follow it for our catch. Companies using our recycled ocean plastic can therefore be confident that the plastic is sourced directly from the world’s oceans – and they can then assure consumers as to the origin of their plastic.

DNV Auditor inspecting the pre-sorting of our first plastic catch in February, 2020. The plastic in the end product - the sunglasses - was certified from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, following a chain of custody protocol by DNV.
DNV Auditor inspecting the pre-sorting of our first plastic catch in February, 2020. The plastic in the end product - the sunglasses - was certified from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, following a chain of custody protocol by DNV.

Processing our next catch

Now that we’ve proven that we can create value from ocean plastic with our first product, The Ocean Cleanup® Sunglasses, our Catch Management team is working on improvements and additions to our processes for both oceans and rivers. In addition, we are also forming partnerships with strong brands that can utilize The Ocean Cleanup Plastic in their durable product lines.

Listen to our podcast episode featuring Catch Management Director Stella van den Berg, who walks us through how we are processing the plastic collected in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by System 002.

Catch from System 002 being sorted on deck in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, February 2022
Catch from System 002 being sorted on deck in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, February 2022
Catch from System 002 being loaded into containers on the vessel in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, February 2022
Catch from System 002 being loaded into containers on the vessel in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, February 2022
Plastic offloaded from Interceptor 003 in Vietnam, December 2021
Plastic offloaded from Interceptor 003 in Vietnam, December 2021

How can you help?

Knowledge on how to create value from river and ocean trash is still very limited. As we continue our journey to create value from it, we need help from supporters and experts.