Material Exchange

How ocean-bound plastic can be repurposed to make watchstraps

Material Exchange at the 2021 Sustainability Summit

Last Friday, Material Exchange’s Chief Sustainability Officer Kelly Burton spoke at LIM College and Fashiondex.com’s 4th annual Sustainability Brand Summit. This two-day conference brought together top fashion sustainability minds who shared ways to reduce social and environmental impacts as well as offered inspiration on how fashion brands are working toward more sustainable processes and strategies. Burton shared the story of how ocean-bound plastic is being repurposed in a surprisingly unique way…

What do a watchstrap maker in Switzerland, a watch designer in Detroit, and a scientist-turned-plastic-salvager in Thailand have in common? Quite a lot, it turns out. About three years ago, Thomas Schori, co-owner of one of the world’s leading watchstrap manufacturers – Braloba Group – started looking into how his family-owned business could use ocean plastic to make watchstraps. It hadn’t been done before, but Schori was not deterred. His idea kick-started a wave of collaborative research with the Swiss University of Applied Sciences, examining damage to ocean plastic from saltwater, UV rays, and sand. This effort spiraled into the creation of Braloba Group spin-off company #tide and, with it, an award-winning plastic upcycling method.

Enter Dr. Michel Pardos. With a PhD in Ecotoxicology, Pardos spent many years as a scientist managing aquatic ecosystems in both Canada and Switzerland before turning to the financial world of trade in Singapore. Most recently, however, he’s shifted once more – this time, to the world of ocean plastics. He’s partnered up with the humanitarian Jan & Oscar Foundation as well as founded PCM Plastic Sea Management SA and the Thai Ocean Plastic Recycling Co Ltd. Pardos is on a mission to promote the concept of a plastic circular economy. In Ranong, a province in southern Thailand, Pardos works with the local semi-nomadic fishing community, Moken (who are severely discriminated against), by employing them to salvage plastic from the sea. In an aquatic environment with increasingly scarce fish populations, an income from plastic is an alternative with both economic, social, and environmental benefits. 

Now let’s hop over to middle-America – Detroit, Michigan – where a man named Greg Verras directs the design of watches made by Shinola. Verras and his fellow designers teamed up with #tide in a collaboration that resulted in a watchstrap made entirely of ocean-bound plastic. This beauty of a watch – aptly named Sea Creatures – is one of many products that are giving one-time plastics a second chance, this time in a capacity that will last.  

To date, #tide has saved more than 15 million plastic bottles from ending up in our oceans. What’s more, the company is actually giving plastic waste value, harnessing the potential of this otherwise incredibly harmful material. Its uses extend far beyond watches to electronic devices, furniture, automotive parts, and more. Together, these three men – and countless others – are contributing to decreasing the truckload of plastic that currently ends up in our oceans every minute.   

Thank you, Kelly Burton, for sharing this inspiring story. Let’s all do our part to spread the word and support initiatives like this one in their efforts to sustain our world as we know it.  

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