Camira chats with SEAQUAL’s Director of Textiles, Mark Hartnell

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To celebrate Plastic Free July, we caught up with SEAQUAL INITIATIVE’s Director of Textiles, Mark Hartnell, to learn more about how this unique collaborative community is working to combat plastic pollution.

It’s been a few months since we launched Oceanic, our very first fabric to contain Upcycled Marine Plastic by SEAQUAL INITIATIVE. Having seen a fantastic response to this collaborative project, we're keen to learn more about what the team have been up to since...

Before we catch up on the latest news from SEAQUAL HQ, can you take us back to where SEAQUAL INITIATIVE began…
The concept for SEAQUAL INITIATIVE dates back to 2016, although it wasn’t called SEAQUAL back then. ANTEX, a leading yarn manufacturer developed a yarn made from the marine litter caught in the nets of Spanish fishermen. Within a year the project had been scaled up considerably, SEAQUAL was launched as an independent company and SEAQUAL® YARN was born, the first product made from Upcycled Marine Plastic. Traceability is fundamental to the value of any product containing Upcycled Marine Plastic, including SEAQUAL® YARN, and so in early 2018 we introduced a licensing system which amongst other things makes it obligatory for all textiles made with SEAQUAL® YARN to be submitted to SEAQUAL LAB for certification. SEAQUAL® YARN contains a ‘DNA’ tracer which can be detected by SEAQUAL LAB and the Upcycled Marine Plastic contained in SEAQUAL® YARN is covered by a full Chain of Custody that starts with a Certificate of Origin. Today we work with beach and ocean clean-ups from 3 continents and have produced over 100 tons of Upcycled Marine Plastic.

Can you tell us more about the license and how you become a licensee?
Any tax-registered company that wishes to join SEAQUAL INITIATIVE in supporting ocean clean-ups and raising awareness of the issue of marine litter is welcome to apply for a license. As a SEAQUAL Licensee you are a member of a unique global collaborative community fighting plastic pollution. Your company profile is displayed along with that of all other members of the community at www.seaqual.org. Your company is also licensed to buy, sell and promote SEAQUAL-Certified goods containing Upcycled Marine Plastic (including SEAQUAL® YARN) and to use the SEAQUAL trademarks, logos and other copyright materials. You can find out more here.

As licensees ourselves, we’re privileged to be a part of this unique global collaborative community. How would you define it?
SEAQUAL INITIATIVE is a community with a single voice against plastic pollution. We bring together individuals, organisations and companies, to help clean our oceans, raise awareness of the issue of marine plastic and highlight the heroes who are working to solve it. We work with ocean clean-ups around the world, to bring value to the waste they recover.
Can you tell us more about these ocean clean-ups and how you work with them?
Worldwide, there are a growing number of ocean clean-ups working hard to retrieve marine litter from our oceans, beaches, rivers and estuaries. Ocean clean-ups can be anything from small groups of local volunteers, all the way through to large international programs. They can be one-off beach clean-ups or involve whole communities of fishermen retrieving waste on a regular basis. These ocean clean-ups collect all types of waste; plastics, metals, glass, rubber, and mixed material items – everything from shoes to refrigerators!
Because mixed waste is expensive to recycle, in the past much of this waste was destined to landfill or incineration. SEAQUAL INITIATIVE is dedicated to giving a second life to this resource by creating a new, fully traceable raw material, Upcycled Marine Plastic. At SEAQUAL INITIATIVE our aim is make use of all the waste recovered from our oceans, we don’t look for materials to recycle we find a way to recycle the materials we find.

How do you go from mixed marine waste to upcycled marine plastic?
The mixed waste collected by ocean clean-ups is sorted into different material types; materials such as metals and glass are recycled through traditional routes, while organic material and other non-plastics are recycled or disposed of responsibly. Marine plastics are harder to recycle. Although plastics can survive in the ocean for hundreds of years, UV rays, salt water and friction mean they can degrade quickly. SEAQUAL INITIATIVE is dedicated to giving a new life to all types of marine plastic.

The types of plastics found and the ratio of plastics to other materials depends upon many factors, including the type of ocean clean-up, the region and the season. Typically, beach clean-ups have higher percentages of plastics, because the waste has been carried there by the tides; for example, PET water bottles may represent 40% of waste collected on some beaches, but only 5-10% of the waste collected from the ocean floor by fishermen.

The plastic portion is cleaned and transformed into Upcycled Marine Plastic at SEAQUAL INITIATIVE approved facilities. It is then returned to industry to be transformed into beautiful, new, sustainable products.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the initiative?
We have been incredibly busy with even greater interest in SEAQUAL INITIATIVE, fuelled in part by companies realising the importance, now more than ever, of social and environmental commitments.

How do you feel the pandemic might affect society’s opinion on plastic pollution?
I think the pandemic has made us feel more connected, has made us realise that some of the biggest problems we face can only be solved through global collaboration and has highlighted some of the inequalities in our society - these are all things that can help in fighting plastic pollution. In restarting the global economy, we must be careful not to rush to short term solutions and environmentally damaging quick-fixes, instead we should invest in a green recovery that embraces efficiency and circularity. On a practical day-to-day note, the pandemic has created a global glut of single use plastic items, an estimated 129 billion face masks and 29 billion plastic gloves are being used every month to tackle COVID 19.
Do you see any specific trends arising, specifically in our industry?
Companies are increasingly environmentally conscious, especially within the textile industry, but for many it is no longer enough just to use recycled or organic materials, they are seeking a way to be connected to environmental and social endeavours, materials with a story behind them are increasingly important - just as you have seen with Oceanic. This resonates with people.
Looking to the future, what are your main goals?

Our aim is to create a seismic shift in attitude towards sustainability. We are developing a worldwide program to recover plastic waste from the environment and engaging with all industries to transform this resource into new high-quality everyday products. Consumers will be able to choose SEAQUAL-certified products from leading brands for every aspect of their life and in choosing products containing Upcycled Marine Plastic, such as Oceanic, we are collectively helping to end plastic pollution.

Instagram: @seaqual.initiative
LinkedIn: @seaqual-4-u