How to protect the ocean from plastic catastrophe

Aegon AM's Adam Hussain looks at three companies working towards this goal

The ocean covers almost two-thirds of the earth’s surface. It provides more than half of all oxygen on the planet while also absorbing massive quantities of carbon dioxide as one the world’s largest carbon sinks.

However, despite the ocean’s importance for humanity, only 1% of the high seas have been under any protection protocol and just 39% of the ocean falls under the national jurisdiction of individual countries.

For the rest, the result has been overexploitation, with little regard for the health of the natural resources it harbours – and with zero accountability for the damage caused.

After more than a decade of talks and negotiations, member states of the United Nations have agreed a High Seas Treaty that should lead to the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions. For the first time in history, rules will be in place to effectively manage and govern oceans and seas in their entirety.

Importantly, these rules will provide a legal framework for establishing vast marine protected areas (MPAs) to conserve against the loss of wildlife and inform the usage of marine genetic resources. These areas will put limits on how much fishing can take place, the routes of shipping lanes and exploration activities like deep sea mining.

By providing the tools to establish and manage marine protected areas (e.g. environmental impact assessment requirements), this new treaty represents a landmark contribution towards the UN’s Global Biodiversity Framework that was agreed late last year – where countries pledged to protect 30% of ocean, land and coastal areas by 2030.

See also: – High Seas Treaty will boost interest, access and issuance of blue bonds

The plastic problem

Effectively collecting plastic waste is of paramount importance if ocean ecosystems are to be protected.

Having initially been hailed for its non-decaying, cheap-to-manufacture, lightweight properties, we remain heavily reliant on plastic. It’s everywhere. Including in our oceans.

Every year, circa 30% of all plastic packaging ends up ‘leaking’ into our environment, and if current practices continue there could potentially be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

So, which are some of the companies addressing this sustainability problem and in turn helping to protect our seas?

Tomra Systems 

Tomra Systems is the leading provider of advanced sensor-based collection and sorting solutions and is a key enabler of the effective recovery and recycling of used materials, including plastic.

The company’s approximately 80,000 automated reverse vending machines (RVMs) represent more than 70% of the global RVM market.

It is responsible for collecting, recognising and processing more than 44 billion used beverage containers annually. However, this represents only around 9% of all beverage containers currently sold globally each year.

The EU Single Use Plastic (SUP) Directive should bring further improvements to collection rates – it has a target for all EU member states to collect 77% of SUP beverage bottles by 2025 and 90% by 2029. Tomra itself has been aiming to increase plastics recycled within a closed-loop system to 30% of total used material by 2030.

Advanced Drainage Systems

Advanced Drainage Systems is a leading manufacturer of high-density polyethylene pipe (HDPE) and polypropylene pipe (PP) used for the drainage, storage and treatment of water.

These types of pipes continue to take market share from traditional concrete/steel drainage by being cheaper, more durable and more cost-effective to install.

Advanced Drainage Systems is the largest plastic recycler in the US, with 59% of pipe revenue being derived from re-manufactured products.

In 2021, they consumed over 1-in-4 recycled US HDPE bottles and in fiscal 2022 they recycled 600 million pounds of plastic, keeping it out of landfills and preventing the emission of 770 million pounds of GHGs – equivalent to taking 74,000 cars off the road.

By 2032, Advanced Drainage Systems aims to be using 1 billion pounds of recycled material each year.

Kornit Digital 

Kornit Digital provides an effective solution to the problem of excessive wastewater in traditional textile manufacturing.

The dyeing, printing and finishing stages of the process account for roughly 20% of global wastewater – this is equivalent to 5 trillion litres or 2 million Olympic-sized swimming pools every year.

This problem extends beyond the manufacturing process, as water waste is often not treated to remove pollutants before disposal.

Kornit is particularly impressive from a sustainability perspective. Their printers utilise a 100% water-free process – with no pre-treatment, steaming, or washing required – and uses printing inks that are completely non-hazardous, non-toxic and biodegradable.

The High Seas Treaty is a landmark agreement – however, the work to translate this into action has only just begun. Ocean ecosystems are critical to marine life, biodiversity and livelihoods.

It is crucial that we act on both land and sea to protect this natural resource – and as investors we can buy into companies that are helping to support this goal.