Five projects turning marine debris into cool stuff

Ocean Optimism

As I’ve mentioned in posts before, far too much plastic and other debris currently ends up in the oceans. It’s damaging to the marine environment in lots of ways, but hopefully you knew that already.

There are lots of projects out there which are tackling the problem, by gathering plastic from the oceans and turning it into useful products which also raise awareness of the impacts of marine plastic pollution. Here are just a few.

RAW for the Oceans – denim made from ocean plastic

Pharrell Williams has co-designed a denim collection made from Bionic Yarn, using plastic collected from the oceans.  It’s broken down into fibres, combined with cotton and spun into yarn which is then used to create the denim. See the collection here.

Adidas trainers


Adidas shoes made using recycled plastic fishing nets Source:

Adidas have been working on a prototype trainer with Parley for the Oceans which incorporates recycled fishing net fibres into the design. It looks like these specific ones might not be available to buy, but Adidas are looking to incorporate more recycled plastic into their designs in the future.

ZSL ‘Net-Works’

Net-Works-a-business-students-perspective-620x330 net-works-philippines-weighing-nets

Net-Works is a project initiated and supported by the Zoological Society of London which turns discarded fishing nets into carpet tiles. This is a way in which local fishermen can earn money from old nets which they would otherwise have discarded for nothing, and creates a practical use for discarded nets which are clogging up the sea. The money benefits the local community and local marine environment becomes less polluted.

Aurora Robson – meaningful art from marine debris


Aurora Robson: Kamilo, 2011.

Aurora Robson is the an artist who uses marine plastic debris to create dramatic sculptures which highlight the vast amount of litter which exists in our seas. Other artists such as Mandy Barker have also been very successful in exploring ways to represent the pressure that the ocean is under from marine debris through striking photography. You can check her work out here.

Ecover Ocean Plastic Project


Ecover have been working with fishermen to create a pathway for ocean plastic to become recycled plastic bottles containing, so far, 10% ocean plastic. Ecover commissioned fishermen to trawl for plastics, and then these were cleaned, processed and recycled into washing up liquid bottles.

Marine litter

Marine Pollution

I’ve sailed past tyres floating in the Solent, fished plastic bottles out of the sea and even had to swerve around a park bench floating in the estuary where I learnt to sail. Marine litter is everywhere: on beaches, near shore and even hundreds of kilometres offshore. You can hear from the round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race sailors in this video as they describe the shocking amount of marine debris they have seen as they have raced around the world in the last year.

What is marine litter?
Essentially, anything non-natural in the oceans which circulates with the currents or sinks to the sea bed, taking a long time to break down. Plastic bags, bottles, cans, rope, different materials and fibres, hooks, tyres, oil drums, cotton buds, wet wipes, nets, lines, shopping trolleys, traffic cones, lunch boxes, shoes, rubber ducks…Just about anything you can think of, it is highly likely that some has found its way into the sea, and once it is there it is very difficult to remove. Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic, less than 5 mm across, which can be the remnants of broken down larger plastic items, or microbeads which are common in cosmetics and toothpaste.

How it gets there
All sorts of reasons. Often it is dropped by us and then washed into drains or rivers which eventually lead to the sea. Flushing wet wipes and other cosmetic items down the toilet also takes them out to sea. Fishing-related litter such as nets, pots and lines can all become detached or be discarded at sea. Containers washed overboard from the ships can empty their contents, leaving them to drift freely, or sink to the seabed.

What it does
Ingestion by, and entanglement of, marine life

Swirls together into vast gyres in the oceans

Works its way up the food chain into our food – Guardian 2015

Breaks down into harmful chemicals

Ghost fishing

Clean up efforts and campaigns – here are just a few

The Marine Conservation Society collected 2457 pieces of litter for every kilometre of beach they cleaned as part of their 2014 ‘Great British Beach Clean’ . They have cleaned and surveyed 301 beaches and continue to raise awareness and involve volunteers in their efforts to rescue our beaches and seas.

The 5 Gyres project is working to study the extent of the plastic pollution, campaign to remove microbeads from cosmetics and educate people on its effects.

Technology is also being developed to try to remove the plastic which is already in the oceans, such as ‘The Ocean Cleanup’ which is developing huge floating barriers to help concentrate the floating plastic into smaller areas using natural ocean currents.

The MCS launched the ‘Scrub it out’ campaign to encourage consumers to choose their toiletries more wisely, selecting only those which do not contain microbeads.

Pangaea Exploration works with 5 Gyres to assess the amount of plastic in the ocean. Their 2014 expedition, ‘eXXpedition’, was an all-female voyage across the Atlantic, raising awareness about the link between the health of the seas and our health.

What you can do

Check if your face wash and other toiletries contain plastics – you can check here. Try not to buy those that do contain them, it’s one of the easiest things you can do to minimise the amount of plastic reaching the ocean.
Use fewer plastic bags/ more reusable bags.
Don’t flush wet wipes/cotton buds etc.
Always take your litter home with you, or deposit in a bin at the beach.

If you see litter on the beach, pick it up and throw it in the bin.
Don’t try to burn litter on the beach to dispose of it – it won’t fully break down and will be washed out to sea when the tide comes in.

Making these small daily or weekly changes will contribute to reducing the amount of litter which finds its way into the oceans, helping to prevent damage which is very hard to reverse.