Doug Woodring


SEA circular met Doug Woodring, Founder and Managing Director of Ocean Recovery Alliance, to discover how he blends his passions for ocean sports with entrepreneurism – to bring innovative solutions, technology, collaborations and policy together for the health of the ocean.

What motivates and inspires you to do what you do?

I am a competitive ocean athlete in swimming and outrigger canoe racing, and also organize ocean sports events. There is nothing worse than wanting to train, compete, or just recreate, with plastic pollution in the waters and coastlines that
you use for enjoyment and competition. Of course, this visual and first-hand impact is only a tiny spectrum of what the cities and communities of the world face. It is solving these challenges, like a big, complex puzzle, that actually makes
my entrepreneurial mind work. There is space for plenty of new thinking around the world to solve this problem

What was your personal journey that led you towards your work with the Ocean Recovery Alliance?
I founded Ocean Recovery Alliance 10 years ago, as I had only heard of the plastic in the Pacific Gyre a few months earlier. I did not know why I had never heard of it, or why the world was not aware of this! We then organized one of the first science expeditions to this part of the ocean. The interest level and press coverage is what led us to create two global programs to help solve this issue in 2010; the Plastic Disclosure Project, and Global Alert platforms. Both were ahead of their time. I was finally pushed “over the edge” with motivation to do all of this when diving on a remote reef in Palau, with no civilization for miles, yet only to find suspended plastic trash from the surface to 20m deep, in crystal clear water. This is when I knew the world had a real problem with this issue.
“I was pushed “over the edge” when diving on a remote reef in Palau, with no civilization for miles, yet only to find suspended plastic trash from the surface to 20m deep, in crystal clear water.”
What achievement are you most proud of in the work of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, regarding plastic pollution prevention or reduction?
​​I am proud of our initiation and launch of the Plastic Disclosure Project (like that of carbon and water reporting, but for plastic and waste), and our Global Alert app/platform, allowing the general public to report trash hotspots anywhere in the world’s waters and coastlines. Both of these are extremely powerful tools, as they immediately scale, but the world was not ready for them when first launched eight years ago. I think things have now changed. I also founded the Plasticity Forum at the Rio+20 Earth Summit, which is still one of the only events solely focused on solutions for plastic in its second life, and leading the world to circularity for this material. I recently was awarded the Prince’s Prize for our work from Prince Albert of Monaco, and also was instrumental in helping Watsons Water in Hong Kong to move from 0 percent to 100 percent recycled PET for their bottles in just one move, saving over 75,000,000 virgin PET bottles/year. Our new bi-annual cleanup events with villages along the Tonle Sap Lake, ( Water Falling/Rising Festivals) are easily some of the most rewarding and high impact events we have created, in communities that have never had such opportunities in the past.
What has been your biggest challenge you have faced in working to promote healthy oceans and reduce marine plastic waste in South East Asia?
Lack of awareness and care. It was only about 18 months ago that the world really hit a tipping point on this topic in terms of public awareness, and South East Asia has now followed that trend of thinking about the problem. In the past, it was not something that most companies or governments even wanted to discuss or know about.
What is your vision for healthy oceans in the age of plastic?
Slowing the flow of material to the sea with our Global Alert app. If you think of rivers/creeks like blood vessels, going to the heart (the ocean), you can then think of plastic as cholesterol. The easiest way to slow the flow to the heart is to stop it going through the blood vessels, but most of the ocean world to date has not focused on the upstream sources, which is the flow from the global waterways (and not just the 10 big rivers, as there are 100’s of thousands that bleed plastic pollution in some form, and to focus on only 10 would do big injustice to this global issue). With the use of our Global Alert app, stakeholders in any watershed in the world can manage their plastic pollution outflows, with preventative measures that include booms, nets and catchment devices (until those are made redundant with better reduction, recycling and waste management in all of our communities).
“If you think of rivers/creeks like blood vessels, going to the heart (the ocean), you can then think of plastic as cholesterol.”
What’s next for you in plastic pollution reduction?
We have a few ground-breaking programs and larger scale examples of big community and social change activities which still need some time and funding to get moving, but the momentum is there. The world needs more of these large, collaborative, multi-faceted examples of broad success and solutions across population sizes of 20,000 to 1m+ people, so that others can replicate them. Our collaborating partners are broad in scope, because of the touch points we have to almost all of the pieces of the puzzle that need to be joined together to make one project work. The Plasticity Forum has created much of this knowledge and opportunity for success, as we can see much of what is happening with new technologies and opportunities for collaboration, as well as with stakeholder champions in jurisdictions who want to take the lead in making a positive difference.
What in your view is the single most important factor which would help to solve marine plastic pollution at source in South East Asia?
Do not let the hype of the Basel Amendments close all trading and movement of plastic as a commodity. I think this is the biggest, most dangerous issue that can backfire in the past 10 years of my work in this space. Many governments are being over-reactionary to the press, closing borders, and hurting their own domestic recycling capacities along the way, which they all need. It is not likely that many smaller countries will gain their own capacities, markets and industries to handle all of their waste, so with the new amendments, there is the potential to only allow “one-way flow of trade,” which is “products in,” but “no materials out.” Most countries cannot handle this today, and it is not clear that existing funding by multi-laterals and other trade associations will be able to efficiently fill the needed capacity void to handle the volumes of plastic that will continue to be generated with growing populations.
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