Angeli Mehta interviews Lonely Whale’s Dune Ives about how the NGO is working with Dell and other corporate partners in the NextWave initiative to help companies incorporate plastic waste in supply chains
The rising tide of plastic waste is not only littering our ocean: its damaging impacts include carrying contaminants and bacteria that harm marine organisms such as coral. How can we stop any more fouling the water?
Seattle-based Lonely Whale is an NGO that is helping companies take positive action to address that challenge by incorporating plastic waste in their products. Its supply chain initiative NextWave “is trying to create new demand for a greater collection of materials – what we call additionality”, explains executive director Dune Ives.
Lonely Whale does not focus on recovering plastics that wash up on ocean beaches. This is technically challenging, as Procter & Gamble found out when it developed shampoo and washing-up liquid bottles that use ocean plastics. (See P&G sends recycling message to consumers with ocean plastics bottles)
What are the plastics we use today that could be replaced? Can we be more creative about collecting and integrating them
The NGO instead targets plastic waste that is found around waterways and is likely to end up in the ocean.
Two years ago, it began working with computer maker Dell to use ocean-bound plastics in its packaging. Now the two are creating an industry consortium to develop a supply chain that will keep plastics in the economy, and out of the water.
Lonely Whale is managing the connections and interface with suppliers; it will liaise with governments and pull in scientists and other NGOs. Each company that signs up to NextWave also commits to reduce and eliminate unnecessary plastics in its own business – even if it’s just balloons and straws.
“What are the plastics that we use today that could be replaced; and what is the most harmful to the environment? Can we be more creative about collecting and integrating them?” asks Ives.
Take bicycle maker Trek, one of the consortium’s founder members. Trek is exploring whether cork might be a viable alternative to the expanded polystyrene foam used in helmets, a material that is particularly challenging to recycle.
Another (as yet unnamed) company is a big user of Nylon 6. This can be sourced from fishing nets – another problematic waste, as they can drift for long distances and entangle marine life. So Lonely Whale is trying to create depositaries for used fishing nets, and finding a means to turn them into pellets of Nylon 6.
There has to be a strong, stable supply chain in place that will maintain companies’ commitment
Yet another business is exploring the means to recycle multi-layered and thin-film packaging. “Why isn’t it picked up? Because it has no value at present,” says Ives. “If we can demonstrate value, people will pick it up and pull it back into the economy.”
Each NextWave member has a different interest in a different part of the world – perhaps through its supplier network or even a personal connection. So far, it’s sourcing plastics from Chile, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cameroon, India and Denmark. The latter recovers fishing nets.
The key, suggests Ives, is to create a network of suppliers to ensure stability and continuity in the supply chain. “This has been a big learning [point] for me,” she says. “We can’t all be focused on Indonesia and then find the supply chain gets disrupted because of a natural disaster: there has to be a strong, stable supply chain in place that will maintain companies’ commitment.”
In a separate initiative, Bacardi is teaming up with Lonely Whale to eliminate one billion straws globally by 2020 in a campaign called #TheFutureDoesntSuck. Bacardi will work on eliminating plastic straws and stirrers, starting with venues in London, having successfully got rid of them at its own offices and in-house events.
“A bit of it is just putting our voice to the cause, to try to amplify it,” says John Burke, Bacardi’s chief marketing officer. But it’s just the first step, he adds. “When you become aware of single-use plastics you see them throughout the supply chain.”
Lonely Whale will help Bacardi review and remove non-essential single use plastics, then work on getting recyclable and renewable plastics into its supply chain. Burke explains that “the first piece of work is to quantify the scale, and pick the low-hanging fruit, then begin to look at the nuts that are harder to crack, where technology development is needed.”
Straws are not the worst offender but they’re a good place to start a conversation
Ives comments: “We sought out Bacardi because of its strong relationships with bars and mixicologists: our theory was, if we engage the mixicologists, then how many consumers can we influence?”
Straws, she adds, are “not the worst offender but they’re a good place to start a conversation”.
Bacardi also understands that water is fundamental, says Ives: microplastics showing up in the water could start to impact the quality of its products.
Another NGO, Washington DC-based Ocean Conservancy, has teamed up with Closed Loop Partners, which invests in sustainable goods and recycling technology. The aim of the partnership, called Circulate Capital, is to unlock the billions of capital investment that will be required to create the necessary recycling infrastructure in key Asia-Pacific countries, where so much plastic waste actually enters the oceans.
An initial $150m fund is being created with the backing of partners including P&G, Unilever, Coca-Cola and Kimberly-Clark. The idea is to identify and develop local projects that will stop the damage but also demonstrate that it can be profitable to return plastics to the supply chain.
When Circulate Capital has identified those locations, Ives hopes that “they align with where we already have companies ready, willing and able to purchase material they intercept. This is very early stage but I have a lot of optimism that these initiatives will come together in this way.”
Angeli Mehta is a former BBC current affairs producer, with a research PhD. She now writes about science, and has a particular interest in the environment and sustainability. @AngeliMehta. This article is linked to the feature 'UK firms target 'on-the-go' packaging in assault on plastics waste'
ocean plastics Lonely Whale NextWave P&G sustainable supply chains