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Incorporating recycled ocean plastics into products is no longer a risky affair, and more brands are following in the footsteps of earlier pioneers to
revolutionize their own product lines and story with these salvaged materials.
There’s no appetite for slack in the supply chain. We’ve come to expect
everything we need to show up on our doorstep with a couple of clicks and a
virtual credit card swipe.
Lean manufacturing has shrunk inventories to minimize waste. When the auto plant
needs a new batch of tires or headlights, they’re expected to arrive promptly
and be exactly the right models for the cars being assembled.
Meanwhile, on the consumer side of the house — our Amazon Prime memberships
give us the inalienable right to receive a stapler, video game or moisturizer
within 48 hours. It’s an on-demand world, and we’re all just trying to keep up.
The ability to turn around orders while simultaneously minimizing excess
stockpiles has created a delicate, complex web of suppliers, logistics and
middlemen to facilitate everything behind the scenes. Most of us don’t think
about what had to happen for that package or pallet full of materials to show up
on time. We just order it and confidently await its imminent arrival; the
contents a perfect, undamaged match with our order’s specifications and
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In many areas, the supply chain has been perfected over time, operating like a
well-oiled machine. Downstream purchasers prize the ease and predictability of
working with reliable suppliers and materials, and consumers take it all for
This overwhelming desire for consistency is one of the driving factors for the
popularity of plastics. Unlike other raw ingredients, virgin plastics are a
remarkably homogenous-yet-versatile material for manufacturing all sorts of
Petrochemical firms churn these polyolephins and thermo elastomers out like
clockwork; brokers can negotiate good deals, thanks to the competition; and
dependable resins arrive on the factory loading dock ready to be compressed or
extruded into the uniform parts and pieces needed to fill orders.
This situation drove countless industries to rely on virgin plastics to cheaply
produce quality products in high volumes for decades. They’ve become a
commodity, with plenty of options available for manufacturers of all sizes
around the world.
But in recent years, the environmental downsides of plastic have inspired some
firms to branch out into incorporating recycled
into their manufacturing processes. Whether it’s driven purely by altruistic
concern for the environmental impact or consumer demand for more responsibly
produced products, the nature of a product’s origins is now being scrutinized as
part of billions of purchasing decisions.
The chemical nature of plastics makes much of it relatively easy and affordable
to recycle. But manufacturers used to focusing solely on consistency,
reliability and minimizing costs aren’t always open to the more diverse nature
of recycled material. Finding legitimate and trusted online listings for raw
materials made from recycled plastic is also harder than one might think.
Recycled plastic introduces additional players into the supply chain and
variable quality of the plastics themselves. This can cause a manufacturer’s
previously autopilot operation from humming along smoothly to violently lurching
when surprises pop up.
The major difference between recycled and virgin plastics isn’t so much the
material itself, but rather the players involved. Virgin plastic is dominated by
large petrochemical firms with a supply chain of their own that begins at the
oil wells and has it down to a science. Meanwhile, recycled plastic is by its
nature a hyper-local business, as these plastics are claimed from the furthest
reaches of the supply chain. Averted plastics are captured, cleaned, sorted, and
recycled into feedstock by smaller entrepreneurs and firms around the world.
Ocean plastics — material destined for or already clogging waterways, shorelines
and seas — are the very tail end of this chain. While difficult to capture, the
value in recycling ocean plastic goes beyond merely preventing the creation of
more virgin plastic. It also reduces harmful pollution impacting wildlife,
tourism, fishing and countless other corners of the marine ecosystem.
For manufacturers entering the world of recycled
this means working with new suppliers that don’t have the same reputations and
scale as their virgin plastic counterparts. They understandably may be more
suspect and skeptical of the materials these suppliers have to offer.
But the Wild West days of recycled plastic have evolved, and much of this is due
to connecting the highly fragmented world of suppliers with the manufacturers
seeking their wares via a marketplace. Just as Amazon,
and eBay enabled multitudes of small, specialized sellers to find a broad
audience for their products;
was founded to connect a global community of local recycled plastic suppliers
with nearby production facilities.
However, those manufacturers need more than a five-star Amazon review to
incorporate a new feedstock. They demand seamless logistical support and
reliable quality assurances before switching their lines to utilized recycled
This sampling process has often been the weak link in the chain. Manufacturers
weren’t sure where to find what they needed or which suppliers they could trust;
while suppliers weren’t excited to produce, package and ship large enough
samples without the promise of larger orders to come.
Oceanworks has solved this pain point by streamlining the entire discovery,
sampling and purchasing process. Based on their unique requirements and
location, manufacturers are matched up with pre-qualified local suppliers and
provided with samples that can be fully vetted.
Once they’re satisfied with the material’s quality, the tonnage orders can begin
— all via a trustworthy intermediary that hammers out the logistics to ensure
suppliers are properly compensated and factories get their shipments on time.
This professionalizes and standardizes every step in the process, enabling
manufacturers to quickly place orders online with the confidence they’ll receive
what they need when they need it.
After making this transition, local suppliers can grow and invest even more in
ridding their communities of plastic waste while brands can introduce more
products made from recycled ocean plastics to consumers clamoring for goods that
are both functional and responsible. Incorporating recycled ocean plastics into
products is no longer a risky affair, and more brands are following in the
footsteps of earlier pioneers to revolutionize their own product lines and
Published Aug 12, 2020 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Rob Ianelli is founder & President of Oceanworks, the global marketplace for recycled ocean plastic products and materials.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.