Ocean-Bound Plastics: Breaking cycles
According to some estimates, there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastics in the oceans right now – equivalent to 5 grocery bags full of plastic stacked upon every foot of every nation’s coastline around the world. The vast majority of the debris is less than 5 mm in size.

That’s because the plastics break down into ever smaller pieces (despite what you may have heard, it never breaks down completely).

ocean plastics

The numbers are nearly unfathomable and the effects are far reaching:

  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year
  • In some places, plastic particles outnumber plankton 26 to 1 (PlasticOceans)
  • Anyone who consumes an “average amount” of seafood ingests c. 11,000 plastic particles per year (BBC)
Dell wants to help break this cycle by keeping plastics in the economy and out of the ocean. To those ends, we are creating the first commercial-scale global ocean-bound plastics supply chain. We are processing plastics collected from beaches, waterways and coastal areas and using them as part of a new packaging system for the XPS 13 2-In-1 laptop globally. This initial pilot project will start by keeping 16,000 pounds of plastics out of the ocean.

Infograph/The dangers of ocean plastics
There are over five trillion plastic particles floating in our oceans. This is a problem, a big problem.

Read More
ocean plastics infographInfograph/How Dell collects and recycles plastics
We’re keeping plastics from ever reaching the ocean in coastal areas. See how we’re doing it.

Read More
ocean plastics process infograph
White paper/Identifying sources of ocean plastics
Where does Dell source its ocean-bound plastics?

Read the Paper
ocean plastics white paperVideo/Dell and The Lonely Whale Foundation are teaming up
Actor Adrian Grenier, The Lonely Whale Foundation and Dell are collaborating to up-cycle plastics pulled from our oceans

View the Video
adrian grenier

Here’s how it works:
Entrepreneurial pickers, volunteer groups and professional recycling organizations collect the plastics, which are aggregated and sorted by various waste processors. After the plastics go through processing and refinement (to ensure a clean supply), Dell mixes the ocean-bound plastics with other recycled HDPE plastics in a 1:3 ratio. Mixing like this ensures impurities within the recycled plastics do not affect the quality or chemical composition of the end plastic. The resin is made entirely from recycled-content plastics, 25% being ocean plastics.

ocean plastic symbol

The mix is then molded into trays that get stamped with the illustration and the #2 recycling symbol. The trays – initially launching with the XPS 13 2-in-1 notebook - are curbside recyclable in many places, helping ensure they remain a viable resource in the economy. The trays will ship globally and the initial run will keep 16,000 pounds of plastics out of the oceans. Our aim is to scale the project to 160,000 pounds by 2025 and we will continue to look for ways to use the material for both packaging and products in the future.

How did Dell get involved in ocean-bound plastics?
Dell’s first social good advocate, actor and entrepreneur Adrian Grenier, helped us understand the breadth of challenges our oceans face today. We first collaborated with him and the Lonely Whale Foundation on “Cry Out – The Lonely Whale VR Experience,” a three-minute underwater VR expedition created by 3D Live with Dell Precision, Alienware, AMD and HTC technology. The experience is almost like a ride, where participants get the sensation of diving deep into the sea and are greeted by shoals of fish – but also by carpets of plastic pollution and the damaging noise of seismic probes.
The pollution problem was particularly worrisome and together we began to look at ways to make a difference.

Our pipeline of innovative packaging ideas seemed like a natural place to start.

Dell has long focused on reducing the impact of packaging by optimizing the size of our packaging and seeking out sustainable materials.
Increasingly, the focus has been on delivering in a circular way – where another person’s waste becomes a material input for someone else. This keeps the materials in the economy and out of landfills.
lonely whale 
Dell has made switching to a circular economy approach a priority. We began working with recycled-content materials more than 10 years ago and we continue to build a global supply chain based around sustainability at scale. Using recycled-content materials from our take-back operations, purchased from others’ recycling efforts, or collected from other materials streams usually considered waste all help us break free of the linear march of materials to landfills when they reach the end of their lives that has characterized the global economy for too long.

Ocean-bound plastics are the perfect example of how a resource can go from linear to circular. If the plastics wind up in the ocean, they break down into small pieces and the ability to recover them is greatly diminished, while the havoc they wreak grows. This is the case of much of the contents of the giant ocean garbage gyres – swirling areas of broken-down waste that becomes too contaminated to be currently usable.

When Dell uses plastics from the beach, shorelines, waterways and coastal areas, we bring them back into the economy and stop them from breaking down and becoming part of a bigger problem. It gives us an affordable resource, creates jobs for the recyclers, provides a template for others to follow and helps put a dent in the vast problem of plastics entering the ocean.

The Next Wave is here
In partnership with The Lonely Whale Foundation, we have helped convene Next Wave, an open-source initiative that brings leading technology and consumer-focused companies together to develop a commercial-scale ocean-bound plastics and nylon supply chain. The first companies to commit include Bureo, General Motors, Herman Miller, Humanscale, Interface, Trek, and Van de Sant. Each has agreed to test integration of ocean-bound materials into products and to reduce source plastic across their operations and supply chain. The group anticipates that together we will divert more than 3 million pounds of plastic and nylon-based fishing gear from entering the ocean within 5 years – the equivalent of keeping 66 million water bottles from washing out to sea.
next waveWhat you can do
If Dell and these other manufacturers can commit, so can other businesses. Any companies interested in joining the initiative should visit the NextWave.Plastics web site. Additionally, when considering your next purchase, look for products made with recycled-content materials.
Virgin plastics use approximately 8 percent of the world’s oil supply. By using recycled-content plastics, we become less reliant on “linear” resources that cannot be regenerated – all while making sure those plastics we’ve already created get used to their fullest potential.