Ocean Recovery Group (ORG), a Deerfield Park, FL-based social-business enterprise, is taking action to combat ocean-bound plastic waste in the Caribbean. Aided by recycling and packaging experts, the group is bringing recycling infrastructure for these plastics to the Dominican Republic.
ORG’s facility in La Vega, Dominican Republic, began processing in February 2022 with the goal of collecting, recycling, and neutralizing 12,000 tons of ocean-bound plastics by year-end.
A lack of recycling infrastructure, inefficient waste-management systems, and the Dominican Republic’s location have made it a significant contributor to ocean-bound plastic. According to ORG, the country currently recycles less than 8% of total plastic.
ORG’s La Vega facility is equipped with a variety of plastic-waste processing equipment, including a MAX-PAK two-ram baler, seven vertical balers, and two plastics lines for washing, shredding, and pelletizing.
The facility, which is an integrated-recycling operation, separates and bales polyethylene terephthalate (PET), natural and colored high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polypropylene (PP), as well as cardboard and other paper-grade recyclables.
ORG recently became the first US company to receive three Ocean Bound Plastic Certifications from Zero Plastic Oceans (ZPO), a nongovernmental organization. The certifications pertain to plastic collection, recycling, and neutrality.
A joint venture of international recycling company 4G Recycling, based in Deerfield Beach, FL, and Miami-based packaging supplier AE Global, ORG is certified to sell 100% post-consumer recycled PET, HDPE, LDPE, and PP in the form of bales, pellets, and regrind.
In this exclusive Q&A, Zachary Kirstein, president of ORG, tells us more about his group’s Dominican Republic operation and what lies ahead.
What recycling technology does ORG use in the Dominican Republic?
Kirstein: We operate state-of-the-art processing lines in the Dominican Republic. Our ocean-bound plastics go through a friction washer, shredders, sink tanks, and steamers, and are either flaked or pelletized.
We continue to review all forward-thinking technologies as we scale our Dominican operation and look to add other countries through our proven best-practices model.
Who collects the ocean-bound plastic for ORG?
Kirstein: In the Dominican Republic, ORG works with both formal — our own employees — and informal collectors who gather abandoned plastic waste throughout the island’s beaches, riverways, and other areas where plastic is at a high risk of entering the ocean.
The top goal for our efforts in the Dominican Republic is to help these local collectors; develop programs to enhance their lives; and provide opportunities for them, as well as their families.
Does ORG have a fair-labor program for these collectors?
Kirstein: ORG has a Human Rights Policy that outlines our commitment to human rights, diversity, social equity, inclusion, freely chosen employment, competitive wages, working hours, benefits, freedom of association and collective bargaining, child labor, and workplace health and safety.
We want to be known as the safest, most efficient player in the ocean-bound plastics space. That requires us to provide the best incentives and working conditions for our team. We’re proud to share more or provide a glimpse to prospective partners and others.
Please tell us about ORG’s plastic neutrality efforts for ocean-bound plastics.
Kirstein: Our team combs through various collected materials by hand, ensuring we maximize all resources. Nothing goes to waste, and materials that are too degraded to process are transported to waste-to-energy facilities to be converted into energy.
We are the first US company certified by Zero Plastic Oceans as a neutralization organization, meaning we have credits corresponding to the effective removal and treatment of low-value ocean-bound plastic and ocean plastics that have been removed from the environment and adequately destroyed through our neutralization efforts.
The Ocean Recovery Group helps clean up ocean-bound plastic on the Dominican Republic shoreline.
What are the roles of 4G Recycling and AE Global in ORG?
Kirstein: 4G Recycling and AE Global came together in 2021 to start Ocean Recovery Group with the vision of being vertically integrated in the collection, manufacturing, and creation of sustainable packaging products.
Currently, 4G Recycling leadership is leading the day-to-day operations and direction of the Dominican Republic recycling operation, utilizing their 100-plus years of industry knowledge and know-how to drive efficiencies.
The AE Global team is influential in the direction of product development, leveraging existing manufacturing relationships, product testing, and execution of ORG’s ocean-bound plastic portfolio efforts.
The Fanjul family will also be integral in our further development in the Dominican Republic, from the AE Global team.
[Ed Note: Andres Fanjul is president of AE Global. The Fanjul family owns a group of diversified businesses that includes sugarcane farms in the Dominican Republic.]
What are ORG’s future plans?
Kirstein: We’re working on partnerships with existing organizations in the ocean-plastic space that will enable us to amplify our impact with plastic credits and product creation.
We are continuing conversations with several Fortune 500 brands and are excited to announce some major partnerships in late summer or early fall. Stay tuned.
Will ORG expand collection/recycling beyond the Dominican Republic?
Kirstein: We’re currently only focused on the Dominican Republic, as we owe it to our network and the people on the island to follow through with our mission.
Our goal is to take our recycling model to other countries in the coming months and years, continuing our focus on reducing ocean-bound plastics in the Western Hemisphere.
Most of our peers’ collection efforts are in Asia, when significant ocean-plastic trash is generated closer to the US, in the Caribbean. Miami is 800 miles from Santo Domingo, and we offer unique capabilities with operations in both locations. After the COVID pandemic, we realized we must reduce our dependency on Asia and build a sustainable supply chain for recycled plastic in the Western Hemisphere.