PETnology Handbook 2024


OceanCycle and UL collaborate on ocean-bound plastics standards

Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

OceanCycle, a leading social enterprise focusing on reducing ocean plastic pollution, has collaborated with UL, a global safety science leader, on new elevated standards and ethical sourcing criteria for ocean-bound plastics.

These strengthened industry standards include critical new social standards, ethical sourcing criteria, third-party, independent validation of all recycled ocean-bound plastics, clear definitions of ocean-bound materials and standards on where coastal collection should happen.

These new elevated standards and ethical sourcing criteria come after two years of close collaboration between OceanCycle and UL to build on each company’s initial standards for ocean-bound materials to help counter greenwashing in the industry.

OceanCycle and UL will continue collaborating to drive dialogue on standards and encourage the industry to agree on common definitions and processes — similar to what the Association of Plastic Recyclers achieved for post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics. The companies will leverage their expertise in ocean plastics recycling and certification to encourage more responsible sourcing, focus efforts and resources on countries and coastal regions most at-risk for ocean plastic pollution, and grow the ethically sourced ocean-bound plastics market. While it will take time to establish these new standards, they can immediately serve as a guidepost for brands and companies looking to integrate ethically sourced, ocean-bound plastics into their supply chains and products.

Standards for recycled ocean-bound plastics promote real transparency, traceability and accountability for real change:

OceanCycle and UL’s collaboration has resulted in an alignment of standards, providing a 100 percent independent, third-party certification of ocean-bound plastics’ recycling supply chains to help ensure that standards meet international quality, ethical, environmental and labor requirements. Purchasers of OceanCycle Certified™ (OCC) materials have end-to-end traceability, from bottle collection through manufacturing.

Purchasers and consumers will know that OCC materials meet the following criteria:

  • Coastal collection standards: To maximize the impact on the ocean-bound plastic issue, these new standards clarify collection efforts should focus on areas within 30 miles of a coast or along river banks within 200 miles of the mouth of the water. Additionally, collection efforts should focus on areas that lack an established municipal waste management system.
  • Ethically sourced: Must be collected in an ethical manner ensuring no harmful child labor and fair wages to collectors. Every factory, aggregation site and collection center subscribe to a zero-tolerance policy regarding child labor, with a penalty of immediate exclusion from the program for any breach. Landfill collection is excluded due to its inherent risk to collectors and propensity for harmful labor practices.
  • Clear standards for acceptable materials: Ensure collection efforts focus on the highest impact areas. Acceptable materials for collection must be post-consumer, and all post-industrial and imported waste must be excluded from certification.
  • Documentation: Compliance with OceanCycle’s end-to-end traceability, documented from bottle collection to final production-ready materials and manufacturing.

OceanCycle also partners with local recyclers to elevate the well-being and livelihoods of the people collecting material in communities. The social audits and surveys help baseline income levels and community needs and give insights to the recyclers, material brokers and brand partners on meeting those needs. In many cases, the people collecting the material are the most vulnerable. However, with proper support, they can collect more material in a better manner that both improves incomes and increases recycling rates.

As recycling rates and quality improve, it helps recyclers deliver large volumes of OCC material to manufacturers for use in new products. The manufacturers’ positive experiences in sourcing OCC plastics drive consistent demand that keeps recycling programs operating. 

Looking ahead, OceanCycle will work with UL and other industry leaders to help ensure recognition of and adherence to these new standards. The group will collaborate to improve market access to products made from ocean-bound plastics, assisting companies in using more sustainable, responsibly-sourced, recycled materials in their products.

“When we created the first certification for ocean-bound plastics, we leveraged our years of experience building grassroots supply chains in Haiti and developing global programs focused on child protection. As we worked with many of the companies pioneering the use of ocean-bound plastics, we wanted to make sure we had the best procedures and standards in place, which is why we approached UL to collaborate. Learning from the incredible team at UL and sharing our field experiences allowed us to develop better standards that we believe will guide the industry for years to come,” said Robert Goodwin, co-founder of OceanCycle.”

“At UL we are committed to the highest standards of ethics, and we believe our collaboration with OceanCycle will help bring greater clarity around what should be ocean and ocean-bound plastics. It’s our intent that this clarity will lead to more trust for brands and consumers and focus the world’s attention on regions most at risk for ocean plastic pollution,” said Dr. Bill Hoffman, senior scientist at UL. “We are excited to continue our collaboration in the years to come to help ensure clear standards are accepted by industry at large.”

Author: Ryan Schoenike, Co-founder and President · OceanCycle

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