4ocean: Ending the Ocean Plastic Crisis | #MindYourWake Series

Written by Diane Byrne
December 1, 2022

Last Updated on December 2, 2022 by Boatsetter Team

Twenty-five million pounds of trash is hard to imagine. Yet, it’s the reality according to 4ocean. Specifically, more than 25,407,000 pounds of plastic is what the non-profit organization and its supporters have removed from the world’s oceans, rivers, and coastlines in just five years. Considering it all started with a vacation in Indonesia, 4ocean’s dedication to ending the ocean plastic problem is all the more impressive.

That vacation took place in 2015. Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper were college friends—recent graduates, in fact—who, growing up in Florida, loved the water. They booked a surfing trip in Bali as a way to have even more fun. They hadn’t even landed when they realized something shocking.

They initially spied through the plane window what they thought were lines of seaweed on the beach. However, those lines were actually rows of trash, deposited by the tides. Bewildered, they asked locals why no one was cleaning it up. They quickly learned that despite removal occurring every day, more arrived just as rapidly. They further saw fishermen plying their craft through floating piles of plastic, and learned from them the detrimental impact on their livelihoods.

Learn more about Boatsetters #MindYourWake sustainability initiatives.

What is 4ocean?

Schulze and Cooper credit the experience with opening their eyes and minds to just how bad the plastics problem is. Conveniently being business majors, they put their heads together and realized they could pay the fishermen to remove the garbage from the waters before it ever hit the shores. This was the seed that got 4ocean started.

On the plane ride home, Schulze and Cooper figured out the rest. They would create and sell bracelets made of recycled materials to fund these cleanups and hire additional captains to do the same elsewhere. They chose bracelets because they’d be a conversation starter and compelling visual reminder to make wise decisions to avoid single-use plastics.

4ocean Bracelet.

4ocean’s impact and the “one pound promise”

While 4ocean formally became a non-profit in 2017, it continues selling the bracelets today, along with reusable drinking cups, apparel, and even beach-cleanup totes.

The bracelets are the most high-profile, though, adhering to the organization’s “one pound promise.” That is, every bracelet sold represents one pound of trash pulled from the water by captains and crews under 4ocean’s employ. Hundreds of these professionals clean rivers, coastlines, and oceans daily around the world (besides having headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, 4ocean has bases in Bali and Haiti).

Actually, every item sold does more than that.

  • For instance, 4ocean has been able to acquire specially outfitted vessels that, in just one trip, remove hundreds of thousands of pounds of plastics and other debris from waterways.
  • Additionally, sales have funded the purchase of new equipment; research and development of new ocean-cleaning methods; recycling advancements; and more. As the organization points out, cleaning up the ocean doesn’t just involve plucking plastic bottles from the water.
  • It involves sending crews out to impacted areas globally, recovering the plastic, and then transporting the plastic back to 4ocean’s facilities. There, the work continues. Staffers sort and clean the plastic, then recycle it for future use.

“Scientists estimate more than 16 billion pounds of plastic enters the ocean every year,” Cooper told Boca Magazine in 2020.

Besides being unsightly trash, the bottles, bags, and wrappers break down into microplastics that birds, fish, and other marine life ingest. They entangle marine life, too. Overall, they threaten these creatures’ very existence, and of course the health of the ocean. Therefore, 4ocean also focuses on educational efforts.


Educational efforts and government relations

From helping create teachers’ lesson plans to speaking engagements, Schulze and Cooper, as well as their teams, passionately share their knowledge. They firmly believe this empowers others in ways more effective than simple beach cleanups. They assert that the best way to clean the ocean is to prevent pollution from ever entering it.

Education and empowerment extend to government and business leaders, too. For instance, 4ocean petitions legislators to provide incentives. It also pushes businesses to emerge as sustainability leaders. With both government and business leaders, it creates Plastic-Free Reports. These reveal where they currently stand with plastic consumption, plus plastic-free alternatives to help them change their ways. Furthermore, 4ocean provides lists of vendors to help them make the switch.

Everyday citizens with a hunger to help the ocean can team up with 4ocean as well, through its Brand Ambassador Program.

  • Anyone age 18 and older can sign up, to help raise awareness about plastic pollution and teach others to reduce their plastic footprint.
  • Specifically, 4ocean provides the educational tools, and ambassadors leverage their social media accounts. They also share a special ambassador link to the shop for bracelets and other products, earning commission while raising funds.

At the end of the day, it’s right in keeping with 4ocean’s business model. It funds the growth and expansion of its cleanup operations and provides reliable, living-wage income to people disproportionately impacted by plastic pollution.

Read other stories within our #MindYourWake Series:

Browse by experience

Explore articles