For better or worse, plastic has become a key resource material for the modern world -- we use it in many different aspects of our lives, everything from food packaging, to our computers and related peripherals, and onto the construction materials for modern buildings.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year. Unfortunately, at least 14 million tonnes of that total ends up in the ocean every single year because plastics, for one reason or another, get disposed of and dumped in ways that aren't environmentally friendly.
In some parts of the world, there are options to recycle plastics. But even in places where wide-ranging schemes are available, it can still be difficult to recycle certain kinds of plastic -- or, worse, people just don't bother.
The end result is that a lot of plastic ends up in landfills or accidentally ends up on shorelines via sewers and drainage systems of large urban areas. Some plastic is even illegally dumped, straight into the ocean.
This waste is bad for the environment in several ways. Marine creatures can get injured or killed by eating or becoming trapped in plastic debris. Any broken-down plastic becomes microscopic microplastics or nanoplastics, which gets consumed by sea life that we eat, and could ultimately end up inside us too, posing threats to our health.
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Plastic pollution is also unsightly -- a beach covered in plastic bottles isn't picturesque and could discourage tourism, something that could put economies that rely on tourism at risk, especially in the developing world.
All these environmental considerations help to explain why Boompods -- a British electronics design company that makes peripherals, such as speakers, headphones, and ear buds, power banks and charging cables -- is using recycled ocean plastic to build devices that people use every day, while also aiding the fight against plastic pollution.
Boompods founder David Tansley says one of the reasons he's steering the company toward using recycled ocean plastics is because of the amount of plastic pollution he's seen with his own eyes.
"I live near the beach, and it always freaks me out when I see plastics on the beach. Then, when I was on holiday in in Greece, I was just gobsmacked by how much plastic was at the beach," he explains.
"We know what the issues are with marine life and how, at the end of the day, the food can end up in our food system, which also freaks me out quite a bit".
These fears led Tansley and Boompods to collaborate with Tide, a Swiss company that collects and re-uses ocean-bound plastic to produce raw materials for sustainable products.
Plastics collected from shorelines and the ocean are repurposed into granules that are used to make a vast array of products, including electronics, automotive parts, and more.
Tide has collected more than 30 million plastic bottles, which have been repurposed into other items -- the company's products don't contain virgin plastics and the recycling process produces up to 80% less CO2 emissions than producing virgin plastics.
Tide's focus on sustainability explains why Tansley was keen to partner with the company to collect the resources it needs to make products from recycled ocean plastics. "It wasn't a very hard decision to make," he says.
Boompods is now launching a range of products made from recycled ocean plastics, starting with a mini-Bluetooth speaker, but the range will eventually expand to earbuds and other accessories for smartphones and tablets.
From the ocean plastics being collected in areas ranging from Mexico to Thailand, to the need to refine the discarded bottles, fishing nets and other plastic pollution into polymers that can be repurposed, it's an extensive operation -- but one that looks to involve the communities most affected by ocean plastic pollution.
It should be noted that you can't just take plastic bottles and other debris found on the beach and immediately turn it into something new. The plastic needs to be broken down first. Local teams ensure the different plastics are separated, something which is easier said than done.
For example, a plastic bottle often contains three different kinds of plastics: polyethylene terephthalate (PET) makes up the bottle; polypropylene (PP) makes up the screw cap; and polyethylene terephthalate glycol (PET-G) resins are what the label is made of.
Tansley describes the work as a "labour intensive process". Yet it's an effort that is not only helping the environment, but also providing jobs with fair wages for people in the coastal regions where the plastics are being collected.
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"It has spawned a whole mini industry with the partners we're working with, especially in the collecting and sorting of materials," he explains.
The Tide teams separate, clean and press the plastics ready for collection, where they are transferred to Switzerland.
Here, Tide's research and development department processes and recycles the plastic waste, alongside partners from the Institute for Materials Technology and Plastics Processing, and the Swiss University of Applied Sciences.
The plastic is broken down into polymers then transformed into raw plastic materials. This recycled plastic is then compounded and aligned for the needs of the product being made, which in this case is the four Boompods products.
They are Skim and Soundwave wireless earphones, along with the Soundflare Bluetooth micro speaker, and Rhythm, a more powerful Bluetooth speaker. Both speakers offer customisable lighting effects -- and it's hoped the sustainable way in which the products are made will be something buyers will appreciate.
"The fact you can buy something, and you know you're maybe a little part helping to make a difference, I think that'll really resonate," says Tansley, adding that he hopes the products made from recycled ocean plastics "make a lot of difference" -- and the company is keen to create more products from recycled ocean plastics.
"I like to think that if it really works that, within a couple of years, the whole range will be ocean plastic, and it will give the brand a massive, proud, identity," he says.