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“How do we turn plastic waste on our beaches into gym membership cards?”

That was the challenge posed to us by Virgin Active South Africa, which led to an investigative partnership with Clean C, a local public benefit organisation (PBO) that runs a monthly beach clean-up across various Cape Town’s beaches.

The outcome of the investigation highlighted the dominant plastic that was being collected off our beaches (by weight) was “PET” – your traditional soda bottles. The problem with this outcome? PET doesn’t work well for producing access cards!

Now that we knew what type of plastic was being collected off the beaches in Cape Town, we had to find a solution to use this material otherwise it was very likely to just end up back where we found it.

Between September 2019 and February 2020, Clean C collected, bailed and stored almost one ton of PET bottles off the beach through their monthly beach clean-ups. That’s roughly 22 200 two-litre soda bottles collected over six months!

We are now working with Propet (Pty) Ltd to explore ways of turning these bottles into recycled polyester fibre for use in local manufacturing of upcycled products such as tote bags, backpacks or even fashionable garments like dresses.

A long-term goal is to create an online ecosystem of economically viable activities from collection to recycling through the manufacturing and sales of high-end products made from Ocean Plastic throughout South Africa’s coastal communities.

The OceanCollective initiative is accelerating SDG 8 by promoting economic growth through the re-use of waste material, thereby not losing that economic value to landfill. It accelerates SDG 12 through the promotion of the recycling economy and environmental health. SDG 13 is impacted through the reduction of plastic in the ocean, a known source of CO2 emissions and through the re-use of plastic through recycling which reduces the demand for new material. And last but not least, it accelerates life below water by taking existing waste out of the oceans.

As for the original challenge, while we didn’t find a solution for it , we did increase the recycled content of the cards to 70 percent through our investigations.

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