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Sea2See
Finance & Innovation

These Sunglasses Are Cleaning Up the World’s Oceans One Pair at a Time

Instead of shimmering vistas of blue, the world’s oceans increasingly resemble grimy trash heaps.

That’s because plastic pollution is swarming waters from the Caribbean islands to gyres in the Pacific Ocean.

In fact, a garbage truck worth of plastic makes it into the world’s oceans every minute. If current trends continue, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste in the world by 2050, and the amount of plastic in the oceans will outnumber fish.

Take Action: Pledge to Become an Ocean Guardian by Investing in Reusables

That last statistic is what motivated a new company called Sea2see to begin retrieving plastic pollution and repurposing it into stylish eyewear, according to the United Nations.  

The brand is part of a growing movement of companies using a “circular” economic model to turn plastic into jeans, skateboards, boots, and much more.

Sea2see shows how beneficial this approach can be to local communities, the environment, and, ultimately, the global economy.

The company works with fisherman throughout 22 ports along the coast of Catalonia in northeastern Spain, according to The Independent.

After being trained in plastic collection methods, boats now gather plastic as they go about their daily activities and then dump it into containers at their ports.

Read More: Does Recycling Your Clothes Actually Make a Difference?

Sea2see then collects the trash, sorts, and cleans it, and is able to convert a significant amount of it into eyewear made in a factory in Italy. What they can’t use, they sell to other companies who repurpose the waste it into nylon threads. Adidas, for instance, uses nylon threads for a pair of running shoes.

In total, up to 90% of the plastic that’s collected can be recycled, according to The Independent.

Ultimately, curbing the production of plastic in general is the real solution to the problem of plastic waste, according to John Hourston, founder of the marine advocacy organization Blue Planet Society, but these commercial efforts can build towards that goal.

“Repurposing ocean plastics sounds great, and generates headlines for companies, but that plastic will likely end up back in the environment as trash,” he told Global Citizen. “In the long-term we need to come up with eco-friendly alternatives to plastic.”  

Read More: 7 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Straws to Help Save the Oceans

Sea2see aims to sell 25,000 eyeglasses each year, but they’re currently only available in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium. As they expand to other markets, including the US, however, the brand hopes to grow, the Independent reports.

Plus, the brand intends to carry its business model to countries in Africa, where local operators can work with fisherman to clean up waters.

“Fishermen have had a bad reputation for contributing to ocean pollution by discarding their nets, so they are really proud to be a part of what we are doing,” the founder of Sea2See, Francois Van den Abeele, told The Independent. “The aim is that everything that goes out to sea comes back to shore, which has not always happened before.”

The fishermen benefit because plastic is harmful to their product: marine life.

Read More: Arctic Waters Could Soon Be Choked by Plastic, Expert Warns

Marine animals often mistake plastic for food and choke on it or it gets caught in their guts. Some animals get straws stuck in orifices, like this turtle that sparked widespread outrage.

Plastic also breaks down into microplastics, which are more easily ingested, leach toxins into the water that can poison animals, and ultimately blanket the ocean floor.

Studies have found that 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles ingest plastic and this greatly increases an animal’s mortality rate.

Further, the UN estimates that between 20%-25% of all fish that are caught in the world are thrown overboard because they weren’t meant to be caught. That’s roughly 20 million tons of marine life that’s thrown out — and many of these creatures die.

Then there are the discarded remnants of the fishing industry — various nets, hooks, and lines that get left behind.

Read More: 5 Artists Turning the Ocean’s Plastic Waste into Stunningly Beautiful Designs

It’s estimated that up to 300,000 small whales, dolphins, and porpoises get entangled and killed by these materials each year. The single biggest threat to sea turtles, according to the World Wildlife Fund, is this discarded waste.  

Initiatives like Sea2see’s recycling program tackle this threat directly.

They also spread awareness of the problem of plastic pollution, which, along with countless other efforts, is inspiring countries and other companies to take action.

Countries such as France, Kenya, Morocco, and India have already banned the use of some forms of plastic and major multinational brands including Adidas, Levis, and H&M are exploring ways to incorporate more plastic waste into products.

Making sure the oceans return to their plastic-free natural state concerns a lot of people — more than 3.1 billion people around the world depend on protein from fish and more than 57 million people are directly employed by the global fishing industry, according to the UN.

If this anti-plastic trends continue, however, then one day there may be no more plastic to collect from the world’s oceans.

For a brand committed to the environment like Sea2see, that sort of economic disruption would likely be a welcome sight.

Global CItizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for sustainable business models. You can take action on this issue here.