In a speech at the 1962 America’s Cup dinner, John F. Kennedy wisely said that, as humans, we are all tied to the ocean. These ties, however, are becoming tenuous—and we only have ourselves to blame. One study estimates that there are over five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans, and that it weighs almost three-quarters of a million tons. Sadly, it’s estimated that over one million ocean animals die each year because of such debris.

That’s why more and more efforts are being dedicated to saving our oceans and their inhabitants—and why a company like 4ocean exists. 4ocean was founded in 2017 by surfing buddies Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper, who took a postcollege vacation in Bali, Indonesia—and were shocked by the amount of plastic debris they discovered in the ocean and on the beach. After discussing the situation with locals, they decided to hire Balinese fishermen to collect the ocean trash instead of fish, which they realized was a win-win for the environment and the residents. The idea for 4ocean was hatched.

Protecting the Planet

Within its first two years, the company has collected millions of pounds of trash from oceans and coastlines, primarily in Bali, Haiti, and Florida—places where it continues to hire residents to clean up the debris using their nets and boats. In addition, 4ocean hosts cleanup events from coast to coast in America and in other parts of the world (working in dozens of countries to date), and it partners with nonprofit organizations like the Ocean Conservancy and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to help support their efforts to clean the ocean. In no time, 4ocean grew into the largest ocean cleanup company in the world, and the company itself and its founders have been lauded in publications ranging from Forbes to Newsweek to Surfer Magazine.

Transforming Trash into Treasure

As a for-profit company, 4ocean’s focal points for making a global impact are illustrated in its mission statement: to clean the ocean and coastlines while working to stop the inflow of plastic by changing consumption habits. All of the company’s revenue comes from sales of its high-quality products, including T-shirts and collectible bracelets—its most popular product. A different bracelet is launched each month to honor a specific aquatic cause, usually an ocean animal. In addition, 4ocean vows to remove one pound of trash for each product sold as part of its day-to-day ocean cleanup efforts.

Its products also serve another important purpose: awareness. For example, by wearing these aquatic accessories, you are a wearing a symbol of the ocean’s precarious situation—which can lead to conversations that can inspire others to do their part to help. How can you help, exactly? 4ocean encourages everyone to stop using single-use plastic, which will help cut off the flow of debris that ends up in the ocean. The company also stresses that people should pick up any trash they see, a sort of microcosm of what it does on a much larger scale.

Finally, through the sales of its products, 4ocean has been able to invest in people and technology. It’s hired over three hundred people, including boat captains and cleanup crews (over seventy people in Haiti alone), the latter of which remove debris from both the coastline and the ocean; these employees work seven days a week to help its cleanup efforts and further the company’s mission. Doing so has also created brand new economies—such as sorting and stacking plastic—in places where they didn’t exist previously.

And what happens to all that trash? At its three locations, both recyclable and nonrecyclable materials are sorted by 4ocean workers and compressed into bales. The bales are then either converted into raw materials that are used to create new products or stored for future use; in the case of the company’s South Florida location, nonrecycled materials are also delivered to America’s lowest-emission facility to be turned into energy.

Finally, the company works tirelessly on both prevention and progress. For example, it has worked to install booms—which serve as filters that collect trash before it reaches the ocean—at river mouths. In addition, it continually works on ways to make ocean cleaning more efficient through new technology, including a mobile skimmer it debuted in 2019.

In all, over 86 percent of the company’s revenue goes into its hiring, awareness marketing, donations to nonprofit marine conservation organizations, and ongoing research and investments in machinery and ocean-cleaning innovations.

Dreaming of a Debris-Free Ocean

Going forward, 4ocean says it will continue to scout other high-impact areas across the world to set up new cleanup operations where they are needed the most. And it will keep investing in new technologies to help the ocean’s plight—and, of course, continue to be a leading advocate for ocean cleanups. What began as a ripple started by two friends is now making waves all over the world.

For more info, visit Photography by 4Ocean.