Meet Weldon Wade, one of the most active environmentalists we’ve met. A commercial diver by trade, Weldon work with ocean advocacy groups, runs a number of marine events, and has big plans for an upcoming National Geographic Open Explorer Program.
When we think of marine plastics, our minds likely jump straight to the open ocean: turtles and seahorses swimming among refuse, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, itself. But how often do we think upstream in the literal sense?
The Benioff Ocean Initiative (BOI), a nonprofit under UC Santa Barbara, has done just that. In a white paper released in April 2019, BOI pointed out that 80% of marine pollution originates on land — as opposed to, say, abandoned fishing gear or trash from barges and boats. Furthermore, the paper explained that rivers are a key conduit for this waste, and the vast majority of our marine trash originates from just 20 countries. Uncovering this information gave BOI an idea about where one could target global cleanup efforts.
Now, BOI is putting their money where their mouth is. Just over a month ago, the organization released an RFP seeking interdisciplinary pilot projects for an innovative plastic waste capture system in any river in the world. The winning proposal will receive $3 million to develop and deploy their project, as part of a jointly-funded program between BOI and the Coca-Cola Foundation.
We at SeaHive spoke with Molly Morse, Project Scientist with BOI. In terms of geography, she said, “The RFP is pretty open-ended. The only guidance is that it can be any river in the world that will intercept plastic waste before it enters the ocean.” More important, the proposal should demonstrate that the team thought critically about what approach would be most effective for their chosen river and region. From a technical standpoint, this means understanding the hydrology of the river system: the river’s shape, width, flow rate, and so on. Furthermore, although the waste capture technology is the premise of the project, communication is a major component. The technology will be used to draw attention in the local community to the problem of plastic pollution. As such, outreach should be targeted toward the local culture. “For instance,” explained Molly, “if it’s in a communist country vs. a democratic country, do you target the public or the government and decision makers to change policies?”
One other key consideration is what will be done with the waste after it is collected. The program requires that the waste be captured and disposed of properly. Ideally, this means plastics will be recycled; However, BOI recognizes that some of these projects would be in areas without recycling capacity. Furthermore, plastics that have been sitting in water tend to be degraded, low-quality plastic that may not be recyclable. Some possible solutions have been to allocate project funds to building recycling capacity, or to conduct a brand audit to find out where these materials are coming from. BOI is allowing organizations to approach that part of the project however they would like, but it is something that needs to be addressed.
Given the interdisciplinary nature of this project, it is likely that the winning team will have a variety of key members involved — namely, an engineering specialist, an environmental or watershed scientist, and a relationship with the local government or key stakeholders in the region. It may seem that these are tall orders, but according to Molly, BOI has been talking to people on every continent except Australia and Antarctica about marine plastic solutions. “There are folks and organizations all over the world who are thinking about this,” Molly explained, “It’s encouraging to see how much thought, time, and design are going into finding solutions all around the world.”
The RFP deadline is July 12. The BOI team will be reviewing proposals for the following month or two, and a decision should be made by September on the winning project. The program will tentatively launch by the end of 2019 and continue over the next four years. If you’re interested in applying, you can do so here, and for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nearly one month ago, a group of scientists, journalists, filmmakers, and artists boarded a research vessel and headed toward the blue waters and endless horizon of the Pacific Ocean. Clipboards in hand, this team set out to research, document, and clean up the world’s most polluted beach. Although it is in one of the most remote places in the world, Henderson Island’s East Beach was known to have had the highest density of debris of any beach in the world. That was, until this expedition.
Travel 3,400 miles off the Chilean coastline to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and you’ll see where the world has been hiding its dirty little secret. Henderson Island, one of the four Pitcairn Islands, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is almost never visited by people. There are no human inhabitants, no industrial facilities. The nearest settlement is on an island 71 miles away with a total population of 40. In fact, the Pitcairns are so small, their government is based in New Zealand, over 3,000 miles to the southwest. Yet despite its extreme isolation, this tiny, uninhabited island is home to the most polluted beach on the planet.
There’s a lot you can do to broaden your company’s environmental responsibility beyond just eliminating plastic in packaging. Below are a few areas where you can reduce your footprint.
Think about ways to minimize the overall size of the product that requires packaging. For example, with the Pakt One, we found a way to fold the bag so it fit neatly into a much lower profile box. Many bags are packaged with stuffing so that they look good on retail displays. By flat packing the Pakt One each bag required a third of the space of a stuffed bag which meant we could fit three times as many bags in a shipping container. This meant the ocean freight carbon footprint was also slashed by approximately two-thirds. The bonus is that cargo shipments like that are generally charged by volume so we were also cutting the freight costs by two-thirds.
Instead of picking a box size from a supplier’s catalogue, design your own box to the dimensions of your product. Brown cardboard boxes are very inexpensive and you’ll increase the number of items that can be shipped at once if they are sized as small as possible. This reduces the total amount of fuel needed to get your product to the customer. And your product won’t be clanging around in a laughably-sized box (hint, hint Amazon).
Pick packaging that is lightweight, reusable, and recyclable. Avoid using mixed materials as they’re harder to recycle. Plastic films with multiple layers of paper, plastic, and foil are hard to process. Bonded packaging (the paper envelopes with plastic bubbles inside) is also difficult to recycle.
Try to pick suppliers that are close to your factory. If your 3PL is close to your factory, that is great too but only if it is also central to where your products will be shipped. The goal is to reduce total shipping distances, and therefore the total fossil fuels needed to transport all the materials involved in your business.
Plan ahead! When you ship the product from the factory to your 3PL leave enough time so you can opt for sea shipment over air. The emissions are lower and it is much more cost-effective.
Again, if your 3PL is located centrally within the territory that you ship the most product it will save on total distance shipped, cutting emissions.
These are just a few ways you can be more environmentally responsible when developing and shipping a product. We’re constantly learning more and will be updating you as we make more packaging and learn from our experiences. Please reach out if you have any questions about how we designed, sourced, or shipped our products. We’re happy to help you switch to plastic-free packaging any way we can.
Packaging is the major generator of plastic waste, responsible for almost half of the global total. It’s important to pick a 3PL that shares your values on avoiding plastic packaging from the start. You’ll have a much smoother experience getting your product to customers if communication is strong and everyone is on board with packing and shipping plastic-free.
Every 3PL will tell you they can avoid plastic for your products because they want your business. The reality is that warehouses have a lot of clients and there is high staff turnover. We experienced this with our first 3PL when they intermittently added plastic air pockets to boxes on accident. Pakt customers were pretty confused seeing the educational inserts reading “Did you notice your bag didn’t use any plastic packaging?” after removing the snake of plastic pillows from the package. After this mess and a few other challenges we decided to switch our 3PL. If you want to make sure you never have any slip-ups you can seek out a company that doesn’t use any plastic at all. If you’d like a recommendation, just send us a message.
If they aren’t a plastic-free 3PL make sure they can meet your requirements prior to agreeing to do business. This may mean a dedicated plastic-free zone or table in the warehouse and consistent training for employees. We even bought our own paper tape machines for our first 3PL in hopes that would help. Tour all the 3PLs you are considering to fully understand how they will keep their promise of plastic-free packaging before you make a decision.
There will always be challenges in shipping products but not having to worry if your products are arriving plastic-free will take a lot of stress out of the process.
You’ve made your product. You’ve designed plastic-free packaging. Now it’s time to combine the two at your factory.
We needed to pack and ship 10,000 duffel bags from our factory in Vietnam. We were shipping some to our 3PL and some directly to consumers. Most high-end bags are shipped inside a plastic bag to protect it. A bag...in a bag. They might be further “protected” by air pockets, packing peanuts, or other filler. This strategy didn’t make a lot of sense to us so the first step was to design a box that would fit the Pakt One bag precisely without extra space. The only other thing inside was a brief educational insert calling out our plastic-free packaging. We sealed the deal with paper tape.
We knew how we wanted the final packaging to look so we went to our factory in Vietnam to hand off the directions in person. It was more about what not to include than what to put in the box. Factories are used to the status quo--plastic, plastic, plastic. We spoke with our factory’s manager, Claire, who translated all directions to workers.
“We need to make sure there is no plastic used in our packaging.”
“No poly bag?” asked Claire.
“No poly bag, no plastic tape, or any other plastic.”
“Ah, no plastic. Okay!” Claire then turned to her team to repeat the instructions in Cantonese and Vietnamese to make sure everyone in the room understood.
She made a huge “X” with her arms to signal that no plastic was to be involved at any stage in packing or shipping. Even though going plastic-free isn’t the norm right now, our factory was more than happy to comply and yours likely will be too if you spend the time to communicate how important it is to your brand.
We designed our packaging in-house to fit the Pakt One perfectly. Our founder and a few of our employees are industrial designers so we could do this ourselves. You have two main options for sourcing the packaging design and manufacturing. You can do it in-house if you have the resources: industrial and/or graphic designers. If you don’t, you can look to a packaging supplier who will design the packaging and then make it for you. If you are unsure of who to go with we can connect you with a company we highly recommend--just send us an email and we’ll make the intro. If you’re going the in-house route, once the packaging is designed you’ll send it off to a manufacturer to get samples made.
Your logo and other key info about the item will likely be displayed on the outside of the packaging. You’ve gone the extra mile by eliminating plastic and you’ll want to tell prospective customers--it’s a great way to showcase your brand’s ethos. SeaHive and Pakt wanted to shout it from the rooftops that our goods would be sent without any plastic. We created the SeaHive Seal to be displayed on the exterior of the packaging to communicate to customers that the items inside are packaged and shipped 100% plastic-free.
The seal is a way to help make a conscious consumer choice to avoid plastic packaging. Seals for organic, non-GMO, Fair Trade, and cruelty-free products are established indicators to help us align our values to our purchases. We hope the SeaHive Seal will be taken up by other brands who choose to protect the environment and pass on plastic. We believe it will convince potential customers to confidently buy products that don’t contribute to a global problem.
Once you approve packaging samples they can be mass produced and shipped to your factory. Your work doesn’t end there though. You need to insure your product is packaged correctly, without any plastic. In the next post we’ll look into how to we got our factory to go plastic-free. It can be a challenge but nothing that can’t be tackled with good communication and some great attitudes.
More than 50% of all plastic thrown out is packaging. Single-use plastic has become a scourge on our planet in the past 60 years. It’s cheap to make and widely considered to be hygienic and time-saving. Unfortunately, one of the qualities that makes it valuable also makes it extremely detrimental to the health of the planet: its durability. Plastic is estimated to last anywhere from 450 years to forever. Nearly every piece of plastic ever made is still with us and every piece we manufacture adds to the problem. Creating it involves fossil fuels, which aren’t so great for our atmosphere. When plastics slowly photodegrade in landfills, rivers, and the ocean they leach chemicals into the soil and water, harming the health of our entire ecosystem.
SeaHive and Pakt founder, Malcolm Fontier, didn’t want to contribute to the creation of more plastic packaging, 32% of which ends up in the ocean. “Even as an environmentally-minded product company, it's easy to focus on your product and overlook the packaging. We wanted to show that going plastic-free and removing much of the environmental risk from your packaging isn't difficult and something any company can do.” says Fontier.
There is no such thing as a sustainably produced product but there’s a spectrum of environmental responsibility. Companies need to decide where on that spectrum they want to exist. The goal of Pakt is to have the lowest possible impact on the planet while making products that last a lifetime and don’t end up in a landfill--a goal your own company may share. SeaHive was able to help reduce Pakt’s impact from a packaging and shipping standpoint and we hope these guides pique your interest to reduce or eliminate plastic from your company’s packaging. Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter because next in our series we’ll dive into packaging design.
Here at SeaHive, we’ve learned a lot by creating plastic-free packaging for our sister company Pakt. We decided we wanted to share what worked for us with anyone who was interested. In the following series, The SeaHive Guide to Plastic-Free Packaging, we are going to explain the reasoning we went off the beaten path to use 100% plastic-free packaging, exactly how we did it at each step, and further ways you can reduce your environmental footprint as a company.
The goal of these guides is to help other businesses realize they can do this too – and help make the switch painless. Switching to plastic-free packaging doesn’t have to cost a lot and it isn’t as complicated as you might think, but every item packaged and shipped without plastic makes a difference. We encourage you to get in touch with questions and comments as you read these. We aren’t environmental scientists or packaging engineers--we’re just a small team of people who wants to keep plastic out of the ocean and saw an opportunity to start with our own products. This is what worked for us and we hope it inspires you to consider eliminating plastic packaging from your product line.