Starboard Co. Ltd., a maker of watersports products such as surf boards and stand-up paddle boards, has announced what it calls “the world’s first Plastic Offset Program,” or POP, for its own internal use and as an inspiration for others.
The Bangkok, Thailand-based company has created a fund to invest back into projects that remove plastic pollution to reduce the company’s overall waste footprint. Its intention is to create a template that other companies can use to help quantify and counter the environmental impact of the plastics that they use in their products.
Bailey Rosen, a 21-year-old competitive paddle boarder and American sustainability analyst for the firm, revealed details of the project in an Oct. 31 presentation in Sydney, Australia, at the ninth international Plasticity Forum, a plastics sustainability conference.
Doug Woodring, Hong Kong-based founder of the Plasticity conference and vigorous clean-ocean advocate, said, “This is one of the most exciting stories to be announced on the topic of plastic pollution and offsetting use with programs that can recover, remove and improve on plastic waste reduction.”
Starboard created its new offset program in coordination with the Plastic Disclosure Project and PDP’s methodology for measuring a company’s plastic footprint. The PDP is a voluntary initiative that asks organizations to do annual reporting regarding their production, use and handling of plastic and plastic waste.
PDP notes that such a baseline analysis is vital, because “if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” By having an accurate understanding of the amount of plastic that flows through an organization, it notes, efficiencies can be gained in cost reduction, wastage reduction, new design, new materials, and better recycling.
Founded in 1994, Starboard has created some of the world’s leading windsurf and stand-up paddle boards. When it comes to the environment, the company said it strives to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, which led it to join forces with the Ocean Recovery Alliance and its Plastic Disclosure Project to help it understand its complete plastic use and waste footprint within the communities it serves.
Starboard exports its products to more than 70 countries, and has now calculated its use of plastics of every variety in boards, accessories, apparel, packaging, and operations for 2017 and projected forward for 2018. The PDP methodology allows a company to understand and quantify areas where recycled content, increased material recovery, or use of eco-innovation changes can be made in product lines to enable the reduction of its plastic footprint.
Rosen, who recently graduated with honors from the University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, said the company calculated its plastics footprint to be roughly 320 tons per year. Over the past 12 months, she noted, it already has replaced more than 21 percent of the virgin plastic it typically would use with recycled plastic, while reducing its overall plastic consumption by 6.5 percent by using more bio-based materials. It also changed how it paints its boards so that it uses less polyurethane spray.
After calculating its “plastic footprint” in a manner similar to how companies calculate their carbon footprint, Starboard then “priced” its plastic use by assigning a financial value to the polymers used in production according to three different factors – duration of use, toxicity, and creation of waste.
“By accounting for these factors with an offset price, the Plastic Offset Program acknowledges the dynamic nature of the problems caused by plastics and further clarifies – and quantifies – the investment necessary to mitigate the impact of plastic used,” the company said.
Starboard applied a price of 50 U.S. cents per kilogram to what it described as the least environmentally friendly plastic, meaning virgin material in a single-use application. Next was single-use recycled plastic, then multi-use virgin resin, multi-use recycled material, and finally, multi-use bio-based plastic.
“So,” Rosen explained, “we valued this externality within our company, just as they do with carbon, but we’re doing it with plastic. There’s a complexity associated with that because not all plastics are created equal.
“The highest price on any material [Starboard uses] is the wrapping that goes around our boards — it’s recycled HDPE/LDPE mix, with about 10 percent waste, and we valued that at about 36 cents,” she said, whereas some other injection molded components, made partially from recycled fishing nets and recycled industrial nylon, was factored in at only 2 cents per kilo.
Starboard contends that such a pricing scheme encourages companies to rethink and reinvent how they use plastic in an effort to reduce the external cost of the materials they use. “Eliminating plastics from production, or switching to less harmful varieties (and thus with lower offset prices) will lead to a reduced investment in the Plastic Offset Program, incentivizing companies to re-engineer and reduce their plastic consumption habits,” the firm said.
Svein Rasmussen, Chief Innovator at Starboard, said: “We are excited to debut the world’s first Plastic Offset Program. We have created a fund based off of plastic use in our products, which we will invest back into projects that protect the ocean – our greatest resource and big blue playground for paddlers and windsurfers worldwide.”
Starboard’s initial POP fund amounted to about US$24,000, Rosen told 170 attendees at Plasticity Sydney and, echoing her boss, she noted it will be dedicated to “offsetting” its plastic use by removing and recycling ocean plastic. The company already has dedicated significant funds to research and development of natural materials such as balsa, which can replace thermoplastics like PVC, and has supported non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with larger funding to reduce plastic pollution impacts in waterways both in Bangkok and worldwide.
“We want to be as transparent about this as possible,” Rosen stressed. “PDP will publish all this information, so other companies can understand what we did, and it can be replicated in the future. We want to set a good example. It’s a voluntary initiative that demonstrates to the public and puts pressure on other companies to do it, and demonstrates to governments that this is an externality that needs to be valued….”
The POP, NGO support, environmental R&D, and advocating for legislation all fall under the umbrella of “Plastic Net Positive” – Starboard’s aspirational goal to do more good for the plastic economy than they do harm. Through strategic use of funds, Starboard said it will not only “offset” its use of plastic, but also help better integrate plastics into the circular economy and mitigate their own impact on the planet.
The company said it hopes to set an example not only for the watersports industry, but for all participants in the plastic economy.
“It is imperative,” it stated, “that all stakeholders in the plastic economy recognize the unpaid costs of plastics – a toll that is taken on our environment and our health.” Starboard and the Ocean Recovery Alliance encourage others not only to participate in the PDP to benchmark their plastic use, but to also price it via the POP.
Woodring, who also is co-founder and managing director of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, said, “Starboard Co. did an exceptional job to undertake the Plastic Disclosure Project’s methodology, which is much like that of carbon and water reporting, in order to understand their plastic use, recycled content, recovery rates, and waste creation. We already know other companies that are interested in doing the same, much like carbon offsets, and now Starboard have set a standard for others to follow.”
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