Plastic flowing into the ocean is a growing problem and a great threat. Each year over eight million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean, and it is estimated that there are already five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean.

If we don’t change course soon, globally, there will be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish by 2025. This will have far reaching consequences to the health of the planet’s most valuable resource, one of which will be plastic in the food chain.

In recent years, awareness has skyrocketed thanks to the great work of organizations like the Ocean Conservancy, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and scientists like Jenna Jambeck. Every day, we continue to learn more about how plastic affects the ocean and how to stem the flow of this potentially hazardous material. There are even ambitious projects to cleanup plastic in the ocean, like the one currently being undertaken by the Ocean Cleanup.

But one major piece is still missing; placing a value on ocean plastic material. We can cleanup and remove all the ocean plastic material we want but, if there is no use for that plastic, or nowhere for it go, we will never fully close the loop.

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At Norton Point, we have made it our mission to help prove the value in ocean plastic material through the release of our new line of sunglasses made from consumer ocean plastics. As one of our supporters put it “Norton Point is a mission with a business.” 95 per cent of plastic packaging is used once, representing over $80 billion in value, but because virgin (new) plastic is at least 10 times cheaper, ocean plastic is overlooked.

If we don’t change course soon, globally, there will be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish by 2025

Sunglasses have an inherent connection to the ocean and we believe by selling fashionable, high-quality frames we can help start a conversation around ocean plastic products. We have already seen an amazing response to this concept with the recent close of a successful Kickstarter, which helped get our project off the ground. 

So how does our process work? Ocean plastic, while commonly perceived as an, “ocean problem,” has its origins on land. Over 80 per cent of the plastic in the ocean comes from land-based sources. Typically, plastic pollution problems are worst in the developing world, where waste management practices are lacking or non-existent. We have partnered with the Plastic Bank, who is working on the ground in Haiti to help collect ocean plastic and stop it from entering the ocean. In addition, the Plastic Bank ensures that local collectors are paid a living wage for the material they sell. This positively impacts communities by cleaning them up and providing needed, sustainable income. The material is then specially processed into a useable form and from there, carefully crafted into long-lasting, durable eyewear.

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Norton Point

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Norton Point

While much of the plastic originates in developing countries, it is far from a developing world problem. For instance, certain islands in Hawaii can be found littered with plastic, much of which originates in Asia. Though it might be convenient to place blame on the developing world, most of the demand for that plastic is created by the developed world. Even the US, perhaps the largest consumer of single use plastics, only recycles around nine per cent of post-consumer plastic materials, discarding over 32 million tons. Disposal of plastics is a global problem.

We can cleanup and remove all the ocean plastic material we want but, if there is no use for that plastic, or nowhere for it go, we will never fully close the loop.

To aid in the larger picture, we have committed to clean-up one pound of plastic for every product sold and to decided to reinvest five per cent of net profits back into cleanup, remediation, education and R&D.

Working with our non-profit partner, the Ocean Conservancy, we are identifying ocean plastic hot spots, places where plastic pollution is worst, and then turning that material into eyewear, creating a story around each location. Each pair of Norton Point sunglasses has the latitude and longitude where the plastic material is collected, so it can be traced back to its origin. Our campaign, #SeaPlasticDifferently, is designed to encourage consumers and businesses to reevaluate their overall plastic footprint. We are also looking into other uses for ocean plastics, with the goal of increasing the overall market for ocean plastic products. 

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Norton Point

Virgin Unite, Ocean Unite, Norton Point

In the end, this will be an effort much larger than Norton Point and our products. It will require the global community of consumers to demand better packaging from corporations and better disposal solutions from our local city or town. Along with the dozens of NGOs and countless individuals working on the issue, we hope to be a part of the spark that helps create change.

– This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. 

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