Clean­ing the Ocean One Bracelet at a Time

Boca Ra­ton-based com­pany pay­ing for re­moval of plas­tic from world’s wa­ters

RSWLiving - - Features - BY GINA BIRCH

The qual­ity of wa­ter is a hot topic in South­west Florida. Red tide and green al­gae aside, there has been longterm con­cern about lit­ter and de­bris, es­pe­cially plas­tic, on the beaches and water­ways—not just in South­west Florida but also around the world. In fact, there was so much plas­tic on the beach in Bali when Florid­i­ans and best friends Alex Schulze and An­drew Cooper tried to surf there a few years ago, it was shock­ing enough to steer their life paths on a new course. They watched fish­ing boats be­ing pushed through piles of plas­tic that was not only threat­en­ing the en­vi­ron­ment but also the liveli­hood of the fish­er­men. Bali is a pic­turesque is­land in In­done­sia, a coun­try that is listed among the world’s big­gest pol­luters.

Re­turn­ing to Florida, the duo founded 4Ocean and is now pay­ing those fish­er­men to use their nets to re­move the plas­tic.

Each bracelet sale funds the re­moval of 1 pound of ocean trash.

In the two years since its in­cep­tion, 4Ocean says it has been able to re­move more than 2 mil­lion pounds of trash and plas­tic from oceans and coastlines world­wide. Per­haps the most fas­ci­nat­ing part of the story is the man­ner in which this mas­sive ef­fort is funded—on­line sales of a mod­est beaded bracelet, at its web­site 4ocean.com.

Schulze grew up on Marco Is­land and got his cap­tain’s li­cense as a teenager. Pi­lot­ing lo­cal fish­ing char­ters, he had a pas­sion for surf­ing and scuba div­ing; the wa­ter has al­ways been a part of his life. Cooper grew up in Or­lando and also has a cap­tain’s li­cense and a history of work­ing on the wa­ter. The two be­came friends while at­tend­ing Florida At­lantic Univer­sity in Boca Ra­ton, where 4Ocean is head­quar­tered. They trav­eled the world div­ing, fish­ing and surf­ing be­fore end­ing up in Bali.

Their am­bi­tious cleanup op­er­a­tion be­gan in a small of­fice with a staff of six. Danny Mur­phy, 4Ocean’s community cleanup man­ager, was one of them. He re­mem­bers, “They were told their ideas were crazy but some­times those are the best ideas. They looked for in­vest­ments early on, went to banks, but kept get­ting de­nied.” So, the 20-some­thing duo de­cided to go it alone.

They de­signed a bracelet made with re­cy­cled plas­tic and glass that had been re­moved from the ocean, and added a stain­less steel charm. The sig­na­ture blue bracelet was and still

On any given day, there are more than 150 paid em­ploy­ees in the United States, as many as 100 in Haiti and more than 400 peo­ple in Bali, where the bracelets are now made by hand.

is sold on­line for $20, each sale fund­ing the re­moval of 1 pound of ocean trash.

The team has since grown ex­po­nen­tially. Mur­phy es­ti­mates that on any given day, there are more than 150 paid em­ploy­ees in the United States, as many as 100 in Haiti and more than 400 peo­ple in Bali, where the bracelets are now made by hand.

As the com­pany has grown, Schulze and Cooper have added lim­ited-edi­tion, monthly Cause Bracelets, fo­cus­ing on or­ga­ni­za­tions that make the largest im­pact on ma­rine life af­fected by the plas­tic pol­lu­tion epi­demic. In ad­di­tion to fund­ing the re­moval of a pound of trash, 10 per­cent of the pro­ceeds are do­nated to a ma­rine char­ity that the bracelet rep­re­sents—dol­phins, whales, man­a­tees, etc.

Schulze ex­plains, “Seven days a week for 365 days a year, teams of 4Ocean full-time cap­tains and crews are ded­i­cated to clean­ing river mouths, oceans and coastlines, both above and be­low the wa­ter.”

Bracelet sales have also funded a new 135-foot Ocean Plas­tic Re­cov­ery Ves­sel that con­tains an ex­ca­va­tor barge, marsh ex­ca­va­tor, fast land­ing craft and col­lec­tion booms. It will be sent

to nu­mer­ous lo­ca­tions around the world this year to help clean oceans, rivers and other water­ways where plas­tic col­lects.

Those ar­eas in­clude man­groves, an im­por­tant part of the South­west Florida land­scape. At first glance, they might not look pol­luted. How­ever, Mur­phy says, “Once you get in­side, you find all kinds of trash. Man­groves act as nat­u­ral fil­ters, not just for wa­ter but un­for­tu­nately for man-made de­bris.” Cap­tains have re­cov­ered ev­ery­thing from urns and vials of blood, to for­eign cur­rency and a kit­ten, he adds.

4Ocean’s busi­ness model gives ocean plas­tic a mone­tary value while in­cen­tiviz­ing peo­ple world­wide to change their be­hav­ior. Mur­phy notes, “At the end of the day, we are cre­at­ing an econ­omy for ocean plas­tic. We would even­tu­ally like to sell the plas­tic, cre­at­ing a life cy­cle in­stead of a sin­gle-use prod­uct. There is cer­tainly enough of it out there.”

This year, a 4Ocean chapter pro­gram is be­ing launched, as well as a mo­bile app. Or­ga­niz­ers of beach cleanups in South­west Florida or else­where can post info for sup­port and par­tic­i­pa­tion.

While cleanup ef­forts take most of the fo­cus, 4Ocean also wants to create aware­ness and ed­u­cate con­sumers and cor­po­ra­tions about the neg­a­tive im­pact of sin­gle-use plas­tic such as cups, straws, uten­sils and gro­cery bags. “Our phi­los­o­phy is: ‘Small changes make big im­pacts,’ ” adds Mur­phy. “The most im­por­tant thing you can do is to re­duce your con­sump­tion—it’s not about re­cy­cling but buying less.”

There was so much plas­tic on the beach in Bali when Florid­i­ans and best friends Alex Schulze and An­drew Cooper tried to surf there a few years ago, it was shock­ing enough to steer their life paths on a new course.

From top: 4Ocean’s bracelets are made from re­cy­cled plas­tic and glass that have been re­moved from the ocean; the or­ga­ni­za­tion says it has been able to clean up more than 2 mil­lion pounds of trash and plas­tic from oceans and coastlines world­wide.

From top: Full-time cap­tains and crews clean the ocean and coastlines seven days a week; 4Ocean’s cleanup ef­forts are based out of Boca Ra­ton but span the globe.

Clock­wise from top left: An es­ti­mated 16 bil­lion pounds of trash en­ter the ocean ever y year; An­drew Cooper and Alex Schulze are 4Ocean’s founders; in ad­di­tion to its full-time mis­sion, the or­ga­ni­za­tion hosts vol­un­teer cleanup events around Florida.

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