THE SEABIN PROJECT
How a surfer from Byron is cleaning up our oceans, one ‘bin’ at a time.
RRubbish isn’t sexy. Bins aren’t sexy. Conservation isn’t sexy and environmentalism isn’t sexy – unless, of course, Leonardo Dicaprio is getting all broody in front of the dusty old folks at the United Nations. And perhaps because tackling big environmental issues isn’t, on first glance, glossy, easy or, in some cases, even possible, they’re rarely solved in any direct, job done, case-closed kind of way. Because a reusable shopping bag can only get humanity so far. But on a Friday morning in Sydney, one man demonstrated to GQ how a simple solution to a big problem can make drastic environmental impact. As the sun peaked over the horizon to throw morning light across a murky stretch of water, a plastic bottle became the metaphor for a gluttonous society that could fix an issue it is responsible for creating. The Seabin Project CEO, Pete Ceglinski, is a 40-year-old guy from Byron Bay with an ear-to-ear smile, a broad chest forged from surfing and an ocker accent to rival that of the late Steve Irwin. On this day he is wearing a white T-shirt, dark shorts, black cap and “no feet” – a reference to his absence of shoes – and is carefully sliding a circular barrel-like object into the water of Jones Bay Wharf, a stone’s throw from Sydney’s CBD. The black, grey and yellow tub slips in almost silently, its upper lip coming to rest just beneath the surface. Ceglinski stands back to survey its positioning. The water is still, the morning light plays with a thin patch of oil floating on the surface and the plastic bottle along with a wrapper from a cigarette packet drifts slowly towards the rim of the object before disappearing into the mesh within. “See – it just works,” says Ceglinski, hands on his hips in acknowledgment. This installation of another Seabin at a Sydney wharf is the latest demo by Ceglinski to local marine managers and one that marks a three-year journey. His floating-bin design, installed in ports and marinas, helps solve the global issue of ocean pollution and is streamlining the removal of waste from marinas across the world. By capturing plastic bags, cigarette butts, bottles and cups along with oil, pollutants and micro-fibres, these innocuous, low-maintenance devices are capable of collecting around 1.5kg of marine trash a day, which equates to nearly half a tonne per year. “I used to work as a product designer creating injection-moulded products like toasters and kettles,” he recalls. “I worked on racing yachts and I was travelling around seeing this pollution, this rubbish that was clogging up and choking the ocean. It was a light-bulb moment.” That was in 2015, and all it took to bring to life his scribble of an idea was a drive to succeed, impeccable timing, two years of development and a few million views on a video tethered to a crowd funding page. “It was the greatest marketing campaign we have ever been a part of,” laughs Ceglinksi, who believes shows like the BBC’S Blue Planet and outspoken Hollywood A-listers like Jude Law, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon have helped bring a louder voice to growing concerns like sea pollution. “The ocean plastic issue was trending on social media and that helped generate some initial interest… Seemingly overnight we had three million views on our video.” The Seabin Project raised $362,000 thanks to support and interest from international publications, TV news channels and viral websites such as Now This, Bored Panda and the BBC. That kind of money-can’t-buy PR shot Ceglinski and his floating-bin concept straight into the spotlight – a little too soon, he suggests. “I was getting around 800 emails a day at one stage saying, ‘Where is it? We want it.’” He vividly recollects just how overwhelmed
he felt physically and mentally. “I’ve only just started drinking coffee again. I had so much anxiety I quit the stuff for like two years.” That funding helped the team complete some much-needed R&D while the press interest built a waitlist of future clients. “I did a count at the end of last year on the number of views our video has generated so far, and to be honest, I lost count after 800 million… It is well over a billion now.” Accolades and renewed media interest has followed since the finished products began rolling off the production line in May 2018. Seabin has been rewarded with gongs at the Advance Global Australian Awards, The Good Design Australia Awards and the European Product Design Awards. It even took out a coveted industry award for innovation at the world’s biggest marine trade show as well as the Innovation Award, presented by Audi, at the GQ Men of the Year awards in November. “Now our mission is to get bins in the water,” states Ceglinksi. And it’s happening. More than 350 units are in the water in 50 marinas across 23 countries, and Ceglinksi is almost jubilant that those figures are set to jump exponentially when they hit the North American market this coming May. Seabin has also been given the endorsement of software billionaire Mike Cannon-brookes, who along with Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk, has enjoyed lambasting Australia’s government of late for their approach to environmental issues. Most recently CannonBrookes went toe-toe with Prime Minister Scott Morrison via a series of tweets challenging the government over its labelling of ‘baseload’ and coal power as “fair dinkum”. Morrison called for a Fair Dinkum Power ‘movement’ to embrace wind and solar. The Atlassian co-founder wore a Seabin cap during a TV appearance on at least three occasions during the October media cycle, recognition of his part in this new, and all-important crusade. He became aware of Ceglinksi’s work through the Advance Global Australian Award. As a previous recipient himself, he’s keen to see the Seabin concept roll out globally. “It’s awesome to see practical Aussie ingenuity, backed by solid engineering, solving a global problem,” Cannon-brookes tells GQ. But as Ceglinski turns his head to watch a frayed piece of blue twine dance around the rim of his invention, he admits that one day he hopes his Seabins will be lifted from the water for good. “We made our mission statement clear – we want to be able to one day live in a world where pollution devices are not needed.” seabinproject.com
“I did a count at the end of 2017 on the number of views our video has got... I lost count after 800 million.”