Recycling as a tool against marine debris

Columns - Plastics Perspective

Recycling is a tool in the fight against marine debris.

August 3, 2018

Marine debris is a serious threat to the environment. The issue should offend every discerning plastics professional. It should offend us because those are our products—our work—polluting our waterways and oceans and harming delicate ecosystems. None of us got into this business to manufacture litter; it should bother us that the product of our dedication and hard work is ending up where it shouldn’t.

But acknowledging that our industry is front and center in this challenge also acknowledges the fact that we have a crucial role to play to help solve it.

The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) believes recycling should be one of the cornerstones of any effort to stop the flow of marine litter. Recycling offers a uniquely elegant solution to the problem of marine debris—what’s captured and recycled isn’t littered. Closing the loop on our products means making sure that it’s not only easier to capture and process them but also that it’s economically inadvisable to do anything else but recycle them. It also means removing the plastics debris that’s already in the marine environment and using it to make new products.

At the recently concluded Re|focus Sustainability & Recycling Summit (co-located with NPE2018: The Plastics Show, May 7-11 in Orlando, Florida), the keynote speaker, Oliver Campbell from Dell Inc., discussed how his company is building a supply chain for plastics that have been recovered from the marine environment for use in packaging. He said what Dell is doing isn’t proprietary—it is something other companies can replicate. (Read more about Dell’s role in NextWave and its use of ocean-bound plastics in this issue’s Welcome on Page 4.)

In fact, elsewhere on the NPE2018 show floor, in the Re|focus Zone, numerous products were on display that also were manufactured from plastics recovered from the marine environment.

Plastics recycling faces many challenges, and creating a workable solution for marine debris will require thoughtful, collaborative work across the supply chain. It also will involve partnerships with government agencies at the local, state and federal levels. That’s why PLASTICS supports reform at the federal level to address the United States’ need for better recycling infrastructure.

It will take more than just recycling, and more than just the plastics industry, to end marine debris, but recycling is a tool that we can all agree on. Together, we can work to make this vital process more widespread, more efficient and more powerful in the fight to make sure no plastic products end up where they shouldn’t.

Bill Carteaux is president and CEO of the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS), headquartered in Washington. Find PLASTICS online at