Burgess ex crew member pioneer’s new initiative to help combat the global ocean plastic problem
Will Pearson, co-founder & CEO of Ocean Bottle speaks to Burgess Blue Oceans (BBO) about life on board, how Ocean Bottle started and his vision for a plastic free world.
BBO: What is Ocean Bottle?
WP: Ocean Bottle makes reusable bottles that save our ocean. With the sale of every bottle we fund the collection of 11.4kg of plastic, equivalent to 1000 plastic bottles and stop this from ever entering the ocean. We do this by developing people-powered recycling infrastructure in coastal communities around the world and enabling locals to exchange plastic for valuable rewards.
BBO: Where did the idea of Ocean Bottle come from?
WP: I have wanted to work with preserving the environment since high school. Without a well-functioning planet, we cannot sustain life on earth as it exists today, it’s as simple as that. I think a big part of Ocean Bottle actually came from yachting. I felt so connected to the ocean, and also the damage we are doing to it and wanted to create a way for people to be part of a solution to the problem of plastic. After my first season I was travelling in Colombia and found rivers quite literally choking with plastic. This was where I learnt that 22 million kgs of plastic is pouring into the ocean each day. I was left asking myself, how could we possibly collect plastic before it enters the ocean in a truly scalable, efficient and easy to implement way? I came across Plastic Bank who were setting up recycling infrastructure in some of the worst hit places, and we realised this was a great solution but we needed to connect people all over the world to it. So we decided to create a product that people could use every day to be more sustainable, but also have a massive, direct and tangible impact on the plastic crisis. Enter Ocean Bottle.
BBO: Where was Ocean Bottle conceived?
WP: Ocean Bottle started at London Business School. I came up with the idea in a cafe when I saw someone with a reusable bottle and was thinking about how much more we needed to do to fix the issue of ocean plastic. We decided to create a reusable bottle which funded as much plastic collection as possible. That quickly became 11.4kgs per product, equivalent to 1000 plastic bottles.
BBO: Prior to this you worked on a Burgess managed yacht – tell me about this experience
I arrived in Malta and we spent three months in port before sailing over to the Maldives. I loved it. It was the most incredible adventure with the most amazing people. All the hard work made every bit of freedom more exciting. I remember being out on the big blue, watching endless sunrises and sunsets and even seeing the green flash.
We arrived in Bandos a few weeks after leaving Malta. I remember the cabin fever and how good that first beer tasted when we hit land. Soon after we went to Sri Lanka and then the Seychelles for a few months. We spent entire days out on the tenders exploring remote coves, desert islands and taking the owners diving.
BBO: Tell me about where the plastic problem first became evident to you?
WP: I think what shocked me most on board was the consumption of single use bottles. We bought approximately 1200 plastic water bottles for the yacht that Christmas. Worst of all was where it ended up. Locals would come and collect our rubbish on barges in the Maldives and they’d ship it off to an island called Thilafushi, which was smouldering in the distance. Here they would burn the plastic and the remnants would spill into the ocean.
What many people don’t know is how much plastic pours into the ocean each day. 22 million kgs in fact. Enough to fill a truck every minute. We have a massive overproduction of single use plastics, 40% of which is for packaging and a lack of waste management infrastructure particularly in impoverished coastal communities where the rate of consumption continues to go up, due to the growth in developing economies. The combination is a disaster and means we have a lot of plastic going into the ocean. We need to stop production of most single use plastics pretty much immediately and develop plastic collection infrastructure to attack the problem from both ends. It’s now estimated that unless we do something drastic, ocean plastic will double by 2030.
BBO: You launched in 2019, how has business been?
WP: We launched our products in September 2019 having partnered with K8 design in Norway and Plastic Bank in Canada. We now have funded collection over 620,000kgs of ocean bound plastic, enough to stretch from London to New York and back again if this was in plastic bottles. We have seven awesome full time staff members and some amazing interns on our growing team in London. Recently we’ve been fortunate enough to pick up the Green Product Award, Red Dot Design Award and Forbes under 30.
BBO: What were the challenges?
WP: Setting up a business is without a doubt one of the hardest things you can do. If it’s your first start up you have absolutely zero resources and zero knowledge, so you have to do everything yourself and get people and partners to help out with their skill sets. One of the more nerve-racking experiences was manufacturing over 10,000 bottles and shipping them to 88 countries with no prior experience! The challenges were constant and varied, and although it can be hard at times I don’t think I’d want to be doing anything else.
BBO: You are working with some big brands; can you tell me more about this?
We’ve been lucky to date and we’ve partnered with brands including AirBNB, WP: McKinsey, Selfridges, Aman, Soho House, Padi all the way through to Pelorus the expedition company and the Nobel Peace Centre. People can buy online or we often make bespoke or co-branded bottles for our partners that they offer their customers, staff or VIP community.
BBO: Why should people be switching to your bottle as opposed to any other sustainable/refillable bottle?
WP: A recent Ocean Bottle review in The Times said that “If Apple were to make a drinks container for life, this would be it.” I really hope this is the case! We’ve tried to make the product both as functional as possible - you can take it apart, fill with ice and different beverages and put in the dishwasher - and aesthetically striking with its Scandinavian design. On top of its design you then have the fact that it is doing something for ocean health beyond just being another bottle.
BBO: What are your future goals for the company?
WP: Our pledge is to fund collection equivalent to 7 billion plastic bottles by 2025 and develop infrastructure to handle and recycle this collection and provide new income opportunities in the communities we are working with.
BBO: Each bottle is fitted with a microchip - can you tell me more about this?
WP: Each Ocean Bottle is smart chip activated and we are building a refill & reward loyalty platform. This means owners of ocean bottles will be able to refill at partner retail locations and fund more plastic collection when they use it day to day. If you take your bottle to your gym or supermarket, you could fund collection equivalent to another 100 plastic bottles for free just by bringing it with you. All of this has the potential to exponentially increase our impact, beyond when people first purchase our products.
BBO: You have offered a very generous Crew Discount - can you explain?
WP: The yachting community has a connection to the ocean which is one of a kind. It is one that has shaped my life and directly affected what I’ve chosen to do. I also think the community has the potential to create a lot of impact in the space and inspire both owners and guests to also be more sustainable and care for the pristine blue oceans they are out there enjoying!
For this reason we’ve decided to extend a 10% crew discount to all Burgess crew on our website oceanbottle.co.
We also do co-branded and personalised bottles for crew, please get in touch on the website if this is of interest.