How Seabin is helping to save our oceans

by Tiffany Paczek
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We’ve come to treat our seas as rubbish dumps, but one company is working tirelessly to clean up our waterways and counteract the damage we as a species have wreaked. Seabin is seeking to change the fate of our oceans, one piece of litter at a time. CWS talks to one of Seabin’s founders, Pete Ceglinski, about this essential invention and how we can all help.

Seabin. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a bin for the sea – and it’s changing the fate of our waterways.

Ocean pollution is an important and deeply concerning issue facing the entirety of the human population. Whether you swim in the sea, enjoy its edible offerings or are a part of the world’s ecosystem (i.e. everyone), the state of our seas affects us all and has a consequence for our and our planet’s future. Our ecosystems are all linked, their fates intertwined and dependent on each other, and when one suffers they all suffer.

This sobering fact, coupled with the worrying state of the world’s oceans, is precisely what pushed Pete Ceglinski to abandon his nine-to-five career and set out to save our seas.

The idea for Seabin was conceptualised by two Australian ocean enthusiasts, surfer Ceglinski and sailor Andrew Turton. It was born when Turton was in a yacht race and noticed that there was debris floating in the marina – and that it was a constant occurrence in marinas all over the world. An idea ignited that if we can have rubbish bins on land, then we can have something similar in the water. Ceglinski had been a product designer and a boat builder, sailing, racing and working all over the world, and Ceglinski and Turton got together to develop the sea-saving innovation. When they created the first Seabin, Ceglinski could use his engineering skills, specialising in plastics and plastic injection moulding, to further develop the product, scale up the technology and help set up the business.

Essentially, Seabin is a floating rubbish collection device designed to reduce and ultimately stop pollution in our waterways from entering the ocean. It’s a relatively simple concept coupled with vastly innovative design, which the pair got off the ground initially through a crowdfunding endeavour. After many ups and downs, they eventually raised enough money with a crowdfunding video that went viral and were able to find an industrial partner in France who specialised in building marinas around the world. The partnership allowed Ceglinski and Turton to utilise in-house manufacturing facilities to develop the Seabin, the production line and the supply chain. After winning funding from a Booking.com accelerator program, which helped immensely with the financial strain, the project could be scaled up to encompass five full-time staff in the European office, and for Ceglinski to come back to Australia to set up the global headquarters.

Pete Ceglinski, co-founder and CEO of Seabin

Pete Ceglinski, co-founder and CEO of Seabin

“Seabin has drawn millions of eyes to the environmental disaster that is the state of our oceans, and people have jumped onboard with our technology and broader vision very quickly,” Ceglinski says. “2018 is going to be a huge year in terms of new technologies, product advancements, our education and science programs and, with hard work, we will see wide scale Seabin installations across Australia, too.”

The journey has been an arduous one, with many challenges along the way, but it’s one that Ceglinski deems worthy and of the utmost importance.

“One of the factors why it was so difficult was that the Seabin is only suitable for a marina, a port, or a yacht club with a floating dock, and so the general public can’t actually have a Seabin,” he says. “And yet, this is a device that’s providing a cleaner environment for all of us, so there’s a bit of a conundrum there.”’

The priority for 2018, then, is to get Seabins into marinas around the world. “Our other major development that we’re looking into this year is the next model Seabin, which will be for fixed docks,” Ceglinski says.“This fixed-dock Seabin, which moves up and down by itself with the rise and fall of the tide, we can attach to any fixed dock or hard waterfront, like the canals of Amsterdam or commercial ports like Melbourne and Sydney.

“We’ve also developed out first prototype of the floating Seabin, where it’s on an anchor and we can have it in a small bay or channelmaker. We’ve developed and tested it, and the fixed-dock Seabin will be [available in] 2018-19, the floating Seabin in 2020-21, and we have some concepts that we’re working on with some of our pilot partners for how to get of the dock and out into the open oceans by 2027.”

Ceglinski’s focus for the coming year, aside from getting more Seabins out into the world, is the Seabin Share Program, the crowdfunding kit and the Seabin Foundation Australia.

The share program has been designed for environmental conservation groups to help develop the data collection program and scale it up. Groups such as Mission Blue, 5 Gyres, WWF, NOAA, The Ocean Conservancy and CSIRO are all currently engaged. These high profile conservationists will act as Seabin Custodians for six to 12 months, with the obligation of waste analysis and data collection being the only costs. After the agreed period has reached its end, the Seabin moves on to the next custodian at a new location.

Seabin

Secondly, Ceglinski says, “The Seabin Crowdfunding Kit will give us a way to engage local communities, increase our data intake and pull more waste from waterways.” The program involved individuals, youth groups, schools and non-profit organisations working directly with a local marina to fundraise for a Seabin to be installed. Seabin has also designed school programs and lessons for youth interaction with the technology.

“By assisting non-profits, individuals and school to fundraise, we can eliminate the barrier of affordability. Seabins aren’t cheap to make, but if we can set up an open flow of data between the community, marinas and our analysts, everybody wins. The ultimate goal is to have the Seabins subsidised,” Ceglinski explains. The data collected also helps the Seabin team understand the types of waste that end up in harbours, wharfs, marinas, docks, yacht clubs and commercial ports. Additionally, in a truly circular initiative, the Seabin design team is working on a method to manufacture the filters out of the waste collected by the Seabins themselves.

The Seabin Foundation Australia is the non-profit manifestation of the company, meaning the group will be eligible for government and private grants for education and research – an area about which Ceglinski and Turton feel strongly. Grants will vastly improve Seabin’s capacity to educate, which the Seabin team identify as the most important outcome of the entire project. “Education is prevention, and that is the real goal,” they say.

“It all comes down to acknowledging that the Seabin is not the solution to ocean plastics and that it’s not going to save our seas,” Ceglinski points out. “The real solution is education and changing our ways to stop purchasing single-use plastics and to recycle and reuse – and so we’ve decided that 50 percent of our business will be developing the [Seabin] technology, commercialising it and implementing it, and the other 50 percent of the business will be for educational programs, science programs, research programs and community programs, where we could really mitigate the amount of debris going into the water in the first place. This is our whole solution approach.

“What we’d like to do is work more with industry to find these solutions and do what we can in these different sectors, be it the technology programs, education programs or the science side of things. And that’s where the foundation comes in – [to help us] get a bit of support to fund these activities from outside sources,” Ceglinski says.

Seabin

Seabin is not only about removing our rubbish from our waterways, it’s about exposure, visibility and accountability.

“Once people see the amount of debris that a single Seabin can pull from a small marina, they understand how much waste ends up in our waterways and instantly reassess the way they dispose of their rubbish,” Ceglinski continues. “The Seabins are catching big stuff like plastic bottles, bags and cups, and also smaller stuff like plastic nurdles, microplastics and, just recently, microfibres.”

The team at Seabin is pleased to see children from all over the world getting excited about Seabin and about cleaning up the oceans.

“We’ve never seen so many kids excited about pollution before,” Ceglinski laughs. “We had a school in Spain, where the Seabin office was, and [the kids would] come down to interact with the Seabin. Every time the Seabin caught a plastic wrapper or a coffee cup lid, there was that many of them [that] they would do a Mexican wave and start cheering. It’s really fulfilling to be doing that sort of stuff, as well as creating the technology and having an impact on the environment.”

Currently, throughout the world the Seabin has had substantial uptake throughout marinas, harbours and ports, with Europe particularly having the greatest interest. And now Seabin is coming home to Australia to launch its global head office and introduce the ocean-saving product into our waterways.

“This is all great, but our dream is to one day live in a world where Seabins aren’t necessary,” Ceglinski says. “It sounds a bit contradictory as we are a business, but we will just find something else to do.”

Seabin is passionate about eliminating marine waste, and empowering communities and individuals to make a difference in their local marinas and ports. To get involved or to sign up for the newsletter to stay up to date, visit seabinproject.com.

Images courtesy of Seabin.

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