Plastics On The Edge

Plastics On The Edge

$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Bringing revenue to coastal communities, by creating a global network of local organizations engaged in collecting, sorting, and recycling beached-plastic-marine-debris. A sustainable business model to earn money while restoring the oceans in a cost-effective and non-invasive way.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Every square mile of ocean contains at least 46,000 pieces of floating plastic (UNEP 2006). The highest density of plastic debris in the planet is in the North Pacific ocean, where a garbage patch of about 3.5 million tons - 99% of which is composed of plastic - floats towards the gravitational center of the oceanic gyre. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer and leading authority on flotsam, has tracked the build-up of plastics in the seas for more than 15 years and compares the garbage patch to a living entity: "It moves around like a big animal without a leash." When that animal comes close to land, as it does at the Hawaiian archipelago, the results are dramatic. "The garbage patch barfs, and you get a beach covered with plastic." Anyone who visits the shore on a regular basis knows exactly what this problem looks like, yet the truth is that only few of us pick up any of this junk when we come face to face with it, most people rather turn a blind eye and complain about the untidiness of the local people. Yet the inescapable fact that plastic pollution is linked with densely populated areas is something that has been kept in the dark. Out of sight and out of mind.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Up until now, the battle against plastic pollution in the oceans has remained in the realm of ocean science. Nonetheless environmentalists addressing marine debris focus their attention on beach clean-ups, and shoreline campaigns to prevent plastics from entering the sea. Still the fact that recovered plastics have an intrinsic value that is only enhanced when they are re-introduced into the economic system is something that has been overlooked until now. Depending on the seasonal variability of currents ocean gyres (Ebbesmeyer and Maximenko) discharge a fraction of their flotsam - mostly plastic - on to strategically located beaches around the world.The North Pacific Gyre, for example, takes three years to complete an orbit and dumps roughly half of its contents upon each full rotation. Small Island Developing States, SIDS, and coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. However by combining the collective ingenuity and adaptable traditions of the 40 SIDS that are now faced with this adversity, can help turn the scale of plastic refuse and increase the livelihood of island communities. Our programs will focus on waste collection as well as making sure that is recycled (to a possible extent) or disposed in a manner that is environmentally safe. Building bridges among relevant sectors and exploring key relationships that have been left unattended (e.g. the link with solid waste management, industry, and cities).
About You
Trash Patch
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



Trash Patch


, NY, New York County

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Trash Patch

Organization Phone

646 2807348

Organization Address

63 W 90th Street Apt 1A

Organization Country

, NY, New York County

Your idea
Country your work focuses on
Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?

Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

At this very moment, we can only attest on how this phenomenon has impacted all costalal tourist destinations; which at the same time exemplifies the impact that we ought to expect once our project initiates.

Rachel Carson said it best when she wrote: “The sea is a place where one gets a sense of the great antiquity of the earth. It seems changeless; but it is always changing. It links the dim beginnings of time with the present. I suppose that the surface waters of the ocean look much as they did some 300 million years ago, when the first animals were coming out on land to take up a strange new life.”
It seemed a time when the sea was beyond the power of man to change, yet as we all now know this is certainly no longer so, not today and perhaps never again. Unhappily, some of the world’s most remote shores no longer remain wild and unspoiled. Instead, they have been tainted by the sordid transformation of ‘development’ cluttering them with all the untidy litter that reaches them in the name of distant ‘civilization’.

So the next time we gaze out over the open sea, we ought to think of the ‘real’ cost of supporting the lifestyles that surround us, when it is obvious that they continuously erode the earth’s natural features that we all long for. The gift of tranquility, is beyond price, and yet continuously we fail to acknowledge that ‘nothing lives to itself’.


In 2002 International Coastal Cleanup removed marine litter from more than 21,000 km of coastline and waterways collecting more than 6.2 million pieces of marine litter (mostly plastic), weighing over 4,000 tones. Regardless of the efforts and investment made, the flow of plastics coming in and out of the ocean seems to be far from the end, if we are to even consider the possibility of remediation other incentives - such as revenue from recycling - need to come into play. Our project is designed to seek out and build bridges with global/local recycling organizations in order to re-introduce these materials back into the economic system. The Plastics industry is well aware that one the biggest obstacles to increased recycling is lack of sufficient access to recycling collection opportunities; and are constantly looking for new and dynamic ways to increase collection. By Working together with a variety of interest groups and stakeholders (e.g.The Association of Post-consumer Plastic Recyclers and the American Chemistry Council) we plan to conduct workshops and seminars to educate municipal recycling coordinators on the existing markets for recycled plastics.


The global market for recycled plastics has grown exponentially; making the use reclaimed plastics cost effective and more sustainable than the obtaining new ones; today’s recovered plastics are sorted, cleaned, and processed to perform at levels competitive with virgin resins. With the introduction of new technologies, markets have become stronger, yielding a healthy demand for reclaimed materials both locally and globally. However according to The Association of Post-consumer Plastic Recyclers the industry has an “Achilles heel” and that is collection. Our greatest contribution will be to significantly increase the number of away-from-home collection opportunities thus yielding an increase in the total number of bottles, bags, and rigid plastic containers collected. The ways in which we will measure our success are purely economical; reflected upon yearly import/export overviews. The reports should reflect increases in the amount of reclaimed plastics. Also an increase in the export of bales of plastics is to be expected along with the corresponding decrease in the import of virgin resins.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

Our organization has an estimated operational budget of $45,000.00, however based on projections of visibility in the media and public engagement, we anticipate that this amount would need double by 2012. So far we have managed to allocate small investments from external consultants that have helped build our current physical and digital infrastructure; however we are engaged in a campaign to raise $1,000.000.000 for a documentary film and $100.000.00 for a city-wide recycling drive in NYC.

As a way to stress the potential of combined efforts our project will highlight a series of ecologically-sustainable solutions -- such as integrated material management systems, debris catching technologies and recycling strategies -- as potentially the best way to guarantee a significant reduction of the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. At the same time voice the success stories of different artists, activists, designers, and community leaders, that are actively engaged with this global concern.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Even though the past few years have brought exponential attention to the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch, plastic marine pollution has not yet gained the needed recognition, perhaps, because it is so remote from our daily life appearing as if it does not have a lasting impact in our immediate environment. Contrary to this false assumption, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, reported a staggering 80% of all the plastic found floating in the ocean to be coming from land. Which proves, once more, the unfortunate fact that the kinds of things we use plastic for are also the kinds of things we don't dispose of carefully. Consumer data recurrently shows, too many consumers continue to be unaware of the significant usefulness, demand, and value of recycled plastics. In order to generate the needed change in single-use plastic consumption, we need to change this false conception and help raise the awareness of plastic marine pollution.

We believe that by increasing public awareness and involvement, we will positively impact the long-term need for a paradigmatic shift around issues of waste and the environment. This can become a case study for an integrated model to address one of the largest waste management crisis the world has ever known.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?


What stage is your project in?

Idea phase

In what country?
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Trash Patch

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Unbeknown to many, plastic pollution has very little to do with oceanography, but much more to do with solid waste management, global economy and markets, material science, watershed hydrology, and countless of other disciplines, if we are to even consider the possibility of remediation a multidisciplinary approach needs to come in place.
Some experts believe that clean-up efforts should not be conducted at sea; others disagree, stating that we need to look beyond coastal cleanups and shoreline campaigns and start thinking of how to fish some of it out. No matter how different the approaches are, both sides seem to agree on one thing and that is the most ecological and anticipatory response is certainly not to wait until the problem gets worse.
With the current trends of plastic production and the rapid increase of non-biodegradable waste flowing down rivers and lakes, the worlds oceans are far from the end of this. In order to truly give the oceans a break -- so that the gyres can naturally spin out the trash floating in them - we need to start by changing the way we relate to disposable materials and increase our understanding the long term effects of plastic over-consumption

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

Integrating the Network:
Coordinating the efforts of organizations dealing with plastic marine debris
Developing a network of consultants with key players in industry, market, science, technology and policy
Researching the interdisciplinary links necessary to harmonize existing information

Creating a body of images, maps, and diagrams for the public
Packaging information (presentations, documentaries, problem sets) for a variety of audiences
Conducting workshops and seminars on demand, quality considerations, and suggestions to educate municipal recycling coordinators.

Internet Platform:
Creating the first interactive point of contact for schools, scientists, industry, community leaders, etc.
Harnessing content to facilitate discussion and the exchange of information
Monitoring and tracking the different collection efforts on the local level and global level

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

The initial conversation that gave way to Trash-Patch did not happened on land, nor water; It so happens that it happened on the air while overflying the Atlantic ocean in the summer of 2008. My wife and I had purchased a Scientific American Earth 3.0 before we left New York and found one of the first [if not the first] articles that the described the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The article described a floating amalgamation of the worlds trash, mostly plastic floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It also depicted a very compelling image by famous illustrator John Blanchard that tried to give a scale and a shape to what seemed to us a rather abstract and almost absurd phenomenon.
Sharing a love for the ocean and being passionate about marine species; I must say we were both as appalled as exited about this. How fascinating, we thought, that the ocean was actually collecting our trash for us! This would mean that if the article and the illustration were accurate: this massive amount of unaccounted floating plastic could be recycled, better yet, it could be claimed!

The trash-patch seemed to be an irreversible environmental threat, yet at the same time the fact that the ocean had amassed all of this plastic in one location struck us as a huge potential resource, if re-conceived as useful material rather than as waste. Over the 2,820 miles of our flight we outlined a roadmap to what we thought would make a great idea for a project; all we needed now was a competition to pitch it to.

In the fall of 2008 we put together a proposal for the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Challenge. We believed that the unitary co-ordination of the sub-tropical convergent zones transporting plastics to the center of the ocean’s gyres without any visible mechanical or structural interconnection was displaying Buckminster Fuller’s principle of synergy.

We proposed to create an open-source-do-tank for experimental solutions devoted to re-introduce plastic pollution into the global consciousness and economy by creating an online community that would gather and distribute data necessary to help raise the collective awareness of plastic marine debris. Our goal was to connect people, multinational corporations and other interest groups that could act as catalysts to produce unprecedented maximum advantageous change.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

I was born in Guatemala in 1978. I was lucky enough to have grown up away from the city, separated from steel and concrete and was brought up surrounded by earth and water; focusing my attention on the wonders and realities of the natural world away from the man-made artificial one. I was only four months old when I first visited the Belize Barrier Reef. My father would hold me underwater in order to take my first glimpses of the amazing underwater world, while my mother would tell him: “You know, the open sea is a strange place for anything as fragile as a newly born to be set adrift.”

As I clumsily splashed my way through the upper layer of the ocean I was met face to face with its incredible abundant life, yet little did any of us ‘marine species’ know that at the same time the global volume of plastics production was outstripping that of steel, the same plastic that would change our lives for better and worse.

During my childhood I visited some of the most remote and pristine marine ecosystems in the atlantic coast of Guatemala, traveling from the Dulce River, all the way north to the Belize Islands on a small boat with my parents.
Baby octopus, jellyfish, baby eels, starfish, sea urchins and the occasional sea horse, are among the many ‘acquaintances’ I would come across swimming or crawling in the shallow waters near the reef. The reef became my ‘sanctum’ were I was lucky enough to witness the finespun relations of marine species and thus became aware of the complex pattern of life.

I was terribly shocked when I once found a beached Ridley chocking on a piece of plastic, I could not believe other people insisting on taking pictures of it while their kids stood next to it, I realized then that there was something fundamentally wrong about the way we relate to nature. I carried the gasping turtle to the local turtle shelter to see if they could help. The turtle died the next day. 

If the common belief that Olive Ridley turtles nest on the same beach where they once hatched is true, some of the turtles I once met when I was a little boy should be close now [considering that it takes approximately thirty years for a Ridley to circle the worlds oceans]. It feels me with joy to think that I am now using my own resources to help ease their ever increasingly precarious journey.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Friend or family member

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer