Ocean Plastic


At the World Economic Forum in Davos in early 2016 the Ellen MacArthur Foundation called attention to the global issue of plastic waste in the oceans. The Recyclate Initiative is developing concrete approaches to make sure plastic does not into the waterways. The more effectively we recycle, the faster we can solve the problem.

More plastic than fish in the oceans?

According to a recent study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that could be the case in about 35 years if we continue our current practices.

Plastic waste in the ocean is a global problem that affects everyone. The danger to birds and marine animals is posed not just by the enormous "islands of waste", but also by the almost invisible microplastic, which makes its way through the food chain to our plates. The plastic waste that floats in the ocean is crushed and shredded by waves and ultraviolet light into tiny pieces of microplastic, which are ingested by marine life along with or in place of the usual nourishment.

The situation is alarming. However, there are ways to prevent waste in the ocean, specifically, through effective recycling and an environmentally friendly circular economy.

The Recyclate Initiative from Werner & Mertz and its partners are actively engaged in promoting high-quality recycling of PET plastic waste so that environmental pollution can be reduced. Right now plastic waste is generally recycled inadequately and, particularly overseas, reprocessed into products of inferior quality. The quality of the material declines to such an extent that at some point the plastic can no longer be recycled and ends up in a landfill or an incinerator.  

The cooperative efforts in the Recyclate Initiative have shown that things can be different. With innovative power, conviction and perseverance, the partners have developed an approach in which PET material from the previously untapped Yellow Bag can be used to manufacture packaging and processed into high-quality material that can be recycled again and again. The goal is a genuine circular economy that will keep plastic waste away from the oceans and incinerators.

For if the plastic ends up in a landfill or an incinerator, it is forever lost to the circular economy. About 80 percent of the plastic in the oceans comes from the world's unsecured landfills. Strong winds and rainfall push the plastic into the sea.As a rule, plastic packaging is incinerated in Germany and other European countries. Not only does this process generate three grams of CO2 from every gram of PET, but it also wastes a material that can be recycled again and again. A new sorting technology facilitates the extraction of ultra-pure PET from heavily soiled Yellow Bag trash collections. The result is a transparent recyclate that remains in a closed cycle which generates no further waste. Likewise with PE plastic, careful sorting and decontamination of secondary raw materials obtained from the Yellow Bag yield high-quality material for new packaging, which, in turn, is 100% recyclable. That closes the cycle.

The Recyclate Initiative is an "open innovation" project, which means that anyone can join in. In the long-term the resource-conserving and environmentally friendly circular economy could become the standard and spread across industries and over national boundaries. The oceans would thank us.