As an avid surfer, Wes Carter has traveled the world surfing. Over the years during his travels, he noticed an alarming trend: the world’s oceans were getting dirtier and dirtier.
“I became more and more aware that these places I had been going for 20 years were more and more proliferated by plastic pollution,” he said. “They would be the most beautiful places on the planet, and I saw plastic everywhere.”
More than 300 million tonnes of plastics (half of which are single-use items such as shopping bags, cups and straws) are produced each year. Of that total, at least 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean each year, according to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
As president of Wilmington-based Atlantic Packaging, he realized he was in a unique position to not only change the way his business was run, but also to encourage others to help reduce plastic waste in the ocean.
Since then, Atlantic Packaging, a packaging and equipment distributor, has adopted more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices at its facilities across the United States.
“When it comes to sustainability, it’s a multi-pronged strategy,” he said.
The company declares its carbon emissions; it has committed to installing solar panels across its entire network with the goal of using 50% renewable energy by 2023; pledged to be fully carbon neutral by 2030, electrified its fleet of vehicles, used energy efficient lighting, pledged to be a zero waste facility, among other efforts.
In addition, the company has adapted its products to be more durable. In 2020, it launched Fishbone, a recyclable can holder that replaces the traditional plastic ring handles used to hold cans together.
“There is another product that I am really excited about; Amazon actually buys a lot of it and a lot of it from our other strategic customers. It’s called EverTech Mail, ”Carter said. “This is the very first padded mail item made from paper fibers.
Another key initiative for the company is A New Earth Project, which brings together surfers and the industrial packaging supply chain with the goal of reducing ocean plastic waste.
The organization, which began in February, is a collaboration between Carter and surfer, photographer and documentary maker Peter King.
The initiative hopes to help reduce the production of single-use plastics and clean the oceans. Partnerships are key, he said.
“What we’re trying to do is encourage massive collaboration across the entire supply chain,” Carter said.
The role in which Atlantic Packaging can have the most impact is to prevent the production of plastic in the first place.
“If we can move from things like single-use plastic to more fiber-based and paper-based options, which are more recyclable and faster biodegradable or compostable, we can really stem the tide of plastic pollution,” he said. he declared.
Another aspect of A New Earth Project is a documentary in development that will introduce the surfing community as an advocate for ocean sanitation.
The film will be a 10-part series that will be released on a streaming platform next year.
Locally, efforts have been made to increase sustainability.
The city of Wilmington passed a resolution to encourage businesses to become ocean-friendly establishments by avoiding plastic waste and providing compostable alternatives to single-use plastics.
Sealevel City Vegan Diner is a Wilmington company that has already implemented sustainable practices. Owned by Kelsey Gibbs and her husband Scott Key, the restaurant has been using sustainable practices since opening in 2020.
“[We’re] just trying to do better, be less trashy, and live a little more righteously by nature, ”Gibbs said. “We had the opportunity to buy our favorite restaurant; initiate a complete family career change. It was going to be an even bigger challenge when at home I strived to live a zero waste lifestyle.
The restaurant compostes all food scraps and bathroom paper towels, uses compostable trash bags and take-out items, and recycles the items with the county and university. Plus, a vegan diet helps reduce ocean litter.
“While the ‘strawless’ movement has garnered a lot of attention, a huge amount of plastic in the ocean is made up of fishing nets, not straws,” she said. “Over the past 30 years, there has been a massive decline in populations of fish that are popular for human consumption. Want to save the oceans? Don’t eat the fish.
Being environmentally friendly comes with certain challenges, which could be improved with better access to recycling and composting.
“Composting is easy and diverts tons of waste from the landfill, but I would like it to be more encouraged and accessible to more people,” Gibbs said. “There are problems with the packaging and recycling of food. Only two of the seven types of plastic are recycled at our county plant. # 5 plastics are widely used in food service containers, but New Hanover County is not dealing with this type at this time, so it is going to landfill.
While Carter recognizes that there are no quick fixes to solving global environmental problems, it’s important to be a voice.
“We have set ourselves in a position to have a real impact on something that is really important to all future generations and that can have an impact on a global scale,” Carter said.