Maritime Plastic Waste Investments: The Key to Solving Plastic in the Oceans

Maritime Plastic Waste Investments: The Key to Solving Plastic in the Oceans

by kirkcoburn

During the last half-century, plastic production has increased exponentially, but plastic waste investments haven’t kept up. A report by the MacArthur Foundation suggests that plastic production increased from 15 million tons annually in the 1960s to 311 million tons by 2014.  With the industry still growing, production is still expected to double in the next two decades. The amount of plastic produced in the last decade alone exceeds production for the last century.

This sector’s growth is owed to the versatile nature of plastic, which gives it a wide range of applications. It’s used in different types of products ranging from utensils to safety gear and electronics. However, plastic and its irresponsible disposal have come at a high cost to the environment, more so the oceans and marine life.

What Are the Numbers Behind Plastic Waste in the Ocean?

According to multiple resources, plastic-based pollution is as follows:

  • Every year, there are 300 million tons of plastic waste created.
  • The world’s oceans are home to approximately 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic, with 290,000 tons floating in them.
  • Out of the 8.3 million tons of plastic released in the oceans every year, 236,000 tons are ingestible microplastics that are mistaken for food by marine creatures.

Protecting the oceans and marine life is crucial. They play an invaluable role in our ecosystem’s balance. Such pollution has a drastic impact on marine life:

  • Among marine mammal species, one in three is found entangled in plastic every year.
  • Plastic waste kills 100 million marine animals every year.

If the rate of pollution remains the same, the fish population will be outnumbered by dumped plastic in 50 years.  And, for us outgoing folks who enjoy surfing at the Gulf of Mexico, the oceans won’t be as clear and enjoyable as they should be. And, for us that also enjoy surfing in the pristine Atlantic off the shores of Nantucket, the plastic will be coming to a beach near you. However, it does not necessarily have to be all doom and gloom. By adopting responsible plastic waste management habits, we can preserve the oceans’ beauty and save millions of sea creatures.

Even better, the seas of plastic offer a great investment opportunity for those who have an entrepreneurial side. In this article, you will learn about plastic waste investments and other measures we can take to resolve the plastic waste menace in the oceans.

Why Is Plastic Such a Significant Threat to the Marine Ecosystem?

Along with the mass production and irresponsible disposal of plastic, other factors make plastic a threat to the environment. To begin with, plastic components can easily be transferred to the oceans. More importantly, plastic is non-biodegradable.

Unlike organic compounds, which decompose quickly, it can take centuries to break down plastic waste plastic in the ocean. Data from a study by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests that cigarette butts, plastic shopping bags, Styrofoam takeaway coffee cups take ten, 20, and 50 years to disintegrate, respectively.

Bottles and disposable diapers can take up to 450 years to biodegrade in the ocean. Other products, such as fishing lines, which may seem harmless, take up to 600 years. I grew up fishing in the Gulf of Mexico and have lost thousands of yards of line myself. I am sure someone has been tangled a time or two.

Since plastic takes a long to biodegrade, plastic waste deposited in the seas only adds to the present waste. When it finally begins to degrade, it breaks down into smaller particles referred to as microplastics. Fish accidentally eat those microplastics, which then end up on your dinner plate — putting your health at risk. This includes sushi too! ¡Ay caramba!

The Economic Impact of Marine Plastic Waste

Undoubtedly, plastic waste has a severe environmental impact. However, it also comes with a significant economic burden. Estimates suggest that marine plastic waste costs the society a whopping $13 billion every year.

This total includes expenses like:

  • Damage recovery, which encompasses the cost of fixing vessels, cleaning up beaches, managing related illnesses, etc.
  • Lost income due to efforts dedicated to addressing marine plastic pollution.

To put it into perspective, coastal municipalities in the UK spend $24 million every year to remove beach litter.

Maritime Plastic Waste Investments

two surfers walking on a clean beach in San Diego
The only way to stop the accumulation of plastic waste in the ocean is to divert it and use it.

Plastic waste is undoubtedly a menace that needs to be resolved urgently. This is why it is part of the global economic and environmental agenda. Due to the severity of plastic waste’s impact, resolving the problem requires multiple solutions and cooperation from the public and private sectors on a global scale.

Moreover, as consumers learn more about plastic waste’s impact on the environment, they’re seeking out recycled plastic products. The question is whether consumers are willing to pay MORE to companies that make plastic waste investments and optimize waste management. This is the $64,000 question.

One of the ways to reduce plastic waste pollution is to recycle waste. Since we can now recycle a significant proportion of plastics, the ocean’s waste can be somewhat of a blessing in disguise for investors.

The State of Plastic Waste Investments

Unfortunately, investments in solutions that can help address the plastic waste problem have not been sufficient. As per Circulate Capital’s ‘Hand Book for Action,’ the main reason for this is the lack of investible entities in the marine plastics sector that have a promising track record of profitability.

Generally, recycling plastic generates less revenue than the cost of collecting it. But investors and inventors are addressing this challenge in two main ways: more recycling and better waste management. 

  1. Both political and corporate will to find lasting plastic waste solutions are growing, which incentivizes the collection and recycling of plastic waste. As a result, companies are developing more efficient waste collection and recycling methods. 
  2. As organizations adopt vertically integrated waste management processes, efficiency is improving, thus enabling companies to divert and recycle waste before it reaches the oceans.

Though there are challenges, it does not mean that accessing funding for a startup focused on capitalizing in marine plastics is impossible. Recent reports indicate that investors are greatly concerned about social and environmental issues, and there’s a significant increase in investing in sustainable solutions.

Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing polled 1,000 active investors from the US. From the results, it’s evident that plastic reduction and climate change are the top concerns in investments assessed by environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. Even better, 85% of investors want to pursue sustainable investing.

Plastic Waste Investments: The Recycled Plastics Market

Concerns about disposing of virgin plastics have been increasing in recent years. This, coupled with increased awareness about energy savings, has sparked an increase in demand for recycled plastic. A report by Infoholic Research LLP released on Nov 19, 2019, indicates that the recycled plastics market will experience a compound annual growth rate of 6.8% until 2025, when it will be worth a whopping $66.73 billion. With such growth, there will be numerous opportunities for investment in the sector.

Recycling plastic is often referred to as “downcycling.” Why? Companies often use recycled plastics to produce lower-grade products than in their original use. However, recycled plastic with high purity levels can combine with virgin polymers to make new products.   

Sustainable Use of Recycled Plastic

Due to its versatility, plastic can be used for many different uses. This is what makes plastic waste investments a potential worthwhile venture. Some of the uses of recycled plastic include:

1. Fabric and Fashion

As odd as it may sound, the plastic from soda bottles can turn into clothing products. However, before they can make the fabric, manufacturers must first clean the bottles, chop them into pieces, melt them, and then turn them into polyester yarn. Manufacturers can then use this polyester to make a wide range of products such as pillows, covers, and awnings.

2. Roofing Materials

Asphalt shingles are a popular roofing material. In recent years, plastic composite roofing has emerged as not only a suitable alternative but also an arguably better choice.  Plastic composite roofs last longer than asphalt, and their manufacturing process is less harmful to the environment. This is because it requires less energy to produce and recycle.   

3. Furniture

One of the most creative uses of recycled plastic is making furniture and decorative accessories. Manufacturers can clean, treat, and then mold discarded plastic into furniture such as picnic tables, backed benches, and Adirondack chairs, among others.

To ensure the products are appealing and of high-quality, companies first purify and enhance the collected plastic. During the enhancement process, they also add color pigments and UV stabilizers.

The demand for furniture made from recycled plastic is rising. This is due to the environmental benefits, visual appeal, and versatility. People can use furniture from recycled plastic for both indoor and outdoor use.  

4. Surf Boards

You BET! Sustainability has reached my favorite past time. My two latest sticks are ecoboards that are made with a range of recycled and plant-based materials. There are 3 attributes to ecoboards: (1) A measurably reduced carbon footprint, (2) Renewable, recycled and/or up-cycled material inputs, and (3) Uses materials and processes that reduce toxicity during manufacturing.

Investing for a Safer Future

Oceans support millions of lives — both directly and indirectly. It is a source of inspiration, adventure, sustenance, and much more. We have been given this stewardship to leave it better than we found it.

One of the best ways to tackle this issue is by increasing plastic waste investments. Do you have a startup idea that can help address marine plastic pollution? Reach out to me today to tell me your idea.

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