One of the main criticisms towards collecting and recycling ocean plastic is its alleged inefficiency: The fact that these operations are laborious (which they really are, believe us, we know) and therefore producing a significant carbon footprint themselves, outweighing the benefits of replacing virgin plastics. Those are smart questions and they should be raised. Sustainability claims need to be challenged, especially in a situation where even big fossil companies are talking about their contribution to prevent the climate catastrophe.
We ask ourselves those questions too.
Which is why we had our materials and their climate impact audited by a third party, renowned and independent Swiss Environmental Consultancy Carbotech (with an external review by myclimate). Their experts did a deep dive into our supply chain, gathered data about means of transportion, shipping mileage, energy sources used in our different processing steps and the waste that is created along the way. They even looked into methods to quantify the environmental impact of removing plastic from the ocean or the coast line. And they compared all of this data with the materials that we're competing against: virgin plastic and recycled post-consumer plastic.
This process is called a Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) and we're happy to share some of the key findings.
5x better than virgin PET
If our goal is to help the transition towards a circular economy – and it absolutely is! – virgin plastic is still our biggest competitor. #tide ocean material® is equal in quality, versatility, durability and performance, but it still sometimes takes a lot of convincing to make brands and manufacturers intervene with their established (and highly optimized) supply chains. Shout out to our sales team, you rock!
Thankfully, more and more companies look into ways to reduce their footprint. A huge and complex undertaking. But we're here to help. Our new LCA shows, that compared to virgin PET, our 100% ocean-bound #tide PET produces one fifth of the carbon emissions. In other words: A brand can reduce the footprint of their plastic product by 80% if they switch from virgin to #tide. That's huge.
Still outperforming European rPET
On the European market, we're also competing with "regular" recycled PET (post-consumer rPET, that is). We knew that #tide ocean material would perform much better than virgin plastic. At the end of the day it's the premise of our whole business case. But the comparison with domestic recycled materials was much more of a black box to us. Maybe the environmental impact of shipping the plastic from Asia to Europe would carry more weight than the efficiency of our recycling process?
But, as research shows, our materials still do better than what is available on the European market in terms of regionally recycled PET. "The European rPET granulate has almost double the environmental impact as Tide Ocean rPET", Carbotech states in the report. The picture changes only if we zoom into the domestic Swiss market. PET recycled in Switzerland has the lowest footprint of all, due to the high efficiency of the domestic recycling system, the favorable energy mix and – most significantly – considerably shorter transport distances. The differences are less stark with PP since this type of plastic has a smaller footprint altogether.
A "meaningful" activity
The third thing which we were really keen on learning more about was the environmental impact in it's entirety. Meaning not only focusing on the carbon footprint of our operation but on the bigger picture. What does it actually mean to remove the plastic from the environment? Which in our case means the ocean, the coast and the area within 10 kilometers to the coast. Simply put: How much good does it do what we do?
Amazingly, there are methods to calculate exactly that. The so-called ecological scarcity method takes into account an "eco-factor for micro and macro plastics to soil and water", according to the report. And the result is – quite frankly – astonishing.
"When the average production footprint of 1 kg PET/PP from Tide Ocean is compared to the ecological benefits through removing plastic waste from the ocean, the advantages significantly outweigh the costs due to production and transport for recycled granulates", the LCA states. And further: "The best solution would be of course to have a functioning recycling and waste management system in place that would recycle plastic without the detour via the marine environment. However, as long as there is still excessive amounts of marine plastic littering, the removal of such plastic waste leads to significant environmental gains."
To put it in numbers: The benefits of collecting the plastic are outweighing the costs by a factor of 35. Admittedly, this is quite abstract. But the main take-away is: What we do is absolutely worth it!
Or as the emotionally slightly less invested people over at Carbotech put it:
"Collecting ocean-bound plastic for sourcing starting materials is an environmentally meaningful activity."
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