by Jerry ElengicalMay 10, 2021
“Our sunglasses are made from plastic we removed from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Designed in California by Yves Béhar and made in Italy by Safilo – this is probably the most stylish way you can help rid the oceans of plastic. What we are trying to do here is to really set an example of how plastic can be used in a responsible way. Plastic is a good material – we just need to use it wisely.” - Boyan Slat, CEO and Founder, The Ocean Cleanup
Going “full circle” in their mission, Dutch non-profit organisation The Ocean Cleanup has teamed up with Swiss industrial designer Yves Béhar and his team at fuseproject, and renowned Italian eyewear company Safilo, to design sunglasses made with repurposed ocean plastic. Similar to classic Wayfarers, these trendy, ink blue shades are the first to be realised in the product line planned by The Ocean Cleanup, all created with plastic collected from the Great Pacific Garbage Path (GPGP, aka the Pacific trash vortex, where marine debris particles accumulate in the central North Pacific Ocean). Priced at USD 199, all proceedings will fund the continuation of future ocean clean-up operations.
Each pair of sunglasses roughly help clean an equivalent of 24 football fields worth of GPGP. “When every pair from the first batch is claimed, that will equate to approximately 500,000 football fields of clean-up in the GPGP, allowing the organisation to use plastic to clean up even more plastic – going full circle each time until we have achieved our mission: ridding the oceans of plastic,” says 26-year-old Slat.
Founded in 2013, the organisation now employs nearly 95 engineers and researchers who work hard in developing advanced and circular technologies to “rid the world’s oceans of plastic”. Headquartered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, The Ocean Cleanup took its first batch of certified plastic collected from the GPGP, recycled and converted it into a high-quality, ecological and safe material from which this limited first collection of shades have been made. The resulting homogenous substance looks slightly imperfect, differing from virgin plastic. “To me, it’s kind of an asset, because it’s a bit of a reminder of where this plastic came from,” shares Slat.
Turning trash into treasure
The Ocean Cleanup team employs floating barriers and rigs to collect the plastic waste from the ocean, instead of vessels and nets which would take years and billions to successfully gather the same amount of waste. After a lot of expeditions, model tests and deployment of prototypes, The Ocean Cleanup’s first plastic catch campaign was done by the HDPE floater of System 001 or ‘Wilson’, in 2018 and again in mid-2019 with System 001/B, collecting over 2,000 kilograms of plastic, brought to shore in December 2019. Wherein began the process of separating and treating it to create the sunglasses. The team along with their partners sorted the collected garbage, washing and shredding it, and turning them into pellets to begin the product design’s manufacture.
“The Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy a fleet of long floating barriers that act as an artificial coastline, enabling the winds, waves, and currents to passively catch and concentrate the plastic. Once fully operational, the full fleet of passive collection systems is expected to remove 50 per cent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every five years’ time,” shares The Ocean Cleanup team.
The navy blue sunglasses have distinct teal blue hinges that connect its arms to the frames. Fuseproject shares that their main aim for the sunglasses’ design was for it to be distinct form others, easily categorising the wearer as part of a community that truly cares about the ocean clean up cause. “To achieve this, we designed a hinge that would stand out and creates a visual signature that is recognisable from afar. Nearly all eyewear hinges disappear when being worn, we deconstructed the innovative hinge and put it on the outside. We paired this with a classically flattering frame design and eye-catching accents that offer universal appeal. For those who that contributed to the success of this project, it was important to create a confident and classic look,” says Béhar.
Sunglasses were chosen as the first product because The Ocean Cleanup wanted to design and produce something durable and useful. The cylindrical black case for the shades are made with recycling parts of ‘Wilson’, the floater used for their pilot ocean waste collection in 2018, and also resembles its tubular shape, while the carrying pouch is made of recycled PET bottles. At the end of its use, all components from its metal hinges to the accented, polarised lenses are designed to be taken apart with ease, and recycled again if needed.
“It’s incredible to think that only a year ago this plastic was polluting our oceans and now it’s something beautiful, thereby turning a problem into a solution. Of course, The Ocean Cleanup is only here today because of our supporters, so I am excited these sunglasses are just another opportunity for everyone to be part of the clean-up and help us maximise our impact. I am thankful for the support of our followers and our partners and for their dedication and efforts to realise this very important step on our mission to rid the world’s oceans of plastic,” says Slat.
“Early on, we identified four core strategic goals. First, any product made from the retrieved plastics needed to stand out and send a message of optimism and proactivity. Second, to set a positive example of how plastics should be used, we sought to create a product that creates a sense of hope and wonder. Third, delivering a well branded product will enable The Ocean Cleanup to pursue future products with a recognisable identity that reinforces their mission and core values. And lastly, respecting the material, its origins and implications for design/manufacturing in simple ways that will reposition them to be highly valuable,” relays Béhar.