Mark Hartnell is a seasoned textiles expert with a close relationship to the ocean. Having joined the SEAQUAL INITIATIVE in 2018 as Director of Textiles, he has a unique perspective on the transformation of marine litter into upcycled yarn. Read along and learn all about their manufacturing process, and check what are the companies which are walking the sustainability talk.
Q: To start this interview, and before we go deeper into your work, who is Mark Hartnell, and what is your role at SEAQUAL INITIATIVE?
A: I am a textile engineer with over 25 years’ experience, and I am the Director of Textiles at SEAQUAL INITIATIVE.
Q: Did you choose this project, or did he choose you?
A: I chose SEAQUAL INITIATIVE. I remember first reading about the project with great interest in 2017 and by 2018 I knew that I needed to be involved, so I contacted them and within weeks was part of the team.
Q: How did your career path develop and what inspired your interest in the environment?
A: I grew up with a very close relationship to nature and was aware from an early age that plastic waste was a blight on our environment. My whole life I have picked litter from beaches and returned from paddling or snorkeling with handfuls or even bags full of litter. Finding SEAQUAL INITIATIVE was like fate, the perfect way to combine my experience of the textile industry with my love of the oceans.
Q: What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of SEAQUAL INITIATIVE?
A: Collaboration. Collaboration is the key to achieving big change. You simply can’t make a big difference to the health of our oceans on your own.
Q: For those who still do not know about the project, can you take us on a journey through this amazing community? How would you describe it and how did it begin?
A: SEAQUAL INITIATIVE is a unique collaborative community of industry, business and communities that works to promote circular economies in coastal regions. An important part if this mission is tackling marine pollution, particularly plastics. SEAQUAL INITIATIVE works with NGOs, fishermen, authorities and local communities to help clean our oceans. Marine litter from our beaches, ocean floor and surface, rivers and estuaries, is collected by clean-up programs. It is then sorted into different material types and the plastic portion is cleaned and transformed into Upcycled Marine Plastic. Environmentally conscious brands and manufacturers then transform this new, fully traceable raw material into inspiring sustainable products. SEAQUAL® YARN was the first commercially available product made with Upcycled Marine Plastic and today there are over 850 brands and manufacturers in 55 countries using SEAQUAL® YARN. We are now creating a full range of Upcycled Marine Plastics to be used across sectors and in products for every aspect of our lives. Consumer purchasing power is one of the most powerful tools for change. By thinking carefully about the impact of everything we buy we can really make a difference.
Q: What distinguishes SEAQUAL INITIATIVE from others on this field?
A: SEAQUAL INITIATIVE is neither a recycler nor a manufacturer, it is an organisation that is creating a ‘glocal’ model that addresses global problems with local solutions. It is an initiative with a holistic vision acting as a catalyst to build a better blue economy by engaging a committed global community of like-minded businesses and individuals. I think that’s pretty unique.
Q: Name 3 companies or projects that inspire you or that you congratulate for their work.
A: Patagonia – because they really ‘walk the talk’, they believe what they say, and they do it. Spinnova – for their pioneering work in producing sustainable textile fibres from trees without using chemicals. India for its 2016 pledge in Paris to increase tree cover by 235 million acres by 2030 – volunteers are planting hundreds of millions of trees (July 2016 Uttar Pradesh 800,000 volunteers planted 50 million trees in one day, 2017 Madhya Pradesh 1.5 million volunteers planted 66 million trees in 12 hours and in 2020 in Uttar Pradesh 2 million volunteers planted 250 million trees).
Q: Speaking about the process itself, how do you go from mixed marine waste to upcycled marine plastic?
A: Plastic marine litter, or in some cases plastic from end-of-life fishing nets or other plastics used in aquaculture (such as those used in mussel and oyster farming), is sorted into different polymer types. Each polymer type is then compressed into a ‘bale’ (a block) for transportation. The bales are then transported to specialist recycling centres where they are washed and prepared to be turned into ‘chips’ (also known as ‘nurdles’ or ‘pellets’). The process can be different depending upon the type of plastic. In the case of polyester, ‘bales’ of PET bottles are transported to the ‘flake’ manufacturer. Here, the bottles are cut into small pieces called ‘flakes’ and then the bottle caps, labels, glue and any residual contents are separated and removed. The resulting 100% PET ‘washed flakes’ are then transported to the ‘chip’ manufacturer, who melts and extrudes the PET into long spaghetti-like ‘threads’ which are then cut into short ‘chips’. These ‘chips’ are the raw material used by industry to manufacturer yarns or injection moulded plastics.
Q: What has been the impact of COVID in SEAQUAL INITIATIVE, if there's any?
A: Clean-up programs have been affected as events such as beach clean-ups have become impossible in many countries but luckily, we have not been too affected by the pandemic, if anything we have been busier because this global event has made a lot of people and businesses think more carefully about social and environmental issues.
Q: Is sustainability still a trend fashion, a niche or do you think firmly that it came to stay?
A: A fashion journalist said to me at a major fashion trade fair (pre-pandemic) that there used to be a whole host of new trends presented each season, but now, the ONLY trend is sustainability. A sustainable textile industry is a great vision, but we are still a long way off. I have no doubt that sustainability is not only here to stay but that it is getting more important every day.
Q: Can you predict or share new trends sustained on environmental conscious?
A: Textile2Textile recycling is coming and will alter supply chains radically.
Q: Describe the ocean to somebody who is blind.
Q: What are the key ingredients to make real progress on sustainability?
A: Honesty and transparency.
Q: What does a sustainable lifestyle mean for you personally?
A: Getting more from less.
Q: What do you do, personally, in order to live sustainably?
A: I think carefully about the impact of everything I consume and about who and what I wish to support with my purchases.
Q: Let us imagine we finish this interview, and you find out that you win a lottery ticket with a 10 million prize. What would you do and how much would you spend on environmental causes?
A: For as long as I can remember I have said that I would not want to win a large amount of money, I can imagine regretting keeping it or giving it away. I think I would try to find a way for that 10 million to inspire anyone with extra millions to also put it towards repairing our damaged world.
Q: In case our last imagination scenario doesn’t come true, what are your main goals for the future?
A: Be happy, live a balanced life and set a good example to my children, especially when it comes to looking after the world we live in.
Thank you for your time Mark!