4ocean takes a multipronged approach to cleaning up ocean plastic

The company is using tech to combat the plastic pollution crisis. We spoke with 4ocean's co-founder about its mission and progress.

Stephen Beacham Senior Video Producer
I'm an award-winning Senior Video Producer and Host for CNET.com focusing on How-To videos, AI, and environmental technologies. I lead CNET's How-To video strategy for horizontal and vertical video formats on multiple platforms. I am responsible for managing and optimizing CNET's flagship YouTube channel by developing and implementing our publishing and subscriber growth strategies. I also serve as CNET's Live Events Producer and Live Streaming Engineer coordinating CNET's team coverage of big tech events since 2011. I come from an audio production background as a Music Producer, Audio Engineer, and Mixer and have worked with multi-platinum artists including Green Day, Smash Mouth, and Lenny Kravitz. Today, I continue to produce and mix records for artists and bands spanning a wide range of genres and have been building a list of credits sound designing and mixing short films.
Expertise How-To video | AI | Environmental Sustainability Credentials
  • Webby Award Winner for Best Environmental and Sustainability video (2023), 3-time Telly Award Winner (2019, 2020, 2022) 12 years experience producing videos, podcasts, and live events for CNET.
Stephen Beacham
3 min read

For decades we've been recycling our bottles and cans, filling up that blue recycle bin as good stewards of the environment. We had no idea where that stuff was going. We just believed it was being taken care of.

Well, as it turns out, all that stuff was being put on pallets and shipped to China. I was shocked. How could it be sustainable to send our recycling thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean? But that's how it worked -- until it didn't.


A plastic recycling site in China.

Getty Images

An answer from the ocean

In 2018, China stopped accepting plastic waste from multiple countries as part of its National Sword policy. This move left many recyclers and waste disposal companies scratching their heads to find new solutions. Innovators who are developing new ways to turn plastic pulled from oceans and rivers into useful products may have one answer. 


This cellphone case was made from recycled ocean plastic. 


Cleaning up the ocean is becoming a global big business.  With an estimated 1 trillion pieces of microplastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone, there's no shortage of waste. Many of the startup companies are using a mechanical recycling process where they collect the waste, sort it, clean it, and turn it into small plastic pellets that can be molded into different products. 4ocean is one company doing exactly that.

The Boca Raton, Florida-based company was founded in 2017 by Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper, a couple of surfers/environmentalists/entrepreneurs who were alarmed by the rapidly rising amount of pollution in their environment. 4ocean has since removed 11 million pounds of plastic waste from oceans, rivers and streams. 

4ocean started out by selling bracelets made of the recycled ocean plastic as a means to start a conversation about ocean pollution and to raise awareness and money for its global cleanup initiative.

"We're utilizing the funds that we generate and the profits that we generate from our business to fund our cleanup operation," Schulze told me.

Related story: Ocean Cleanup's sunglasses are made of recycled ocean plastic     

The business model is built on a philosophy employed by Toms Shoes: With every purchase the customer is making positive change. In 4ocean's case, it's a promise that 1 pound of garbage will be cleaned out of the ocean. 


4ocean co-founder Alex Schulze shows off the company's new stainless steel solo cup meant to replace single-use coffee cups.


4ocean relies on its own technology called the TrashTracker, which measures the amount of waste that's cleaned up on a daily basis while sharing metrics such as plastic type and location information. This information helps the company verify to its investors and customers that it's actually doing what it promises. 

The company has been expanding its product line to include sustainable alternatives such as long-lasting bamboo cutlery that's designed to replace the single-use plastic ones we get with takeout orders. It's also created a cellphone case from recycled ocean plastic. Schulze also showed me 4ocean's new stainless steel cup that will hopefully replace your single-use cup from Starbucks.

"Our mission, our goal with these sustainable-based alternatives is to make sustainability as a whole, convenient and affordable," Schulze said. 


Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal." There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.