By Linda Kelly
Ocean communities around the world are increasingly aware of – and increasingly concerned about – the problems caused by manmade pollution in the world’s oceans and on their beaches. While recycling efforts are catching on globally, the markets for trash to be recycled are disappearing. More non-compostable and non-biodegradable garbage than ever is ending up in our seas.
Everyone can do his or her part – and our collective efforts help – but a pair of college buddies set out to create a global company focused on ocean clean-up efforts, and they’ve achieved phenomenal success in just two short years.
Florida surfers Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze took a post-university graduation trip to Bali, Indonesia. What they found there astonished and dismayed them – beautiful beaches piled high with manmade garbage.
The young entrepreneurs decided to seek out a local solution to cleaning the Bali beaches. On the Bali surfing trip, Cooper and Schulze watched Balinese fishermen steer boats around the floating islands of plastic garbage then pull up fishing nets bulging with plastic bottles and trash. The fishermen simply tossed all the plastics, everything but the fish, back into the water. The pair learned that the proliferation of plastic waste was interfering with net fishing, but this led to a brilliant idea – what if fishing nets could be used to clear the plastics from the ocean?
Cooper asked one fisherman, “How come you guys aren’t taking this plastic back and recycling it? You’re just throwing it back in the water where it doesn’t belong.” The fishermen responded, “We don’t get paid to pick up plastic, we get paid to pick up fish.” The idea for 4ocean (https://4ocean.com/)was born!
The college buddies set out to form a company that would employ local fishermen to “fish” out the plastics and garbage from the ocean…but how to fund this initiative? They steered away from creating a non-profit, as they didn’t like the idea of begging for funding, plus ocean conservation non-profit organizations are numerous.
Instead, they formed a for-profit company that is funded 100% by the sale of merchandise created from the plastic garbage they salvage from the oceans, beginning with their humble clear-plastic-bead bracelets. For each bracelet sold, 4ocean promises to remove (at least) one pound of garbage from the ocean. (https://4ocean.com/collections/all-products)
To date, over a million of the $20 bracelets have been sold – and over 4.2 million pounds of manmade garbage pulled from the world’s oceans – which means that in just over two years, 4ocean has received over $20 million in funding for its ocean clean-up and plastics recycling efforts! The company has added reusable water bottles, 4ocean mesh clean-up bags and rubber-coated clean-up gloves, and 4ocean t-shirts to its online shopping options, but the vast majority of funding continues to come from the plastic bead bracelet sales, now available with various plastic twine colors and supporting various environmental initiatives.
More than 40% of the profits 4ocean realizes from selling bracelets (which are now made in Bali) and other online merchandise is spent on the company’s cleanup operations, and about 10% goes to 4ocean’s various charity partners. The other 50% covers 4ocean’s operating expenses. The two co-founders take annual salaries of $50,000 each, with the rest of 4ocean’s profits getting invested back into the business to continue expanding the cleanup operations.
4ocean now has staff in 27 countries, with over 220 employees, and crews working in the ocean 7 days a week. Schulze and Cooper have over a million followers on Instagram and another million on Facebook. The pair has been nominated for the 2019 edition of Forbes Magazine’s “30 under 30” (https://www.forbes.com/30-under-30/2019/#5d7e4d063b03) in the Social Entrepreneur category. Their ambitious plan for this year is to reach the landmark of 10 million pounds of plastic and garbage removed from the world’s oceans, something Cooper and Schulze expect to reach by mid-2019.