When It Comes to Fighting Ocean-Bound Waste, Collaboration Is Key

In the UK right now, there is a huge spotlight on the crisis being created in our seas by plastic waste. The reality of the situation is scary – and hard to ignore. Every single year, 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our seas, endangering marine life and polluting our waters. And it’s not just marine life being affected. With the vast majority of plastic pieces in the ocean less than 5mm in size, these are often eaten by fish, meaning anyone who consumes an “average amount” of seafood ingests approximately 11,000 plastic particles a year – a scary thought when you consider that over exposure to plastic chemicals can lead to certain forms of cancer, immune disorders and obesity.

Thanks to programs like the BBC’s Blue Planet II and campaigns like Sky Ocean Rescue, we are all now aware of the scale of the problem, but awareness is only part of the equation. We also need to take action. At Dell, we were first made aware of this issue in 2016 through our relationship with actor and activist Adrian Grenier and his work with the Lonely Whale Foundation. This led to us looking for ways to address the ocean plastics challenges within our business, and packaging was a natural place to start. So, following an initial feasibility study, we launched a pilot project in early 2017 working with groups from coastal areas around the world to collect plastics from waterways, beaches, shorelines and areas near the coasts. We now use this plastic waste to create packaging trays for our XPS 13 2-in-1 and more recently, our XPS 15 2-in-1 laptops. We anticipate that this pilot will keep 16,000 pounds of plastics out of oceans initially, and in support of UN SDG Goal 14, we are committed to increase annual usage of ocean-bound plastic 10x by 2025.

And while we were proud of this meaningful contribution to tackle the issue, we quickly identified a critical barrier to successfully scaling their efforts: absence of an operational and commercially viable ocean-bound plastic supply chain. So, along with the Lonely Whale Foundation, with support from UN Environment, we set out to convene a group of companies to join forces to create an open-source initiative to develop the first-ever commercial-scale ocean-bound plastics and nylon supply chain. Called NextWave, founding members including Dell, General Motors, Trek Bicycle, Herman Miller, Interface, Van de Sant, Humanscale and Bureo, will share responsibility in development of a sustainable model that reduces ocean-bound plastic pollution at scale, while creating an economic and social benefit for multiple stakeholders. We think the work of this group will divert more than 3 million pounds of plastics from entering the ocean within five years, the equivalent to keeping 66 million water bottles from washing out to sea.

We believe collaboration is really the only way we’ll address many of the challenges facing our world today, which is why I was truly honoured to be asked to participate in a recent high-level meeting with The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit (ISU) on ‘Keeping Plastics and Their Value in the Economy and Out of the Ocean.’ Attended by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, C.E.Os and senior executives from a range of organisations including Government, private sector and N.G.Os working to apply principles of circular economy to the current plastic value chain, it was a privilege to represent Dell and the work we are doing, and have an opportunity to discuss best practices with others pursuing the same goals.

LONDON – UK – 31st Jan 2018.
HRH The Prince of Wales, as Patron, hosts a reception and meeting of the ISU plastics forum at 11 Carlton House Terrace in London
Photograph by Ian Jones

Reflecting on this meeting, what really struck me was the realisation that even three years ago, sustainability was typically limited to a subject matter expert within an organisation, whereas now, it is a critical part of business strategy and every single CEO and senior executive at the table was able to speak with authority on the role their company wants to play in finding solutions to environmental issues. I know in my role as general manager for Dell EMC in the UK and Ireland, I have conversations with customers every single day about how we are creating a more sustainable business for our company and the world around us, and how important it is for them to not only work with companies who are acting responsible, but also learn from us how they can adopt similar practices. It really does demonstrate the huge opportunities that collaboration presents for the corporate world to play a meaningful and measurable positive impact for the future – and I’m very proud to be a part of it.

If your company is interested in getting involved, you can apply or find out more at https://www.nextwaveplastics.org/apply/