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Be Part of the Solution to the Ocean’s Plastic Pollution

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Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze, co-founders of 4Ocean.com. Courtesy: 4Ocean.com
Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze, co-founders of 4Ocean.com. Courtesy: 4Ocean.com

In the time it takes to read this article’s opening paragraph, the equivalent of one garbage truck full of plastic will have been dropped into the ocean. Multiply this by minutes, hours and days. The mind-boggling figure adds up to the fact that one-third of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced each year finds its way into the sea, according to a study released in 2016 by the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey and Company. It doesn’t take scientific research to see the problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Just ask Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze, two Florida natives who founded the Boca Raton, Florida-headquartered movement, 4Ocean, in 2015 to help solve this massive marine problem.

“Alex and I went to Bali, Asia’s surfing capital, after graduating from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in 2015,” explains Cooper, 4Ocean’s chief executive officer and co-founder. “We saw so much plastic all over the beaches. It was incredible. We walked up to the lifeguard and asked why he didn’t clean it up. He said he and the other lifeguards did, every morning, but more kept washing ashore throughout the day.”

What galvanized Cooper and Schulze into action, and became their unofficial mantra, were the words of a local fisherman. Each day, the fisherman and other like him would pull tons of trash out of their nets and throw it back in the water. When the two Florida surfers asked why, the answer came: “We get paid for fish, not plastic.” The FAU business majors knew right then they needed to create an economy for plastic and to reach millions of people in order to make a global impact. 

Some of the plastic pollution in the ocean. Courtesy: 4Ocean.com

“Alex and I are entrepreneurs. He grew up on a small island off Florida’s west coast and sold candy bars and fish as a kid. I grew up on a boat in eastern Florida and have charter fished and sold boats. We both knew we wanted to work for ourselves. So, we brainstormed several ideas about how we could clean the ocean of plastics. We heard that someone was trying to do the same thing by building a buoyant grate to sit out in the Pacific Ocean and collect plastic, but we saw so many flaws in this plan. Technology isn’t the solution, we thought, changing behavior and raising awareness is. So, we came up with the idea of creating and selling unisex bracelets made of recycled plastic water and glass bottles. Then we took our combined life savings, $90,000, and spent a year and a half on a business plan and feasibility analysis. We had supporters coming up and donating money to help, so we knew we were on to something big,” says Cooper.

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The duo launched 4Ocean in January 2017. Today, less than two years later, the company has removed over 600,000 pounds of trash from the ocean and its coastlines. The equation is simple. That is, the purchase of one bracelet for $20 funds the removal of 1 pound of plastics. Along the way, jobs are created, and the word is spread about the importance of preventing plastic pollution, waste management and recycling.

There are two other facets of 4Ocean. One is weekly beach clean-ups and the other is causes of the month. 

Beach Clean Up. Courtesy: 4Ocean.com
Beach Clean Up. Courtesy: 4Ocean.com

“We hold beach clean-ups every weekend; sometimes more than one. There’s a calendar of events on our website. Anyone who wants to participate can just show up with their game face on and they get a free T-shirt for participating,” invites Cooper.

Causes of the month spotlight marine creatures affected by plastic pollution. For example, in May, the focus was on whales in partnership with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Whales can easily become entangled in stray plastic or mistake it for food and eat it, both of which can be fatal. 4Ocean created a limited-edition whale charm bracelet to correspond to this monthly cause.

Like the Florida natives trip half way around the world for a surf trip, 4Ocean spans the globe. There are locations in Bali, Haiti and the Philippines as well as South Florida, with more locations opening soon. 

“The best way to support us and become part of the solution to plastic pollution in our oceans is to be a customer or be a subscriber and follow us on social media. We have some really exciting things planned for next year,” says Cooper. 

For more information, visit: 4ocean.com

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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