From Marine Plastic to Fantastic

Published on 18/03/2019 by ATI

As it’s world recycling day, we thought it appropriate to sound the foghorn and shine a light on one of our clients that has made recycling his business, literally! Rob Thompson, founder of Odyssey Innovation, is doing some incredible work around the South West coastline by removing marine plastic and ghost fishing gear and then transforming it into something positive for our seas.

Spurred on by a movement to pluck plastics from our oceans and beaches, Rob had to overcome a number of serious challenges – like how to reach inaccessible areas of coastline in order to retrieve marine plastics (and fishing gear), what to do with them once they have been collected and how to fund his growing operation? To solve all three of these problems, Rob pioneered a process to recycle marine plastic waste into a material that can be roto-moulded into practically anything. His next dilemma was deducing what product to make from the recycled plastic, and decide what could yield a healthy income to fund his coastal clean-ups in the future.

Rob first considered all the usual beach items, such as frisbees, buckets and spades etc. However, rather than reforming what he’d salvaged back into the same plastic items he so often picks up, Rob decided he wanted to return his marine plastic in a proactive way – in the form of a kayak! Rather poetically, Odyssey Innovation kayaks are now used to paddle back into those inaccessible coves and collect the plastic waste needed to make them. Plus, their sales help to fund an ever expanding marine conservation operation.

Of course, not all of the waste that Odyssey Innovation collects is recyclable and they work collaboratively with a number of organisations to ensure that everything collected is recycled properly, or destroyed where necessary. In doing so, Odyssey Innovation is one of perhaps only a few businesses in Cornwall that can truly boast having achieved a circular economy, which is no easy task says Rob:

“The circular economy is a difficult problem to solve because what it really requires is a complete societal change.”

With support from ATI and the University of Plymouth, Rob now plans to diversify his product range and explore new markets in order to increase sales, as well as creating new processes which provide innovative solutions to prevent plastics from ending up in our oceans in the first place. To achieve this, Rob is receiving specialist guidance in a number of areas, such as: product development, prototyping, intellectual property and market research.

This ongoing innovation project is particularly suited to the University of Plymouth, which published the first research identifying microplastics within our marine environment in 2004, and continues to lead global research and policy change through its International Marine Litter Research Unit. Its scientists have identified microplastics everywhere from the Arctic to the deep seas, and have been instrumental in bringing about international legislation on issues such as microbeads in cosmetics and single-use carrier bags.

Together, we are working collaboratively with Odyssey Innovation and netting together the right people within the university landscape, who have the research skills and expertise to help bring their future ideas to the surface. Odyssey Innovation kayaks recently made a splash after making it to the finals of the 2019 Plastics Recycling Awards Europe, taking place in Amsterdam this April. We wish them every success and look forward to seeing what’s next on the horizon for a start-up business recycling marine plastic back into something fantastic.