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Interviewed by Lorcan Drury

Bantam is a materials company which is dedicated to solving recycling problems by supplying Prevented Ocean Plastic. I interviewed Raffi Schieir, the Director of Bantam to find out more about his company and why Prevented Ocean Plastic is so important to helping reduce our impact on the environment.

To start off, can you tell us a bit about what Prevented Ocean Plastic is? 

Firstly, thank you very much for having me and I’m happy to speak about what it is we’ve been doing. At base, Prevented Ocean Plastic is fully traceable recycling that is collected from at risk coastlines and brought back into the supply chain for new products on shelves. The idea is very straightforward: instead of creating plastic out of oil, using it one time and let it leak into the environment, we actually need to collect what is out there already. That is the definition of circular economy. It’s super important for there to be genuine traceability, for there to be real supply chain programs and there to be credibility so customers know that when they choose a product and want to choose recycled, they can see a Prevented Ocean Plastic logo, then they know that there’s a documented chain behind it.

There are only four things that can happen to our plastic: first is that it’s recycled, second is that it goes to landfill, third is that it’s incinerated, either in energy recapture or open flame plastic fire, or it can leak into the ocean and the environment. The best thing is for it to be recycled; the worst thing is it to leak into our oceans and environment. What happens nowadays is that we need to properly identify and sort what should go into recycling and then acknowledge that landfill and energy recapture are options for things that are truly not able to be recycled. That’s way better than having it leak into the oceans. Is it better to send plastic waste to a controlled landfill in the UK or is it better to put it in a shipping container and send it out of sight and out of mind to developing countries? Definitely the first option.

I’m guessing that it’s relatively easy for a company to say their products are recyclable when they really aren’t

This is part of the reason why we built the Prevented Ocean Plastic brand. We are materials and supply chain people from well over a decade. We were providing over five thousands tonnes per month of high quality recycled plastics into the plastics. About two years ago, we got angry because we saw branded companies, not supply chain companies, that show up on a particular weekend and few pretty pictures, leave and not really make any social contributions and then provide a lot of confusing messages to the market, some of which just aren’t true. So for example, there is no such thing as recycled ocean plastic. Plastic that is in the water already is degraded by the sun and the salt. That’s a clean up operation and it’s unusable for recycling. so what we did is we built a program that is based off supply chain expertise – real consistency, real volume, real volume – so there can be genuinely be supply chain scale and volume for what is quality recycling back int our supply chain. 

How did you become involved with Prevented Ocean Plastic?

I’ve been running Bantum materials for a decade, gaining supply chain expertises, moving all of these recycled plastics from developing countries for over a decade. Three years ago I was chair of Europe’s main recycling plastics conference, ICIS. Through these expertise, we decided that Bantum materials would launch this fully traceable brand, Prevented Ocean Plastic. In the product category of ocean bound plastics. It’s a very important distinction: whenever sometime says ‘recycled ocean plastics’, they’re starting with a lie. Ocean bound plastics is a category defined by academic definitions of how far it us from the coast. Is it in an area of mismanaged waste within formal collection? Is there overpopulation and overtourism? Is there a unique risk to the environment and animals? If you mean those four criteria, then you’re talking about plastics that are at risk of going into the ocean and it becomes a story of prevention, therefore Prevented Ocean Plastic.

Anyone who has traveled to at risk areas of ocean plastic – for instance Indonesia which has 17,000 and 216 million people and there’s no drinkable water from the tap. Every ounce of water that is drunk in the country comes from a water bottle. So that’s why it’s the number two contributor in the world for ocean plastic. What we need to do is get involved in true and real prevention: develop real infrastructure, real collection centres, operate at scale and volume to be able to help local coastal communities develop jobs, collection and infrastructure. Then the super important bit is bring that material into the supply chain so it actually gets reused. A couple of years ago, the statistics came out that virtually no major companies were using more than 10% recycled plastics. Some of them were using 4%, some 9%, even 2.3%. You can’t put 100 units of something into the world and buy back four units and expect recycling to work. We need the infrastructure but we need consumers to demand that they want recycled plastics in their supply chain so we can help my this change. 

This brings us to another misconception: there is a huge difference between recyclable and something being made out of recycled content. It’s not bad when it says something is recyclable, but it creates a false impression. Almost anything is recyclable and companies can stamp ‘recyclable’ on products whether they actually end up being recycled or not. So what will happen is that there’s almost this intentional confusion and misinformation. When a product is made out of 50% recyclable content, the recycling is actually happening – they’ve actually brought that material back into the supply chain and used it.  50% recyclable content is so much more of a powerful message than 100% recyclable, but a human sees that 100 is more than 50 and sometimes makes that wrong choice.

Can you explain about why the work that you do for POP is so important?

Of the four to five thousand tonnnes a month of plastic that we bring from at risk areas, 1/3 is in out fully traceable Prevented Ocean Plastic program. We are right the largest prevented ocean plastics company in the world and what that means is up until now, the majority of companies have been dealing with this dealing with this symbolically. They only do a very small amount of it whilst doing more things that damage the environment. What we’re trying do to is make a structural shift. For example, Sainsbury’s now is putting a third of it’s fish and half of its soft fruit in prevented ocean plastic. That is a real shift. Lidl put the majority of their fish in prevented ocean plastic and have now expanded into poultry. That is a real shift towards recycling. For that, you have to have to the right market dynamics, the right supply chain working, the right product quality. So what we’re doing is moving companies away from this symbolic gesture like one beach clean up. We need actual structural shifts because the numbers matter. There’s a big difference between someone saying they’re trying to rescue 2000 bottles, to someone rescuing 2000 tonnes. 2000 bottles is a fraction of a shipping container, but a human will understand these to be the same number.

Right now, 8 to 12 millions tonnes of plastic are going into the ocean every single year so we need to create scalable solutions that work on mass for a good portion of our products. We need to move away from virgin plastic to recycled plastic, which us one fifth of the carbon footprint of new plastics. It also creates jobs in the local community and creates a circular economy. It’s just a fundamentally better thing to do. The only reason that companies don’t use recycled plastics more is because it is fractionally more expensive. If it was significantly more expensive, then i would understand. We’re talking about a fraction of a penny per strawberry punnet or bottle being produced. So what that means is if it’s a tenth of a penny, it’s a one thousandth of a pound. For a one thousandth of a one pound item we’re going to ruin the world? And what happens here is because major brands are buying billions of units, they can save a million bucks. But a million bucks across a billion products isn’t actually that much money. What we need to do is show them that it’s not just about fractional cost savings, that on mass we are going to prefer products and that they’d be better off as a business if they use recycled packaging.

How are you going to make companies do that?

Over the past few years, we’ve been on an educational tour with some major supermarkets, talking about where their plastic comes from and where it goes to. So the first thing that needs to be done is educating the major buyers in the trade. We opened up the Prevented Ocean Plastic research centre which is in Richmond. We have people studying prevented ocean plastic every day and providing real information to the market. We wanted to start on the trade and manufacturing side and getting that information out there. What we are doing now is crossing over into the consumer space so the consumer can start to choose recycled. Our logo on pack is traceability. Our logo on pack is credibility. Our logo on pack means that you’re choosing a product that is made from recycled packaging collected from an at risk area before it is unusable.

We’re getting the support of major supermarkets now. Lidl ran a major billboard campaign, Sainsbury’s did a marketing campaign and go onto their website to see what products are using prevented ocean plastics. One of the things that is really important with sustainability to work at scale is that it shouldn’t be more expensive. So if that fractional cost is so small, then the consumer can show that they would prefer that product and then that would be enough. They don’t need to charge £3 for a strawberry punnet for a £2 strawberry punnet just because it has taken on a tenth of the penny in cost. The consumer is really powerful as they can show that preference without spending extra money. Our job has been to educate businesses on what’s possible and provide that with an option that is possible with real traceability, real quality, real regulation behind it and the try to match that with consumer preference.

A strawberry punnet that is made from Prevented Ocean Plastic

What is Prevented Ocean Plastics biggest achievement so far?

In a short period of time, we’ve become the largest prevented ocean plastic program in the world. Along side that, we’ve been able to make that crossover, taking the exceptionally boring topic of melting down plastic and extruding it through an industrial process and crossing it over into an interesting story about ocean plastic prevention that connects with major supermarkets, making them structurally shift their buying and have them communicate outwardly with their consumers about how they can get excited about cleaning up coastlines. Our obsession is everything that is said has to be the truth. If our supermarkets and partners are making overreaching statements that don’t reflect the reality of recycling, we don’t want our name associated with them. So that’s it: we’ve grown the program and have been able to get supermarkets on board. That’s been a major step forward for us.

Finally, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected how people recycle and how has it affected prevented ocean plastic?

It is very unfortunate to know that the reality is during the height of the COVID-19 year in 2020, many major manufacturing companies actually walked away from their sustainability commitments because they knew that people weren’t paying attention. They reduced their commitments, they cancelled their contracts and they did way, way less. There was a lot of profit taking, a lot of profiteering and it was rather ugly to be honest with you. They went through an entire year of 2020 of delay and distract and now in 2021, because there are regulations coming in in 2022 and they know they can’t get away with it forever, there’s a heightened level of risk, they’ve started to come back towards recycling in a more meaningful way. If you remember stories of negative values of oil, which is crazy as there’s only 50 or 60 years left of oil on planet Earth, just because we pump it out of the ground at maximum speed and can’t sell it as soon as we pump it, it doesn’t mean there should be a negative value to oil. Plastic is made out of oil and there was a chance for companies to buy cheaper virgin plastic and save those fractional costs. They took it in large volumes and caused a huge catastrophe in the recycling market. And now the year after, they’re starting to come back.

Find out more by watching their program video below and about Bantam Materials International on their website: https://www.bantamltd.com/impact/#Environmental

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