How 75 Tons of Orphan Plastics were Prevented from the Ocean

Plastic waste is a hot issue, and unfortunately, it’s one that will be here for a while. Since plastic is cheap to produce and has many uses, it’s become a necessary material for modern society. But, it can also be difficult to recycle, it requires finite resources to produce, and orphan plastics that cannot be recycled often end up polluting our waterways and killing marine wildlife (among other issues). 

It can be easy to get cynical about plastic waste. Plastic permeates all industries; what can an individual or company possibly do that will make a difference? Well, we have that answer.

If you’re already aware of TONTOTON, then you know about our mission to collect and sustainably eliminate orphan plastic in a zero-waste manner.

We are delighted to announce that our teams have successfully eliminated 75 tons of orphan plastic waste. Imagine 14 huge trucks full of discarded low-value, non-recyclable plastics that were otherwise orphaned near the oceans.

But more than the figures are the inspiring stories behind the removal of this huge amount of plastic waste from the natural environment. And you can join us in this effort.

TONTOTON Team - Hon Son Island

The TONTOTON zero-waste orphan plastic elimination system operates under four main pillars: 

  1. collection of ocean-bound plastic (OBP), 
  2. collaboration with local communities, 
  3. valorizing collected plastic, 
  4. certification of processes.

Collection of ocean-bound plastic

TONTOTON is unique in its focus on orphan plastic: post-consumer, low-value, non-recyclable plastic types. Typically, waste pickers can only make an income off of collection of high-value recyclable plastics, which leaves orphan plastic litter that may eventually reach our oceans. By creating a new market for these orphan plastics, waste pickers are incentivized to collect them which they would otherwise ignore. These types are orphans no more, and their final destination is certainly not the ocean.

Collaboration with local communities

A huge portion of our success can be attributed to local waste pickers and others in the community who have worked with us to focus on the collection of orphan plastic. Because their job is so important, we’ve also worked hard to ensure that waste pickers have better working conditions – provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE), healthcare coverage, and fair wages.

Valorizing collected plastic

Once the orphan plastic is collected, it must be eliminated in a sustainable way. We use co-processing: a zero-waste method in which the plastic is combusted and turned into energy, and any remaining waste is mixed into concrete. The process is within a controlled environment and monitored 24/7 for carbon emission following the standards of UN Basel Convention of waste treatment.

Certified solution

We pride ourselves following an independent protocol on OBP neutrality and audited by globally-acclaimed third-party control body. This ensures that we don’t just come up with the solution by ourselves and claim it as foolproof. Every step towards collecting 75 tons of OBP were checked and verified. We adhere to top environmental standards and keep on developing ways to continuously improve our processes, and increase credibility and accountability.

This 4-pillar approach allows us to build a circular economy for single-use plastic benefitting various stakeholders from the ground up.

The true backbone of orphan plastic elimination: the waste pickers

Hai Phong Collection Site - TONTOTON

The ones that we can truly thank for this accomplishment are our waste pickers.

Under the Vietnamese waste management system, most waste recycling is handled under the private sector. Waste pickers will gather recyclable plastic (and other waste) from beaches and landfills and sell it to recycling centers, often craft villages where entire households contribute to the waste processing system. While this system is effective—collection of waste has increased from 81% in 2010 to 85.5% in 2017—more has to be done in dealing withit fails to acknowledge orphan plastic. However, because TONTOTON is able to pay waste pickers for orphan plastic, it has opened up a whole new avenue for waste pickers while simultaneously addressing orphan plastic waste.

Đặng Thị Lành is one of our waste pickers. An incredibly hard worker, she found employment part-time as a housekeeper and part-time as a waste sorter. This gave her little time to spend with her family. Now that she works with TONTOTON, she says, “I can get more money to pay for my family expenses.”

Another one of our workers, Đậu Thị Cúc, similarly works as a waste picker and a cleaner, and she has told us that she plans to pursue this line of work until she retires. This shows us how important this work is, both to the environment and to the people who rely on its income.

Our relationship with our waste pickers is a symbiotic one; our efforts open additional opportunities for income since we focus on orphan plastic, and without our waste pickers, we wouldn’t have been able to collect all of the orphan plastic that we have.

Becoming a corporate partner: How your company can join the effort

Orphan plastic constitutes plastic that cannot be recycled. This is often lightweight single-use plastics, like plastic bags or plastic packaging, that are found littering waterways and floating in our oceans. Orphan plastics are often ignored because waste pickers cannot sell them to recycling plants, and they are difficult to eliminate in a sustainable way.

Through TONTOTON’s valorizing process, we eliminate orphan plastic while simultaneously offering an alternative energy source that’s cheaper and cleaner than burning coal. Additionally, we have created income for waste pickers off of this orphan plastic, ensuring that orphan plastic is no longer ignored and can be gathered and processed like recyclable plastics are.

Because our projects focus on orphan plastic, when you purchase credits through TONTOTON, your impact is much more deeper as you are eliminating the potential hazard by arguably, the most problematic type of plastic waste – the non-recyclables. More importantly, you can support the social and environmental activities involved towards the creation of the plastic credits.

We focus on OBP (of which Vietnam is the fourth-largest contributor), ensuring that our efforts aren’t just local; they have a global impact as well.

Our corporate partners don’t simply fund the projects that allow us to safely eliminate tonnes of orphan plastic. We encourage our partners to go above and beyond by reducing their orphan plastic use and production, further reducing plastic waste. Together, we see a future filled with clean waterways, effective recycling of all plastics, and a better environment for all. 

Help us reach 100 tons of orphan plastic eliminated. Join TONTOTON today.