In our latest profile piece, we’ve spoken to pioneering conservation organisation Odyssey Innovation, based in Cornwall and founded by Rob Thompson. In this article, we speak to Rob to find out more about their aims, objectives and why collaboration, good will and coming together is one of the key components to a brighter, greener future.
Can you tell us a bit more about Odyssey Innovation?
Odyssey Innovation is a company that has been set up with the sole purpose of trying to tackle the Marine Plastic pollution problem. It came about off the back of the conservation work that I was doing originally with a group of divers by trying to establish recycling routes for the gear we were finding. To do this we ended up collaborating with a lot of different charities and other conservation groups which were originally looking at mixed general plastic commonly found on the beach cleans or from under the water and then expanded into recycling fishing gear for the fishing community to help offer sustainable recycling routes for the fishing industry to dispose of their fishing gear.
The major challenges I faced when trying to create the said recycling routes, now formally known as our Net Regeneration Scheme and The Marine Regeneration Scheme, were trying to recycle 1) very low value materials 2) materials from various mixed sources and 3) materials from remote locations ( at times with unyielding terrains) – not the best combination of factors when trying to set up a dependable/consistent and financially self-supporting mechanism!
What we ended up doing in the end was innovate our own products to try and help finance the running of these schemes and our Paddle for Plastic campaign (which is another aspect of our conservation work). Along the line we also found ourselves working within the industry to help others navigate their company’s circular journey and aiding them to develop products from the Net Regeneration and Marine Regeneration recycled plastic; this in turn helped in promoting and supporting all the fantastic work that is going on out there with all the different entities that we work with whilst recovering plastic.
What are your main aims?
Our main aims are to recover as much marine plastic as possible and more importantly to prevent marine plastic from getting in the ocean in the first place, because it is not going to be possible to recover everything. We’re also highly committed to spreading the word about the Circular Economy and how to put it into practice whilst innovating products with our recycled material with the hope of shifting the masses’ opinion about waste plastic and to see it for what it really is – a resource!
Why is this important?
The recovery of marine plastic is essential to the survival of all marine life and ultimately all life on earth because we are all 100% reliant on the oceans.
Recovery is absolutely essential and needs to become a normative behaviour; we try to promote this in a fun way via our Paddle for Plastic Campaign which aims to collect the marine plastic found in otherwise inaccessible stretches of our coastline and waterways -usually these also tend to be really valuable wildlife havens where the largest amounts of plastic tends to conglomerate. Nowadays, accessible beaches are improving in the amounts of beach plastic we find on them thanks to a more savvy and interested community, however the problem persists in geographically challenging terrains.
On the prevention front we are also trying to encourage and educate as many harbour masters, fishermen, maritime fleets and councils to be aware of the issue and enroll to our free recycling schemes which aim to tackle the problem at source, prior to leaking into the marine environment, add to the harmful CO2 emissions released due to incineration or the repercussions caused when sending waste to landfill sites. We support this work by also creating items they can use in their day to day operations that will keep reinforcing that link between plastic waste as a resource; items we’ve manufactured so far include net bins, angling waste bins, general purpose bins, tote boxes etc.
Nowadays we are proud to say that the fishing community are actually becoming our best ambassadors because not only are they recycling their own end-of-life fishing gear but are also bringing in other plastic items captured in their nets! The fact that our schemes are free really encourages this excellent behavior!
Reusing material, putting it back into economy, treating it as a valuable resource-which it is, helps prevent a lot of problems; however the cheap price of virgin plastic remains a constant threat to all this and ultimately for large scale behavioural change we need the support of Governments to back up initiatives like ours to help a global shift in industry and the end-consumer’s daily habits.
How can people get involved or support you?
Our work relies 100% on collaboration and good will.
Apart from our lead partners Exeter City Council, we have a lot of different stakeholders involved in our work from start to end; this includes beach cleaners, fishermen, recyclers, processors, manufacturers and then ultimately retailers as well as our die-hard fan-clients.
To keep up momentum we really need people to see and understand what we are trying to do and achieve whilst getting behind our vision for the circular economy with marine plastic.
We are always interested in hearing from different community groups who would be interested in getting their marine plastic into our recycling routes.
The same can be said for fishing communities, net makers and maritime industry commercial entities.
Innovators and creatives are also extremely welcome to contact us- whatever fields they operate in. Just when we think we’ve had the coolest email in our inbox about a possible partnership the most awesome and random one turns up! We love it! So far we’ve consulted and supported the ambitions of jewellers, stage managers, interior designers and furniture makers, engineering components manufacturing companies, forest schools, festivals organisers, packaging for the beauty industry, fashion industry, the maritime industry…Bring it on Universe!
From an educational point of view, anyone (influencers included) that’s interested in sharing our stories and getting the message out there, helping educate other people around marine plastic and trying to show that there is another way to how we have been doing things -we always need that kind of help.
We’ve also had a lot of support by local and national Government bodies, Universities, the European Union and the private sector in the forms of cash injections to support our growth on the ground and technologically with the aim of increasing our recovery and recycling rates.
Most of the economy runs on unsustainable and non-circular principles; any business owner or decision maker can choose to support our vision by adopting the circular economy or contacting us for assistance in their transition for a better world.
What does the future hold?
A lot! We have big plans to realise.
Currently we’re in scale-up mode. We’ve proved the concept and developed our approaches on solid ground- it’s all about making the schemes ultra viable and you need large volumes for that so we look forward to expanding into new regions, creating several new partnerships and higher recovery rates..
We’re also intending on investing further into the incredible partnerships we already have in place and developing an exciting range of products and services for retail, however my lips remain sealed (there might be a few hints dotted across our website).
A big thanks to Rob and the Odyssey Innovation team for answering our questions and providing an opportunity to learn more about this unique organisation. To find out more about Odyssey Innovation, connect with them on social media using the links below.