“We are eating, drinking and seasoning our food with plastic,” says Dune Ives matter-of-factly.
But don’t mistake her nonchalance for indifference or apathy. The fact is, ocean plastic pollution is an epidemic and stating it bluntly is the only way for her to say it.
But what do plastics in the ocean have to do with what we eat or drink or even season?
“Everything,” warns Ives, the executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation (LWF), an environmental outfit co-founded in 2015 by actor and social advocate Adrian Grenier and Lucy Summer to bring about a positive impact for the health of our oceans.
Ives says plastics in the ocean photodegrade into microplastics which fish eventually eat. She adds that 84% of tap water and 93% of bottled water tested globally have been found to contain plastic fibres.
Even worse, 100% of sea salt samples tested show plastic fibre content.
“And while we don’t yet know what the impact is, it just can’t be good. We weren’t meant to have plastic in our body, just like a sea turtle wasn’t meant to have a plastic straw up its nose,” Ives says.
The impending fate of the ocean and marine life is alarming and frightening. This cannot be stated enough.
Taking note of the urgency, tech giant Dell started a partnership with LWF in 2015. Last year, they convened seven other global corporations (Bureo, GM, HermanMiller, Humanscale, Interface, Trek Bicycles and Van De Sant) to set up the NextWave initiative.
The aim of NextWave is to intercept plastics in rivers and coastal areas before they make it to the ocean and use them in manufacturing while also creating economic and social benefits for stakeholders.
NextWave hopes to divert three million pounds (1.4 million kg) of plastics over five years, the equivalent of keeping 66 million water bottles from washing out to sea.
This initiative, of course, ties in perfectly with its Legacy Of Good Plan, which, according to Dell Malaysia’s managing director Pang Yee Beng, “is not a project or a programme but it’s part of the DNA of the company”.
Pang, who is also the senior vice president of Dell EMC South Asia and Korea, was quick to point out that the Legacy Of Good Plan is “not just a US-driven initiative but we do it in Malaysia and wherever we have our footprint”.
He says all three company sites (Cyberjaya, Penang and Bukit Mertajam) have been given the green logo by the Penang Green Council auditor for the Penang Green Office programme. Both sites in Penang were certified last year while the Cyberjaya site was certified in July this year.
“We announced in June that we will no longer use plastic straws and I’m even thinking of implementing no plastic bottles,” Pang adds.
Minimising plastic consumption is not just practised on site. In July, the Penang team partnered with the Penang City Council as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative called #ShoreUp. It went around the island collecting plastic bottles.
In fact, says Pang, the Penang team will be hosting another beach clean-up event this month, in conjunction with World Cleanup Day.
“Keeping plastics out of the ocean is our No. 1 priority,” Pang stresses.
He adds: “What we want to do, if possible, through innovation, is showcase how we can lead and make things positive. The supply chain is key.”
Dell’s XPS 13 is a testament to this. The 2-in-1 laptop now ships in packaging made with 25% of recovered ocean-bound plastics while the remaining 75% is made with recycled materials.
The next step, according to Ives and Pang, is to see whether the cushioning at the bottom of a laptop or even the keys of the keyboard can be made using ocean-bound plastic.
“What this does is, it turns the tap off. It keeps plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place and it creates value. So, if we want to solve this problem, we have to create value of this waste product,” Ives says.
She adds: “We can no longer have a linear way of thinking about extraction, production and then disposal. Our supply chain has to be circular in nature.
“And when we think about this issue from a circular economy standpoint, it’s really beginning with the end in mind. Any replacement that’s been made, even the packaging which has created through this initiative, we need to really think carefully about takeback.”
Simply put, a circular economy is an industrial model that aims to be restorative and regenerative – that is, recycling and reusing materials from a product to produce something else and in effect, design waste out and minimise the negative impact.
And this is what Ives and her team are specifically looking at when they approach companies to get on board the NextWave initiative – companies that are willing to produce products like the laptop packaging “not just one and once but to be committed” with circular economy in mind.
This ocean salvation project is still in its infancy and the road ahead seems long and arduous. But Ives is positive.
“I do see more and more companies joining us in this initiative. I can’t tell who they are yet but we have two of the largest companies in the world joining this initiative.
“And they are joining because they are inspired but also, they see lots of opportunities.
They see single-use plastics everywhere that they produce and they see opportunities to lock up these plastics permanently into their products,” Ives says.
“Collaborations like this are very important,” Pang says.
“We can’t do it on our own, no matter how big we are. It’s even more critical that it’s done collaboratively.”