Why Redesign Plastics?

50 years of exponential growth in plastic production has created more than 500 years of durable, persistent pollution.

The burden of using plastic responsibly should not solely rest on consumers, and consumer behavior change can only do so much.

By redesigning plastic production before it even reaches the end user, and focusing on recovery, recycling, and true reuse, we will reduce the amount of waste available to fill our landfills, waterways and stop it from even getting into our ocean.

By shifting the conversation from why plastics are made, to how plastics are made and what we make from plastic, we can guide manufacturers toward a production-based solution to this global problem.

Redesigning Plastics Initiative

Plastic use in today’s society is unavoidable. The Ocean Foundation supports eliminating or using alternatives to plastics that are unnecessary or easily replaceable. However, we recognize there are valuable uses for some plastics.

The Ocean Foundation’s Redesigning Plastics Initiative will redefine the role of plastic in our society by eliminating the uses of plastic that are unnecessary and unrecyclable. By redesigning the composition of plastics and additives, we can make this ideal a reality.

40% of plastic is packaging- used just once and thrown away.

Our Approach

How can we change the way plastics are made?

Through policy and legislative options focused on production, we can force a redesign of plastic for a true circular economy.

With our partners, The Ocean Foundation will:

  1. Recognize why we have invented, produced and embraced plastics
  2. Determine which plastics are most important and least replaceable
  3. Engage decision makers and industry leaders where they are

Why have we invented, produced and embraced plastics?

  1. Convenience
  2. Light weighting
  3. Public health & safety, and
  4. Moldable design utility

If convenience drives why we have embraced plastics so deeply, then convenience and ease of reuse should be the bottom line of managing it after use.

Join The Ocean Foundation in redesigning the way plastics are made, what they are used to produce, and invest in a sustainable future.

Redesigning Plastics Initiative: Our four-part premise

First: food safety is paramount

  • All polymers and additives must be tested for food safety in all logically potential conditions (extreme heat in cars/microwave; extreme cold in freezer)
  • All polymer blends used in food packaging and storage products must be tested for food safety separately as blends, and
  • Any “accidental additives” created in the blending process must be tested for food safety.


  • No virgin polymer, resin or plastic nurdles would be allowed on market that are not recyclable in fact.
  • Full recovery, true recyclability and then actual reuse requires the polymer to be chemically able to return to original form with access to the appropriate technology.
  • Technology must be accessible to developing nations and poorer communities to process any imported ingredients and products.


  • Mechanical recycling would be acceptable, except where it generates byproducts.
  • For example, microfibers have a higher ability to enter fresh and salt water systems
  • And are then taken in by the animals in those waters


  • Waste-to-energy technology has to be affordable, safe and intended to take care of the backlog of non-recyclable materials found in landfills at risk of erosion into the sea.
  • It is most useful in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to replace burning fossil fuel to produce energy, and where other forms of getting rid of existing plastic waste are unfeasible.

Setting priorities through a plastic hierarchy

Priorities should be set from a volume and social utility perspective

That perspective should be:

  • Culturally and economically sensitive, and
  • Address the biggest piece of the problem first (e.g. packaging)

Hierarchy categories should include:

  • Outright bans
  • Limitations and phasing out of some products
  • Recognition of essential needs

In development of a plastics hierarchy, the following should be considered:

  • Identify alternatives that do not exacerbate the problem
  • Consider “Just Transition” strategies
  • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
  • Recognize industry leads (outdoor wear industry and fleece/microfiber issue)

Who are we working with?

The Ocean Foundation is a member of Plastic Pollution Coalition and Break Free from Plastic Coalition

Key actors in the plastic pollution solution

  • Private businesses throughout supply chain and waste management;
  • Product consumers; and
  • Municipalities, states, regions, SIDS
  • Measures need to be taken at each level in the system for a comprehensive approach

Role of private businesses in the plastic pollution solution

The fossil fuel industry, including fracking, is facing:

  • Divestment
  • Litigation from using its product as directed
  • Requirements for “material business risk” disclosure to shareholders

Producers of resin, polymers and nurdles, including production engineering of applications like packaging are facing:

  • Legislative incentivizes on primary production to ensure recyclability and ensuring plastic is part of circular economy
  • Caps on total production volume
  • Requirements for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
  • Possible taxes on virgin material

Designers of packaging and associated marketing should:

  • Re-design concepts driven by use of plastic
  • Limit available polymers
  • Promote behavior change

Product manufacturers should:

  • Demand improved design to gain public relations advantage

Solid waste management companies should:

  • Work with governments to prevent plastic from becoming pollution
  • Role of product consumers in the plastic pollution solution
  • Promote behavior change
  • Recognize general public support for product bans

Role of municipalities, states, regions and Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

  • Reduce absolute volume through product bans
  • Work with solid waste management companies to prevent plastic from becoming pollution

Engaging People Where They Are: Commission model

Appoint commissions with short-term goal of aggregating information on plastic use and pollution.

Identify alternatives and clean-up options, frame investment needs (such as research, technological capacity, and others), and develop appropriate in-country policy recommendations.

Ultimate goals may include:

  • Improving public health through education about food-plastic interactions (including cooking fires, storage, reheating, etc.)
  • Reducing plastic production by (regulatorily) limiting production to the “hard to replace” and “essential” plastic products
  • Using municipal and other government acquisition requirements to create or improve markets, especially for packaging and construction materials
  • Identifying revenue options to support research and development, technological improvements, and education campaigns
  • Understanding and explaining the potential harms from biodegradable processed alternatives
  • Naming the tradeoffs for certain sectors–for example, transporting liquids in glass burns more fuel and may increase waste due to breakage, but glass is more recyclable, and people aren’t sickened by its content
  • Improving litter and solid waste management across multiple jurisdictions and with the private sector

Engaging People Where They Are: Industry role

Through legislative incentives to support circular economy solutions,

Producers of resin, polymers and nurdles can become part of the solution.

Legal remedies may be required to manage accelerated commitment to plastic use in long term and cap total production volume

The European Union’s Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy (January 2018) provides possible framework:

To protect the environment and citizens from plastic pollution and to demonstrate the business case for transforming the way that products are designed, produced, used, and recycled.  Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced, and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted. The Strategy highlights the main commitments for action at the EU level but also emphasizes the important role of businesses, together with national and regional authorities, and citizens.

While technological advancements from industry have used plastics to solve world problems through:

  • Light weighting
  • Durability
  • Reduction in food waste

The use and disposal of plastics remains a global challenge shared by us all.

Industry plays a key partnership role in exploring innovative approaches to solve our global plastics epidemic.

Partnership approach

  • Set parameters for manufacturers to follow when designing priority plastics
  • Combination of public safety, technology development, and tax policy tools.
  • Develop EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) or product stewardship (in which the whole product life cycle is taken into account in the design phase and inclusive of all environmental costs)
  • Tax virgin material to make recycled material more competitive
  • Retail industry commitments to play a role in demanding more recyclability and more recycled content in packaging from producers
  • Connect plastic producers with the outcome and consequences of the manufacturing process and engage producers in the process
  • Coordinate with consumer brands to leverage behavior change and product selection to influence demand and publicize what happens to packaging after consumption
  • Require “material business risk” disclosure to shareholders

Join The Ocean Foundation in redesigning the way plastics are made, and what products are made from plastic, and invest in a sustainable future.

Click here for more information on our Research page.

Additional Resources

Plastic trash on beach after beach cleanup

Our Achievements

redesigning plastics initiative summary

The Ocean Foundation’s Redesigning Plastics Initiative Summary highlights our achievements to date.