The Seabin Project: Sucking pollution out of oceans

The Seabin Project is on a mission to clean up our oceans and leave them pollution free for future generations.

by Nikhil Sreekandan

© Seabin Project

Born and brought up on the east coast of Australia, Pete Ceglinski spent the best part of his life sailing and surfing – a passion for the oceans being the obvious outcome.

While his first job as a product designer saw him dive deep into the exciting world of engineering, his later career as a boat builder had him travel the world visiting a whole lot of marinas, as part of the sailing events he attended.

But, what his travels informed him of, was the hard realisation that human over-consumption and waste mismanagement was killing our oceans. “When you travel and surf as much as I do, you start to see condoms and sanitary pads and plastic bags and bottles floating around, and you know that it just shouldn’t be there.”

Tired of watching from the sidelines, Pete decided to take matters into his own hands and came up with the idea of ‘Seabin’, a floating rubbish bin that collects trash and debris from the ocean. 

INKLINE talks to Pete Ceglinski about The Seabin Project – its humble beginnings and what it aims to accomplish in the coming decades.

15 to 51 billion microplastic particles and 1.4 trillion micro fibre particles weighing from 93,000 to 236,000 tonnes, can be found in the marine environment and are found pretty much everywhere you look.

© Seabin Project

INKLINE: Why Seabin? What motivated you to quit your job and pursue this project?

Pete Ceglinski: The why for Seabin was pretty much why not. There is so much floating debris everywhere you look – in the marinas, the waterways, and the oceans – and there was nothing to address the solution effectively or on a bit more of a global basis. So, there was an opportunity to develop something that could address the situation and I took it.

Why I quit my job was because I’ve never been in a position to give something back to the environment or to do something for other people. I’ve always worked for myself and that was great, but now there was an opportunity where I could help the environment, help other people, be creative and do design and engineering and you know really make a difference and feel good about myself.

I: How did you get things moving for Seabin, in terms of capital etc.?

P: I was daydreaming about this while I was working and I figured if I’m going to spend all my time daydreaming and thinking about it, why don’t I do something. I saved money for about a year and that was the initial seed capital.

So, I quit my job, I used my life’s savings to get everything set up and then I realised what I had wasn’t enough. So, I sat down and worked out a budget for one and a half years and that was how we ended up using crowdfunding as a platform to raise capital, without having to lose any equity in the business.

Pete Ceglinski. © Seabin Project

I: What sparked the idea for engineering the Seabin V5 Hybrid?

P: It all started with a very lateral thought of if you have rubbish bins on the land, why can’t we put them in the water? And, then literally we did that.

We had the rubbish bins, we put them together, we put a water pump in there and we used a bit of glue, cycloflex and duct tape and it worked. So we knew that we had something.

The Seabin V5 Hybrid in action. © Seabin Project

I: Could you explain to us how it works?

P: Basically, Seabin is like a floating garbage can that we attach to a dock in the marina. We have an electric water pump that sits at the bottom of it and water comes in through the top, it passes through a filter and then the water flows out of the bottom and all the debris is caught in the filter – much like a pool skimmer.

I: How has been the response like, in terms of purchase and demand?

P: We have manufacturing and production happening right now with sales orders from around 90 countries. Last month, we sent out our first shipment of 90 Seabin units and this month we are looking at around 100 units that are going out.

Also, we have a sales request sheet which has about 6000 units and we are just starting to work through that now.

The Seabin V5 hybrid unit prior to docking. © Seabin Project

I: “Seabins are not the solution, education is the real solution.” Could you expand on that?

P: Definitely, if we can’t turn off the tap we are never going to clean up the debris in the ocean. The seabins are not the solution for turning off the tap, how we turn off the tap of the debris entering the ocean is the real solution. And, we think that that is a change in our throwaway culture, a change in how we purchase what we can reuse and what we can recycle.

I think it’s our opinion that the only way we can do that successfully is through educating ourselves and others. We don’t need to buy single-use plastic bags when we can reuse another bag and if we throw something in the water, we know that it is going to make its way into the ocean which could harm marine life. So, this is pretty much what we think is the real solution – education, science and research combined with technology.

Because, humans have a bit of a self-destructive kind of nature, so we know that we are not going to change for a while. So, we still need technology and innovation – as much as getting the trash out of the water, we need innovations in recycling and redesigning the plastics or in terms of how we reuse or recycle or upcycle something at the end of its product life.

So, we have educational lessons that we’ve based around the Seabin technology, we have lessons for children about why there is trash in the water, how long it’s been there, where did it come from, what can we do to get it out of the water. And, then we have scientific initiatives where we are monitoring the data – how many cigarette buds did it collect, how many plastic bags, how many cups – and this is what we are doing on a daily basis now and it’s working and people are really taking it on.

I: How do you market your product and get the word out there?

P: We have a very organic and simple approach, any marketing material that we create, we keep it positive and creative. We don’t use any propaganda to make anybody feel bad about themselves, we like to promote positive action through positive messaging.

So, what we’ve done is concentrate on high-quality, positive content and use it across our social channels. Social media is one of the most powerful marketing tools that you can have these days and what we’ve done is create this amazing community around our Facebook page – there are about 126,000 people following the page.

We’ve been kind of using the power of social media to get an organic message across. So, if you tell your friends they tell their friends and then one of their friends is a government official who works for the marina and then they contact us.

So, this is what we’ve been seeing on a fairly consistent basis now – marina owners, government officials, ocean clubs are contacting us because the local community has seen our products on social media and they’ve put pressure on them to investigate and to trial or to buy the project to address the situation.

The power of social media is absolutely massive and if you get the equation just right, it will surely help your business.

Swim without plastics. © Seabin Project

I: So partnerships with marinas and governments are something you are definitely looking at?

P: We think that one of the ways of really making an impact is not fighting somebody but to work with them to find a common ground.  Definitely, if there is an opportunity for collaboration and partnerships with governments or industries, we would like to explore those possibilities.

I: What is next for Seabin and what are your long-term ambitions for the same?

P: We are developing a fixed dock so that we can put these fixed dock versions in the canals of Amsterdam or Venice for example. Our goal at the moment is to get the current model into as many marinas as possible and to start scaling up the team and scaling up the technology to get off the dock and into the open water.

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