Published 8 months ago.
About a 5 minute read.
Image: Gulf of Alaska Keeper
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A multi-stakeholder, community-based collaboration and an innovative model of plastic-waste recovery are helping to clean up the Gulf of Alaska.
The concept of “out of sight, out of mind” inadvertently produces a victim. In
the case of ocean plastics and
one victim is Alaska’s coastline — along with the people who rely on its
habitat and industries for their livelihood. Longer than all other US states
combined, Alaska’s shoreline is dealt the largest concentration of marine debris
in the country — most of which comes from elsewhere. Thanks to a combination of
ocean currents and increasingly devastating natural disasters, marine debris
from around the world piles up on Alaska’s shores.
This challenge is compounded by Alaska’s remote nature: The state accounts for
of the total landmass of the US but has less than 0.5 percent of its roads.
Dealing with plastic pollution that congregates on distant shores requires
international strategies. However, local actions can play an important and
impactful role — especially when addressing Alaska’s land-deposit problem with
urgency. More specifically, strong collaborations among local stakeholders from
the public and private sectors can and should be pursued to not only advance
solutions but accelerate them.
Combine Alaska’s geographic inaccessibility with the tons of marine debris
deposited each year, and the need for a strong network for collection becomes
abundantly clear. Before we can consider what to do with the debris, we must be
able to access it and collect it.
One way partnerships succeed is when they leverage the knowledge of all
involved. That said, no one knows the ins and outs of Alaska’s coast better than
the locals — many of whom have jumped into action to support their environment.
A collaboration including Gulf of Alaska Keeper
(GoAK), Pyxera Global and the Alliance to
End Plastic Waste has tapped into Alaska’s
communities to create a network of individuals dedicated to plastic debris and
waste cleanup. The effort was brought about by Rivers Are
Life — a project founded by Dow
and produced by BeAlive that aims to bring awareness
to the vitality of our river systems and convene organizations, businesses and
individuals through community-based and multi-stakeholder initiatives. Input
from local organizations and communities is especially critical to understanding
the landscape, patterns and history of the issue — which, in turn, leads to more
efficient and effective waste recovery.
With these collection processes in place, Dow is committed to taking the next
step and transforming the
by making it a valuable resource in a circular economy.
Massive waste deposits to Alaska’s landfills present issues both from
environmental and capacity perspectives. Many landfills in Alaska no longer
accept marine debris as they were only designed to accommodate waste generated
by the local population, rather than the globe.
As we look to overhaul our recycling infrastructure
Alaska’s geography makes it a unique and challenging case — one where solutions
can be tested in extreme circumstances for viability on the national stage.
FedEx provided shipment of the plastic
waste collected by GoAK and its partners free of charge to the Center for
Regenerative Design and Collaboration (CRDC) — a
recycling and processing facility in York, Pennsylvania funded by the
Alliance. Throughout the project, FedEx shipped 5,000 pounds of collected waste
and used data from its enterprise emissions reporting tool, FedEx
Sustainability Insights, to measure the carbon impact of shipping the waste —
which led CRDC to purchase five tons of carbon
from ACT Commodities.
This exciting project demonstrated the types of collaborations possible to
collect, move and process Alaska’s marine debris in a way that can be scaled.
But due to the carbon impact, “the ideal situation is not to be shipping plastic
from Alaska to York, Pennsylvania,” said CRDC Global COO Ross
Gibby. “Really, this is proof of
Following the success of this experiment, CRDC is now exploring options to open
a facility in Alaska that can create this circular economy locally.
The work is not done once the plastic leaves remote areas of Alaska. Dow’s
commitment extends to a circular model where plastic waste takes on new
as an endlessly valuable material — a challenge that can be conquered through
innovation and technology with future-focused players.
Through CRDC, the plastic shipped from Alaska is converted into a new
construction material called RESIN8.
As Donald Thomson,
founder and CEO of CRDC Global, explains: “The debris we got from the beaches in
Alaska … will be granulated, then mixed with the mineral additives that we
utilize. It will then be heat-extruded and ground into the exact gradation, size
and structure we’d normally look for in construction sand.”
Technology of this kind allows reclaimed materials to contribute to a circular
With the commitment of collaborators throughout the chain, plastic debris is
repurposed to provide
not simply end up in landfill.
In addition to innovation in technology and infrastructure, education and
advocacy are critical to nipping the problem at its source. Tackling the
land-deposit issue and changing how the world views our waterways can help
ensure less waste pollutes our shores to begin with.
Such education is a goal of Rivers Are
which cultivates awareness of the true force and fragility of our river systems
and their interconnectivity to wildlife and ocean waste. The project’s newest
film, “Keepers of the North,”
spotlights the ways in which this innovative model of plastic-waste recovery and
a band of committed partners are helping clean up the Gulf of Alaska. Both the
film and Dow’s "Seek Together"
share how GoAK undertook the clean-up effort and how the collaborators came
together to collect, ship and process the waste.
Published Mar 9, 2023 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.
Everyone has a role to play in creating a more sustainable world: Dow is taking action to address the full scale of challenges, collaborating with partners to improve the industry’s processes and through innovation to help communities become more sustainable.