There are about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean, a great deal of which is washing up on beaches around the world, resulting in the high-profile fouling of shorelines in Hawaii and Alaska.
In an effort to clean up some of this pollution, consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble is planning to produce Head & Shoulders shampoo bottles partly made from beach plastic.
The company told The Guardian that the containers will be made from 25 per cent of these recycled materials, collected by thousands of volunteers on the shorelines of France.
P&G called it a “first major step” towards establishing a supply chain using the recycled debris.
“We felt that the leading shampoo brand in sales should lead in sustainability innovation and know that when we do this, it encourages the entire industry to do the same,” Lisa Jennings, vice-president of global hair at P&G, said in a release.
The pilot project, which also involves recycling business TerraCycle and waste management firm Suez, will result in up to 170,000 recycled bottles on shelves across France this summer, according to The Guardian.
Steve Morgan, the technical director of plastics recycling organization Recoup, told The Guardian that it is a “technological breakthrough,” despite its limited run.
“In the past when companies have tried to use plastics that have been sourced from oceans or beaches, it hasn’t been technically possible because of the exposure to UV, and also the plastics degrade and don’t recycle that well. What they’ve done here is make it technically viable, which is kind of the big thing,” said Morgan.
He added that the techniques used by P&G could become “more mainstream” once the technology is further developed and the cost advantage improves.
The company also promised to produce more than a 500 million of the same type of bottles per year across Europe by the end of 2018.
P&G said this figure represents 90 per cent of all of its haircare bottles sold on the continent.
It estimated it will require 2,600 tonnes of recycled plastic each year, or the equivalent of eight fully-loaded Boeing 747s.
The company is aiming to double the amount of PCR plastic, post-consumer resin or reclaimed material, that it uses in packaging by 2020.
“Increasing the use of recycled plastic in the packaging of our flagship brands, like Pantene and Head & Shoulders, makes it easier for consumers to choose more sustainable products, without any trade-offs,” said Virginie Hellas, vice-president of global sustainability at P&G.
“So while we’re proud of what we’ve done and what we’re doing, we know there is much more work ahead.”
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a United Kingdom-based non-profit, estimates that plastic production will double in the next 20 years.
However, current efforts are only leading to 14 per cent it being recycled.
But it estimates that number could be bumped up to 70 per cent.