Has your company calculated its plastic footprint? San Antonio-based Restoring Integrity to the Oceans this week announced its new Plastic Neutral Program to help businesses do just that and mitigate the effects of plastics pollution. The program’s first corporate sponsor, Logistics Plus, is a global transportation and supply chain company based in Erie, Penn.

“Ocean plastic pollution is a global problem,” said Yuriy Ostapyak, COO for Logistics Plus, in a release. “Through our partnership with RIO, we are… leading by example by becoming one of the first plastic neutral companies in the world.”

RIO’s Plastic Neutral Program audits a company’s use of plastics, offers solutions to eliminate some uses and offsets the remaining plastics footprint through funding of its ongoing plastics collection and recycling programs in Southeast Asia and around the world.

“We’re working closely with small communities to collect plastics,” Kim King, RIO’s chief operating officer, told National Fisherman. “And the bigger goal is to recycle all of it, not just the few types that are recycled now.”

Local RIO crews have been working in Java, Indonesia, for the last two years to collect and recycle coastal plastic pollution. RIO photo

But RIO’s leadership wants to be clear that this is no greenwashing label. The larger goal is to increase investment in plastics clean-up — through collection and recycling — as well as to reduce the use of plastics at the corporate level.

“When you’re paying for the offset, you’re going to start thinking about what you can do to reduce that offset,” Kieran Kelly, RIO’s CEO, told NF.

Kelly was born in Helvik, an Irish fishing village, and has fished commercially all over the world. He recalls first seeing plastics in the bellies of his catch off the Maine coast.

“I was shocked by how common it became in the space of five years,” Kelly said. “The fish were starving to death because their entire digestive system was clogged with plastic. Even in places almost untouched by humans, again, we saw plastic. And it was really alarming. I started speaking to my friends about what we could do. Initially, it was in the U.S. — retrieving plastic on the backside of the hurricane.”

RIO CEO Kieran Kelly is also a commercial fisherman.

Soon RIO was born, but its founders sought to set themselves apart from the get-go.

“RIO is not an NGO. It’s an environmental company,” said King.

A colleague soon alerted them to the high levels of plastics pollution in India.

“A couple of weeks later we were on a plane and flying to Mumbai,” Kelly told NF. “This area here is considered ground zero — Southeast Asia.”

Much of the globe’s plastic waste ends up in rivers and bays in Southeast Asia, which the local populations have relied on to feed their families and communities. RIO’s efforts have expanded to Indonesia over the last two years, and Kelly has been working in small fishing villages in Java, Indonesia, for the last year and a half.

“I come from a fishing village. All my people have. These people are no different than you or me or anyone getting on a fishing boat in Portland, Maine. They go out to catch fish for their families,” Kelly told NF. “They haven’t been displaced because of war or because of climate change. The only thing displacing them is plastic.”

RIO’s collection, recycling and neutrality efforts are just the beginning, its leaders say, adding that the plastics problem will not be answered with a quick fix, but it must be answered nonetheless.

“We have a duty,” Kelly said, especially any of us that have worked on the ocean, to leave the ocean better than when we came to it.”

Jessica Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman. She has been covering the fishing industry for 15 years, serves on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's Communications Committee and is a National Fisheries Conservation Center board member.

Join the Conversation

Large Featured Spot