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The idea came to Rob Thompson on the coast of Cornwall, in southwest England. Staring at the bulging bags of trash he and his friends had collected from a remote cove, and then at the plastic kayaks they’d used to reach it, Thompson experienced what he calls “a bit of a Eureka moment.”
The avid diver had been organizing cleanups for years, helping to remove tons of plastic from the seabed and remote beaches like this one. So much, in fact, he didn’t know what to do with it all. Just chucking it in the bin didn’t feel right, and his first idea—to recycle ocean plastic into beach toys and Frisbees—had a fatal flaw. “We kept finding those things on the beaches when we did our cleanups,” he says. “I didn’t want to make something that would become part of the problem.”
The key was to turn the rubbish into something people would treasure, which is where the kayaks come in. “We got to the end of the cleanup and we had our bags full of plastic and the kayaks sitting next to them and I thought, ‘Ah, that’s it!’ We can actually make kayaks out of the plastic we collect, and then use them to get out and recover more marine plastic.”
Thompson is telling me this over Skype. He’s sitting at his kitchen counter, which doubles as world headquarters for his one-man startup, Odyssey Innovations. He looks like a young Richard Branson, with a broad smile and long blond hair, but he’s a conservationist, not a business tycoon. “I never got ‘round to writing a business plan,” he admits.
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