What Does 4ocean Do With the Plastic in the Ocean?

4ocean Team

Take a peek behind the scenes of our global ocean cleanup operation!

4ocean was founded by two surfers who believe that business can be a force for good, and that the small actions we take every day, collectively, have the power to change the world.

That’s why our entire business model is designed to fund our daily cleanups, create jobs for people living in communities impacted by plastic pollution, and to inspire action on behalf of our one shared ocean.

And today, we’re going to take you behind the scenes to show you how we recover plastic pollution and other man-made debris from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines—and what we do with it once we’ve got it all out of the environment.  

Our hands-in-the-sand approach to cleaning up plastic pollution

4ocean worker cleaning up plastic from the ocean on Mewei Beach

When it comes to cleanups, our goal is to have as little impact on the natural environment as possible. That’s why our captains and crews use just a few simple tools to collect plastic pollution and other man-made debris from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines.

The first is our hands—safely gloved, of course! Because plastic pollution is often tangled in natural elements or in sensitive habitats like mangrove forests, we use our hands to separate the waste from the natural stuff that belongs in the environment.

Fishing nets are also some of simplest and most efficient tools in our cleanup arsenal. Shorter nets are suitable for collecting trash in the open ocean because they’re easy to use, durable, and can hold up to 25 pounds of trash in every scoop.

Longer nets are useful in blackwater, or waste water that’s contaminated by both plastic waste and organic material. We use 7-foot nets that extend up to 13 feet, which means our crews are safer because they don’t need to use their hands to gather debris trapped in potentially hazardous blackwater. They’re also ideal for walking the coastline and scooping up plastic and debris that floats in the surf. 

Containment boom systems help stop the flow of plastic into the ocean

Ariel photo of 4ocean clean up project.

Did you know that most of the plastic pollution in our oceans comes from a land-based source? In fact, rivers act like superhighways that transport up to 5.5 billion pounds of plastic waste into our oceans every year.

Our containment boom systems are installed in highly polluted rivers like the Rio Motagua in Guatemala to capture plastic pollution as it floats downstream—before it reaches the ocean.

Each boom is regularly serviced by a dedicated crew who throw on their bright orange waders and get right in the water to recover all of the debris collected by the boom.

And don’t worry! These booms are installed in such a way that wildlife is able to move freely and without interference from us or our equipment.

No trash left behind

2 4ocean workers carry trash from the ocean

Our crews don’t just recover high-value and easily recyclable plastics. Our “No Trash Left Behind” policy means we collect ANY man-made debris that doesn’t belong in the environment.

We also want to make sure that none of the trash we recover escapes back into the environment, so we use super sacks to contain our plastic during cleanups and for transport.

Our white super sacks have a capacity of up to 250 pounds and are used to store the plastic and debris our crews collect during our daily cleanup missions.

Our blue super sacks have a capacity of up to 125 pounds and are generally used to store and transport sorted ocean plastic before it’s baled. 

Check out a few of the vessels we use to recover plastic in the ocean

4ocean boats on the ocean cleaning pollution from the Jembrana.

Our crews are out here cleaning the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines seven days a week. And because we clean a wide variety of habitats, we need a variety of vessels to help us safely access each area without having a huge impact on the habitat or wildlife. 

Panga boats
4ocean panga boat out on a ocean clean up mission

Pangas are popular in fishing communities around the world because they’re lightweight, efficient, rugged, easy to maintain, and extremely versatile.

The high bow is perfect for cleanup operations in the open ocean while the shallow draft is ideal for navigating flats.

These same qualities are what make the panga an ideal vessel for recovering plastic in the ocean.

Platform barge
4ocean uses platform barges to carry over 20,000 pounds of trash from the ocean.

The platform barge is unique to our Guatemala. Here, the platform barge is used to transport super sacks of trash collected by crews in our satellite locations to our main base in Puerto Barrios where it’s processed.

The barge measures 15x50 feet and can carry over 200 super sacks—that’s roughly 20,000 pounds of trash! The barge runs weekly and alternates between our satellite locations in El Quetzalito and San Francisco del Mar.

A 4ocean Jukung cleaning the Jembrana Ocean from debris and pollution.

In Bali, we’ve found that traditional fishing vessels are best suited for ocean cleanups. In fact, the first boats we purchased for the Bali crew were traditional Indonesian outrigger canoes called jukung or cadiks, which have been used by our crews and their ancestors for generations to catch things like jellyfish and layur, or hairtail fish. Each craft has been lovingly refurbished and customized specifically to collect ocean plastic.

For example, two jukung were modified to create an “ocean plastic trawl” that our team calls Kapal Serok, or the President Ship. A clever netting system was installed between the connected jukung to collect trash floating on the ocean’s surface while our crew operates off the outer sides of the vessel to ensure that no debris is missed during our daily ocean cleanups. 

Sea-Doo Jet Skis
4ocean crew out on Sea Doos cleaning the ocean from plastic pollution.

Our Florida crew often cleans in very shallow areas of the ocean. Using boats with propellers in these areas is a big no-no because they grind up the sandy substrate and leave visible scars in the habitat that can take years to heal.

While Sea-Doos are usually synonymous with high-action beach vacations, these personal watercraft vessels are ideal for accessing plastic pollution in shallow and sensitive marine environments.

These vessels are especially useful when our crews go on strike missions to recover ghost nets from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the adjacent John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Processing our recovered ocean materials

Plastic processing center 4ocean.

Recovered plastics are transported back to local facilities in Florida, Guatemala, and Indonesia where they are weighed, documented, washed, and sorted by type and color. What happens next depends on the type of plastic:

  • Some plastics are shredded and/or recycled to create the 4ocean Plastic we use to make our bracelet cord and other products that fund our cleanups and advance our mission to end the ocean plastic crisis
  • Some plastics are taken to a local recycling center where they are processed into raw materials that other manufacturers can use to create new products without using virgin plastic
  • Plastics that can’t be recycled may be extruded and used to create things like plastic lumber
  • When we’ve exhausted every other option, plastics at the end of their lifecycle are either responsibly landfilled or sent to the Solid Waste Authority in West Palm Beach, Florida—one of the most advanced, efficient, and low-emission waste management facilities in the United States—where it’s converted into energy that powers thousands of homes and businesses in our local community.

Cleaning the ocean takes lots of hard work and we can’t do it without the support of ocean lovers like you. Discover how you can get involved in the clean ocean movement and support our mission to end the ocean plastic crisis.

Made with 100% recycled 4ocean plastic cord