Certifying products that help keep plastic waste out of oceans

Seah Kian Hoe, founder and CEO of Heng Hiap Industries Sdn Bhd.

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To combat the dumping of plastic into the ocean, two bodies — Control Union and Zero Plastic Oceans — have come up with the world’s first third party-verified label, known as the Ocean Bound Plastic (OPB) Certification to certify goods made out of plastic that was destined to be otherwise dumped into the ocean.

In a joint press release, ZPO, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which focuses on creating mechanisms and incentives to clean out OBP, and Control Union, which has been operating for 100 years in logistics, quality, certifications and risk management, said the new environmental label focuses on capturing OBP before it becomes ocean plastic pollution. 

“80% of marine pollution comes from land-based sources and a large percentage is plastic waste abandoned in areas where, due to rainfall, tide and winds, [it] is bound to be drawn to oceans. OBP is a major source of ocean plastic pollution and making sure it is collected and not abandoned in the environment is the most efficient and economical solution to this major environmental issue,” they said.

This certification is aimed at private companies, NGOs and financial supporters of cleaning up the plastic in the oceans and preventing more from getting there. It relies on three pillars: collecting the OBP, ensuring the proper management of what is collected and increasing the stream volume and value of recycled OBP.

They added that the OBP Certification programme is available for a wide range of private stakeholders such as collectors, traders, recyclers, polymer manufacturers as well as packaging and plastic product manufacturers. “It will also be a major asset for various entities such as NGOs and companies in the non-profit sector. 

This certification, they added, is intended for any organisation willing to support the collection and incorporation of OBP into their products.

“The OBP Certification is based on environmental and social requirements and a full verification of the chain of custody for the collection and recycling of ocean-bound plastic until the final product. The standard set by Zero Plastic Oceans and audited by an independent third party is a new step towards transparency and quality in the field of ocean-bound plastic recycling and valorisation,” said Robert Demianew, Control Union Vice President for North America.

Valorisation is the process of converting waste materials into more useful products such as chemicals, materials and fuels, thereby preserving the value of the component materials of the waste in question.

He added that the standard set by ZPO and audited by an independent third party is a new step towards transparency and quality in the recycling and valorisation of ocean-bound plastics.

“This OBP label is a key tool to reduce ocean pollution and give certainty to final consumers that they are purchasing a product that really helps the oceans,” Demianew pointed out.

Zero Plastic Oceans promotes an initiative where the certification will be used by certified companies to mandate NGOs (which will also be certified) to manage the OBP collection. Once the collection is carried out, the recyclable portion of the collected plastic will be sold to recycling companies, giving it a second life, while the non-recyclable portion will be correctly valorised and properly disposed of.

This initiative is aimed at turning off the tap on marine litter by giving the plastic industry an efficient and low-cost tool to implement it rapidly. “This certification is not only an environmental label certifying the origin and chain of custody for ocean-bound plastics for the recycling market; if used widely by the plastic industry, it is also a powerful tool to reduce ocean contamination.

“We all know that oceans and seas are under great threat from plastic pollution while 40% of the global population directly depends on them. Therefore it is important to act. 

“Involving end users through their purchasing decisions is powerful. This initiative gives customers the opportunity to choose products with a positive impact on oceans, thanks to the independently-verified OBP Label,” said ZPO co-founder Vincent Decap.

The programme was developed in collaboration with end-users such as Oceanworks, an international OBP sales platform, and Heng Hiap Industries, a leader in plastics recycling in Malaysia.

Heng Hiap Industries Sdn Bhd is the first company in Asia to receive this certification. Its founder and CEO Seah Kian Hoe tells Enterprise that having this certification helps companies complete the chain when it comes to the collection and recycling of OBP.

“Globally, there are plenty of NGOs collecting this waste and it’s all good, but what happens after you collect it? Most don’t know where to send it on to and you’d be surprised how much of it goes back to landfill.

“We actually wanted to complete the chain, that is collect the waste and be able to process it to an on spec (according to specifications) material. That would mean this scrap could become a raw material for factories,” he says.

The material has to be on spec so that it fulfils industrial standards and manufacturers can use it produce responsible products with standard compliance, he says.

“A lot of times, after the material is collected, it is not converted into an on spec material that follows a compliance process. You need to have a compliance process for the entire effort to be meaningful,” says Seah.

That is why a lot of the ocean clean-up efforts are fragmented, at best, he adds. “They collect it, but they don’t give the ocean plastics a second life.”

This, he adds, is what makes Heng Hiap different. “We have our internal standards and we integrate the whole process. And we share it with the entire community so they have a playbook to follow.

“Whoever collects the waste, sends it to a separator following our playbook so the process is compliant with international standards. And then, during the process, we are slowly converting the quality of waste towards an on spec material so it becomes a raw material that a producer can use,” he says.

He adds that Heng Hiap’s internal standards became the de facto industry standard for plastic recycling in Malaysia. 

Seah adds that previously, all Heng Hiap’s efforts were not internationally recognised. Then came Control Union and the ZPO with their OBP certification.

“We worked closely with them and when we compared their framework with ours, it was almost a perfect match. This is why we became the first company in Asia to be certified for this,” he adds.

The program is open for application and all relevant information can be found on the website www.obpcert.org or on Control Union’s and ZPO’s websites.