Leonardo Avezzano, Head of Valorization at The Ocean Cleanup, turns trash into treasure. In this interview he explains what it takes to transform ocean plastic into stylish, responsible sunglasses.
What is The Ocean Cleanup?
Leonardo Avezzano: “When he was 16 years old, The Ocean Cleanup’s Founder and CEO Boyan Slat went diving in Greece. He saw more plastic bags than fish. As a curious young man and an inventor at heart and mind, he thought “Why can’t we just clean this up?” It was a question that stuck with him and that he began to explore. This is when the original cleanup concept was born. Boyan presented his idea at a TEDx conference in 2012. After the video of the talk went viral, he was able to attract the initial crowdfunding and start the groundwork for The Ocean Cleanup, which he founded at 18 years old, in 2013."
What is the current status of the project?
"In our mission to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, we are focusing on two main aspects: cleaning up the legacy plastic floating in the garbage patches and intercepting it in rivers before it can reach the oceans.
Regarding the first point, we are further developing our ocean cleanup technology after we deployed the first two test systems, System 001 and 001/B. We are now designing and testing elements of System 002, with a focus on retention and durability. We aim to deploy this system in the summer of 2021.
To tackle rivers, we have designed the Interceptor, which is a 100% solar powered, autonomous extraction device. We have four Interceptors in operation or soon to be in operation in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam."
What are the main types of plastic you find in the oceans?
"The vast majority of plastics found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) are made of rigid or hard polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), or ghost nets. These ghost nets are entangled High-Density Polyethylen (HDPE) fishnets and marine ropes.
The plastic captured during the System 001/B campaign was brought to shore. The sorting and recycling commenced in February of this year. Using the HDPE ghost nets from the first catch, we have been able to create our first product: sunglasses. The analysis of the rest of the catch is still ongoing and in a research phase."
This is exciting news! We are curious to know how you create the sunglasses?
"We first sort the plastics based on the material types. Then we recycle the material we will use for the product. In the case for the sunglasses we used ghost nets, which are further sorted by polymer type (because ghost nets can be comprised of multiple polymers) and then shredded, washed, dried, and turned into granulate.
The granulate is tested to ensure it is safe to use and meets regulatory requirements (we also test the mechanical, physical, and thermal properties of the plastic as well). With confirmation that we can use the plastic granulate, we add a small amount of additives (up to 5%) to achieve the desired look and feel for the product and so that it retains thermal stability."
Do you have further plans to produce more products?
“Yes, we do. But first we aim to prove the model with the sunglasses. So please let us know your feedback!”
The Ocean Cleanup and the Julius Baer Foundation
The Julius Baer Foundation supports The Ocean Cleanup in the development of market strategies to valorise plastic debris from the ocean by upcycling it into new, long lasting quality products. Initiatives like the ‘Valorisation’ project are at the heart of the Julius Baer Foundation’s strategic core area ‘Solutions Replacing Plastic’, which focuses on promoting alternatives to plastic and solutions to transform the single-use of plastic into a circular economy. The ‘Valorisation’ project is also essential for the The Ocean Cleanup to attain financial self-sufficiency and fund more ocean cleaning.