Cleaning the Ocean One Bracelet at a Time
Boca Raton-based company paying for removal of plastic from world’s waters
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.