In January of 2018, China began the National Sword Policy and stopped accepting recycled goods from many countries.
This caused a rippling effect across the globe, and many countries are now struggling to figure out what to do with all their plastic waste.
So now what?
Joining us today is Alex Schulze of 4Ocean, who in 2017 founded the company with his friend Andrew Cooper.
And to date they have cleaned up 11 million pounds of garbage out of our ocean, streams, and rivers.
Thanks for joining us Alex, I really appreciate your time.
Thank you very much for having me Steven, it's a pleasure to meet you.
So you guys founded the company in 2017.
You were surfers and you noticed there's a lot of garbage surrounding you.
So you got inspired and you founded this company.
Tell us how you've managed to scale up the company so fast.
So the company was founded just by myself and Andrew Cooper.
And we very quickly realized that the brand was going to be much bigger than we anticipated, the business.
Just the ocean cleanup aspect just exploded.
And I mean we went from just 2 people to 10 to 50 to 1000.
We scaled so quickly.
And it really was just focusing on expanding our cleanup operations and telling the world kind of about our business model.
And essentially that one for one type of approach to selling a product and removing a pound of trash from the ocean.
So it was a lot of hard work and just bringing on some very talented people to help us scale it.
But yeah, that's kind of the summary there.
Now in the beginning where there many volunteers or were these actual employees of the company?
No, so these are all employees.
None of the pounds removed that go towards our trash tracker or our one pound promise have been removed by community clean up.
So these are our paid captains and crews that are out there cleaning the oceans seven days a week.
That's great, so you mentioned the trash tracker technology.
Can you tell us a little bit about how that works?
So 4Ocean's business model is for every single product that we sell, we remove one pound of trash from the ocean.
And to verify and document all of our trash collection, the pounds removed, we have an extensive documentation approach.
So what we do is we take photos of the crew that's gonna be going out and cleaning, our captains and crew.
We take photos of before, during, and after the areas that they are cleaning, these oceans and coastlines.
They bring the plastic back to our facilities, where it's then weighed, documented, and photographed.
And then sorted by type, color, and condition.
And all of this information and all of this data is all uploaded into our database, which we call the trash tracker.
And that's audited quarterly by the Better Business Bureau to verify that all of the products that we have sold, we indeed have pulled pounds of trash from the ocean.
And we're proud to say that we are actually much further ahead of the amount of pounds removed than product sold.
That's fantastic, and I like the touch you have on your website where you'll show a different country like Indonesia or something and show how many pounds of trash were removed from there.
So the metrics can get really granular with this trash tracker then.
Yeah, it's pretty unbelievable.
That's one thing that we're very proud of is that we can track all of the trash that we've removed from the ocean.
Not only back to the country, but actually the cleanup headquarters, and actual captains and crew, and which boat actually pulled that plastic from the ocean or off the coast line.
So it's just a level of transparency that we want to hold for our customers and to be able to show all the documentation behind the plastic that we've cleaned up.
So tell us, you say that for every product a customer buys on your website, you're able to pull one pound of trash from the ocean or a river.
Can you explain how that works?
Sure, so it's an ecommerce business that's direct to consumer.
Very similar I think to, in a way, the Toms model, he one for one.
Purchase a pair of shoes and that they give a pair of shoes in need.
We're selling a product and pulling one pound of trash from the ocean.
So we're utilizing the funds that we generate and the profits that we generate from our business to fund our cleanup operations.
So we have full time captains and crews all around the world in Florida, Haiti, Bali, and Guatemala that are out cleaning the ocean seven days a week.
Well, that's fantastic.
You guys have also developed garbage skimmers for 4Ocean.
Can you talk a little bit about those?
How did you develop them?
What does it take to operate one?
Sure, so we have the harbor skimmer and the mobile skimmer, which are pieces of technology that we actually partnered with a group of engineers and manufacturers that built these machines.
The mobile skimmer is a vessel that has a conveyor belt type system and actuating hydraulic powered arms that collect plastic by driving around and driving over these large accumulations of plastic.
And going up on the conveyor belt system and into a super sack or a receptacle for all that plastic.
And then there's the harbor skimmer, which is essentially a large.
Box that utilizes pumps, and utilizing the suction of the surface of water to pull in floating debris into a container, to clean off floating debris and plastic into a container.
So that's interesting.
That reminds me kind of the sea bins.
Have you heard of the Seabin Project?
It's similar in a sense, it's a much larger unit and it's made for some bigger areas and more industrial applications.
But yeah, it's similar technology.
So it's basically like kinda using section through the bottom and just kind of bringing stuff in over the top.
And it has to go over sort of a little barrier or like a capture, sort of device.
So we have different openings to on each side of the box, and based off of where you install the machine, depending on current and wind conditions where they're pushing the surface debris and plastic, you can block out.
But it's a simple opening that water is being pulled into an drawn and the surface tension of the water on the surface is being pulled into the machine, pulling any floating debris.
That's pretty cool.
Do you guys own a patent on that?
We are working with the manufacturers and the engineers and they're working through all the IP on the technology.
So in 2018, China imposed the national Sword policy, and they stop taking all of our trash, all of our recycled goods.
And for years and years my wife and I thought we were being good environmentalists recycling our stuff.
Little do we know is getting put on a pallet and shipped to China on a boat, like we just didn't know that that was going on.
So can you talk to us about mechanical recycling and how that process works?
That feels like a new thing.
A lot of people are getting into.
So mechanical recycling actually, yeah, the 2017, 2018 debris initiative was exactly that.
They're cutting off the export of waste plastics to these countries that may or may not have the waste management infrastructure to handle those plastics.
So mechanical recycling in the available recycling streams out there, was your simple processing of PETs, so soda bottles, HTTE, like your laundry detergent bottles and polypropylene, and various different types of plastic.
But it is taking that plastic shredding it, grinding it, hot washing it, pelletizing it, and then preparing it to be able to be injection molded or sent to a manufacturer to make new plastic products.
And the problem that's really been developing over the past few years, is that the price for plastic has literally been cheaper to make virgin plastic out of crude oil, than it is to recycle these bins.
So economically, it hasn't been as efficient and realistic to recycle a lot of these plastics.
So what was happening is a lot of the classes are being exported to these developing countries, that don't have the waste management infrastructure to handle these plastics.
And unfortunately what's happening in these areas, it's you see there being burnt over an open fire, just landfills, in mismanaged waste landfills, porn piles.
And even ending up in our ocean.
So it is a huge problem that the recycling stream is kind of just getting flipped upside down.
It's becoming very difficult, and for some cities they're not able to afford the added cost that it takes to recycle some of these materials.
Has your company been impacted by that policy?
Like have you seen an uptick in garbage that you're collecting?
Honestly, it really is just economies of scale, that once you're doing these millions and millions of pounds of plastic, it really goes to the fact.
I mean for us and for our products that were producing, the slight increases in price to recycle our product, it's not a massive impact to our business.
Were able to still cover those costs, and be able to recycle these materials.
But once you start scaling up and going into the millions and hundreds of millions of pounds of plastic for all these different recycling facilities, that's where it really starts to go upside down.
I saw that you guys had a cell phone case that you are making out of recycled plastic.
So why is cell phone case?
How did you come up with the idea for that?
So the cell phone case was a product that we came up with that we wanted to find an efficient way to utilize our plastic, to replace the need for virgin plastic.
As well as drive a conversation around ocean plastic.
We first started with our product with the bracelets.
It was something that we wanted to have that anyone could wear.
And it is a constant reminder for someone to try and a little bit more of a sustainable lifestyle, and be to start the conversation around ocean plastic.
So we love the idea.
I actually have one right here of a phone case because, being that it's made out of ocean plastic, it's one of the items that people are constantly using.
And it can be that conversation starter to start talking about, what is ocean plastic?
What is the problem with plastics in general, and how are they hanging up in our oceans?
And more importantly, what can consumers do individually to have an impact on that amount of plastic that's ending up in the ocean?
So we have a team that's Working on these different products trying to find sustainable solutions for our waste plastic that we're collecting.
And we wanted the opportunity to create, essentially a case that could replace version plastic and dry that conversation around ocean plastic.
That's cool sir.
Are you making a bunch of different models?
What kind of phone is that one fit on?
So this is an iPhone.
We had it for the SC, were coming out through the 11 and for the 12 as well.
And this is our first line of phone cases, were just gonna test the market and see how consumers like it, if they're fired up on the phone case and like the product overall.
Then depending on consumer demand, we will expand into other versions of phones and in different models.
So that's a simple mold, right?
It's like you guys grind the plastic down into these pellet sort of form, and then it's easily melted and then molded in a factory basically.
That is correct.
And the process of creating this portion plastic is actually incredibly difficult.
A lot of people think you can just grab this material, send it to our cycle, and then all sudden boom you've got this new product that you can produce.
But, we actually have a team internally and we have a materials R&D engineer, who has been working tirelessly on taking these materials.
Because they're so contaminated, they've been sitting in the sun, there's UV degradation, a large level contamination.
Getting this plastic to the point where we can then process it and prepare it.
So it goes through the entire steps of the recycling process, going from raw plastic to bail by type, color and condition.
Going to the facility to be flaked and shredded, then hot washed, then pelletized, and then pelletized going to the manufacturer.
And then there's also the troubles and the difficulties of trying to color match.
So, we're trying to get our 4ocean blue, and this has been incredibly difficult because a lot of the plastic is contaminated and it has these different colors and additives.
So, it is difficult trying to get the product from waste plastic into a usable product like a phone case.
But it is very simple, once we get it to the plastic product at the plastic pellet form, like you're saying, we can utilize current manufacturers to injection mold these different items out of our plastic.
It's pretty awesome, it's fun.
So tell us about other products you guys have.
I know you're selling bracelets, and saw some things.
One thing I thought was pretty cool is the bamboo to-go cutlery like utensils, I thought that was pretty cool.
Yeah, tell us about some of your other products.
So, we're selling products made with a portion or made entirely out of ocean plastic that we're collecting.
So we started out with the bracelet and the bracelets made with post-consumer recycled materials, as well as a small portion of our ocean plastic that we've collected.
That was kind of our first product that we started with, and now we're just growing the brand starting to expand into other areas of products.
And as I mentioned, the phone case made from our ocean plastic.
We're also focused on sustainable based alternatives.
So like you mentioned, the bamboo cutlery set, we have our line of reusable water bottles.
We're coming out actually very soon with these new stainless steel single wall solid cups, which I'm really fired up on.
Our mission, our goal with the sustainable based alternatives is to make sustainability as a whole convenient and affordable.
So we're trying to make it convenient for consumers to carry around these mugs, carry around the reusable cutlery.
So that way they will have the opportunity to cut down on the single use plastic they're consuming.
So, we've got a whole new line of products that are coming out.
We're incredibly excited just to expand the overall product line of 4ocean, to grow the brand and the messaging behind ocean plastic, and do so while scaling our clean up operations at the same time.
All right, we've been speaking with Alex Schulze of 4ocean.
Alex, thanks for talking to us today.
Thanks so much Stephen, have a great day, bye.
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