Sustainable Design

An Insight Into The Challenges Of Designing Products Made From Reclaimed Ocean Plastic

June 29, 2023

With around 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste in our oceans, the threat to marine life and the health of our planet is at an all time high. In an effort to combat this crisis, innovative solutions are being discovered, one of which, is the use of reclaimed ocean plastic in product design. Incorporating reclaimed ocean plastic in product design not only helps clean up our oceans but also allows for the creation of sustainable and green products. This does however, come with its own set of challenges and obstacles. In this article we are going to explore five of the main challenges faced by designers using this material in this sustainable endeavour.

Adidas X Parley
"Through our collaboration with Parley for the oceans, we want to inspire and mobilise an entire generation to help shape the future of our planet. We're on a mission to help end plastic waste. And this is a fight we can't lose." - Adidas and their endeavour to reduce ocean plastic.

One of the first challenges comes in sourcing and sorting the ocean plastic. Scouring the vast oceans for plastic is an intimidating task, and then ensuring its quality and usability is crucial. The debris recovered from the ocean often requires thorough cleaning and sorting, as it is usually contaminated, mixed with other types of plastic, or degraded by UV radiation and saltwater exposure. Collaborating with organisations that are engaged in ocean cleanup initiatives and establishing robust supply chains is a way for designers to acquire a consistent and reliable source of reclaimed plastic.

The next challenge comes with the properties and limitations of the material. Ocean plastic is generally a mixture of various polymers, making the task of achieving consistency in material characteristics a challenge. This variation affects the product's performance, durability, and aesthetics. So, the mechanical properties, including strength, flexibility, and weather resistance, need to be carefully evaluated to guarantee the final product meets the required standards. Balancing these considerations while working with a material that may have inherent flaws or inconsistencies can present a multifaceted challenge.

Reclaimed ocean plastic exhibits unique characteristics: the challenge comes from adapting the design process to accommodate this. Unlike virgin plastic, reclaimed ocean plastic frequently showcases colour variations, blemishes, and irregularities. While these imperfections may add character and a sense of authenticity to the product, designers must consider how to incorporate them effectively into the overall design aesthetic. This demands a creative mindset and a capacity to appreciate the inherent beauty of recycled materials while simultaneously upholding the product's functionality and attractiveness.

Additional hurdles come along in the manufacturing and processing of reclaimed ocean plastic. Modifications to traditional manufacturing techniques may be required to accommodate the materials diverse composition. Designers must also consider the impact of these processes on the environment, striving to minimise energy consumption, waste generation, and emissions throughout the production cycle.

Awareness of plastic pollution is on the rise, however consumer perception of products made from reclaimed ocean plastic can vary. While some may embrace these eco-friendly alternatives, others might question the quality or durability of these products due to preconceived notions about recycled materials. Designers have a crucial role in educating consumers about the benefits, sustainability, and long-term value of products made from reclaimed ocean plastic.

Bureo - Working Hard To Clean Up the Oceans Through Product Design

Bureo's netplus program

Bureo is an example of a company that believes tackling these complications is worth it in order to create a more sustainable future. Bureo faced the challenge of establishing a reliable supply chain by collaborating with fishing communities in Chile through the Net Positiva program. They incentivised local fishermen to collect discarded fishing nets, which were transformed into raw material for their products. Building trust, ensuring a steady supply of nets, and establishing efficient logistics were key factors in overcoming this challenge. Sorting and cleaning the ocean plastic was another hurdle. Bureo developed innovative techniques to clean the fishing nets, removing contaminants such as biological matter, sand, and debris. Their dedication to producing high-quality recycled materials led to the development of rigorous cleaning procedures, ensuring the resulting products met quality standards.

Bureo Product Process

Designing with reclaimed ocean plastic brought the challenge of material consistency and performance. Bureo carefully assessed the material's characteristics, including strength, flexibility, and durability, to meet performance expectations. Through research and development, they optimised their processes to ensure the reclaimed plastic performed at or above industry standards. Bureo also successfully adapted their designs to incorporate the unique characteristics of reclaimed ocean plastic, embracing colour variations, textures, and patterns to create distinctive and aesthetically appealing products.

As Bureo's popularity grew, scaling up manufacturing while maintaining sustainability became crucial. They sought manufacturing partners committed to environmental responsibility and implemented efficient techniques while investing in renewable energy sources. This dedication allowed Bureo to expand production while minimising their carbon footprint. Moreover, Bureo faced the challenge of educating consumers about the value and significance of products made from reclaimed ocean plastic. They raised awareness by highlighting environmental benefits and sharing their process transparently. Addressing consumer concerns about recycled materials, Bureo prioritised durability and functionality in their designs, ultimately shifting consumer perception towards more environmentally conscious choices.

Bureo Products

In conclusion, the use of reclaimed ocean plastic in product design offers a promising solution to combat the escalating threat of plastic waste in our oceans. Despite the challenges and obstacles faced by designers, incorporating reclaimed ocean plastic not only helps clean up our oceans but also allows for the creation of sustainable and environmentally friendly products. By collaborating with ocean cleanup organisations, establishing robust supply chains, and adapting the design process to accommodate the unique characteristics of reclaimed ocean plastic, designers can overcome sourcing, sorting, and material consistency challenges. Additionally, addressing consumer perceptions through education and prioritising durability and functionality in designs can foster a shift towards more environmentally conscious choices. Companies like Bureo exemplify the potential of reclaiming ocean plastic by implementing innovative techniques, ensuring high-quality materials, and scaling up production while maintaining sustainability. With continued efforts and dedication, we can pave the way for a more sustainable future and protect the health of our planet and marine life.

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