Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans. It contaminates our seas, kills marine life, and litters our coastlines. If nothing is done, by 2025 the ocean could contain one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish. Scary stuff, huh? But an Island brand is trying to do something about it. Norton Point’s founders Rob Ianelli and Ryan Schoenike just launched the world’s first line of sunglasses made from recovered high-density-polyethylene (HDPE) ocean plastics. I had a chance to interview Mr. Ianelli about the new campaign.
You’ve owned the Norton Point sunglasses brand for almost two years now. How did you come up with the Sea Plastic Differently campaign?
The Sea Plastic Differently campaign really came about months before we even launched Norton Point. Ryan and I studied in college together. I went down the consumer-product space, and Ryan went into renewable energy, and ultimately the cause-based campaign world. Ocean plastics were on our mind, and it just “clicked” that we should try to make sunglasses from recovered ocean plastics.
It was sort of a “Can we even do that?” to a “We’re going to do it no matter what,” so that ultimately took close to 18 months to figure out. In the time being, I knew it would be smart to get Norton Point launched and established, so that for 2016 we had a runway and brand built to launch Sea Plastic Differently.
What’s your connection with the Plastic Bank in Haiti? How did you find out about them?
The first step was figuring out how in the hell could we find ocean plastic? There was no 1-800 hotline, so Ryan took the bull by the horns and started researching, calling, and reading, which ultimately led him to the Plastic Bank. The Plastic Bank operates 28 collection centers in Haiti, empowering Haitians with a living wage and in turn selling the material to companies like Norton Point. We got in at the right time, and worked out an arrangement to purchase their Social-Ocean Plastic, which we now transform into beautiful sunglasses.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process, from the recycled materials at the Plastic Bank to the final frames?
The frames are made in coastal China, not far from Hong Kong. Haiti is our pilot program to work out the kinks. We acquire the recovered ocean plastics from Haiti and then process it into pellets in North Carolina. Then the material is shipped overseas to be manufactured into our frames.
Moving forward, [the most exciting part] is our collection’s expansion into Asia itself. There are 5 countries, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, where close to 60 percent of the world’s ocean plastic originates. With our manufacturing in China, we can close-loop our supply chain with these nearby countries, and make sunglasses out of discarded material, sometimes before it even hits the ocean.
Why is this mission so important to you?
The ocean, coastlines, and marine life are dear to me. Having grown up by the water, it’s saddening to see the drastic effects taking place right here on Martha’s Vineyard. Anyone can walk the coastline and come across plenty of ocean plastic. Perhaps we don’t want to think “that can happen here,” but it’s happening everywhere. That’s the scariest part, and it’s what honestly drives me and my team to act now.
With 8 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean annually, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. It’s our job to help put a dent in that figure, and inspire others to do the same.
How are you hoping to get Martha’s Vineyard involved?
We are already actively involved with The Trustees of Reservations [donating a percentage of our profits], but with such a dynamic community on the Island, we hope to inspire all of us to rethink how we use plastic, and work toward educating ourselves.
With our endorsement by the Ocean Conservancy, we also would like to call upon the community to help in a number of beach cleanups we will put on, and actually use that same material to make products.
For more information on how to support this campaign, check out seaplasticdifferently.com.