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Keeping Plastic Out of the Ocean by Giving it a Second Life

Jan. 25, 2018

Humanscale’s director of Workplace Strategy, Jon Strassner, LEED AP, discusses the importance of companies to take a proactive approach toward decreasing environmental hazards.

It is estimated that since 1950, more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic have been produced. Of that, 7 billion tons are no longer in use. While some of that was recycled or incinerated, the majority has made its way into landfills and oceans. According to a recent study, more than 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year.

The ever-growing deluge of plastic pollution in our oceans has a tremendous impact on human health and on the health of our natural environment. The ocean provides oxygen, absorbs carbon dioxide that would otherwise be absorbed by the atmosphere, and is a source of food for people across the planet. Pollution reduces the amount of oxygen the ocean can provide, limits the amount of carbon dioxide it can absorb, is dangerous for wildlife, and contaminates fish and seafood. Recycling and repurposing plastic keeps it out of the ocean and helps to mitigate many of these issues.

More than 8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year.

At Humanscale we have three core missions about which we’re passionate: providing functional high-performance work tools, making people healthier, and achieving a net-positive impact on the earth. Thus, the ocean plastic problem is a core area of concern for us. We’re eager to divert plastics out of the waste stream that leads to the world’s oceans and into our supply chain instead. To achieve this goal, we’re excited to be working with companies including Dell, GM, and others as a founding member of the Next Wave Initiative. Led by the non-profit Lonely Whale, this consortium is developing a distribution web that would support the reuse and repurposing of plastic before it ever reaches the ocean.

The company Bureo pulls plastic fishing nets from the oceans to repurpose in new ways.

We first joined the initiative after forming a partnership with Bureo, a California-based company that collects plastic fishing nets from the ocean (comprising roughly 10 percent of ocean pollution) and repurposes the material to be used in new products such as skateboards and sunglasses. When Bureo and Humanscale both achieved Living Product Challenge certification in 2016, we started working together with the aim to develop ergonomic office tools made of plastics from Bureo’s fishing net recycling program. Following the debut of a prototype we showcased at NeoCon in 2017, we will be introducing a new task chair made from plastic fishing nets this spring. Our goal with Bureo is groundbreaking, as there are few manufacturers incorporating ocean plastics, such as discarded fishing nets, into their products. We want to help other companies figure out how to use this material in their manufacturing processes and help the group to find new ways of addressing the crisis.

In Bureo’s facility, plastic fishing nets retrieved from the oceans are reprocessed into new products.

We know that the benefits of reducing ocean plastic will be myriad. It’s bolstering to work with other companies who are committed to addressing this issue, and we invite other designers and manufacturers to join us. As the companies making the world’s products, we have tremendous influence over the quantity of new plastic that’s made and how much ends up in the waste stream and eventually our oceans. It’s up to all of us to commit to changing the status quo of production and consumption to create a better world for all.

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