Fisherman-led program RIO works to clear plastic from the oceans
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A.-based Restoring Integrity to the Oceans this week announced its new Plastic Neutral Program to help businesses mitigate the effects of plastics pollution.
The program’s first corporate sponsor, Logistics Plus, is a global transportation and supply chain company based in Erie, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
“Ocean plastic pollution is a global problem,” Logistics Plus COO Yuriy Ostapyak said in a press release. “Through our partnership with RIO, we are… leading by example by becoming one of the first plastic neutral companies in the world.”
RIO’s Plastic Neutral Program audits a company’s use of plastics, offers solutions to eliminate some uses, and offsets the remaining plastics footprint through funding of its ongoing plastics collection and recycling programs in Southeast Asia and around the world.
“We’re working closely with small communities to collect plastics,” RIO Chief Operating Officer Kim King told National Fisherman. “And the bigger goal is to recycle all of it, not just the few types that are recycled now.”
The larger goal is to increase investment in plastics clean-up – through collection and recycling – as well as to reduce the use of plastics at the corporate level, RIO CEO Kieran Kelly said.
“When you’re paying for the offset, you’re going to start thinking about what you can do to reduce that offset,” Kelly said.
Kelly was born in Helvik, an Irish fishing village, and has fished commercially all over the world. He recalls first seeing plastics in the bellies of his catch off the Maine coast.
“I was shocked by how common it became in the space of five years,” Kelly said. “The fish were starving to death because their entire digestive system was clogged with plastic. Even in places almost untouched by humans, again, we saw plastic. And it was really alarming. I started speaking to my friends about what we could do. Initially, it was in the U.S., retrieving plastic on the backside of the hurricane.”
Soon RIO was born, but its founders sought to set themselves apart from the get-go.
“RIO is not an NGO. It’s an environmental company,” King said.
A colleague soon alerted them to the high levels of plastics pollution in India.
“A couple of weeks later we were on a plane and flying to Mumbai,” Kelly told National Fisherman. “This area here is considered ground zero – Southeast Asia.”
Much of the globe’s plastic waste ends up in rivers and bays in Southeast Asia, which the local populations have relied on to feed their families and communities. RIO’s efforts have expanded to Indonesia over the last two years, and Kelly has been working in small fishing villages in Java, Indonesia, for the last year and a half.
“I come from a fishing village. All my people have. These people are no different than you or me or anyone getting on a fishing boat in Portland, Maine. They go out to catch fish for their families,” Kelly said. “They haven’t been displaced because of war or because of climate change. The only thing displacing them is plastic.”
RIO’s collection, recycling, and neutrality efforts are just the beginning, its leaders said, adding that the plastics problem will not be answered with a quick fix, but it must be answered nonetheless.
“We have a duty – especially any of us that have worked on the ocean – to leave the ocean better than when we came to it,” Kelly said.
Reporting by Jessica Hathaway
Photo courtesy of RIO