Ocean health is in decline due to climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions have caused ocean temperatures to warm by about 1.5° Fahrenheit, acidity to increase 30%, and oxygen levels to decrease 2%, affecting ocean productivity and biodiversity. Climate change has also led to a reduction in commercially important seafood species and could lead to a mass extinction of marine life.
Many industrial fish farms and wild-caught fisheries are unsustainable. Current industrial finfish aquaculture often uses socially and ecologically unsustainable methods, such as relying on wild fish to feed the farmed fish, contributing to declines in ocean health. Fishing industry emissions are increasing while catch is decreasing. Further, the U.S. has a seafood trade deficit — importing 70-85% of our seafood, almost half of which is produced via unsustainable aquaculture abroad.
Regenerative ocean farming is a climate-friendly model of aquaculture where seaweeds and/or shellfish are grown in a way that requires no freshwater, feed, or fertilizer. This farming model can benefit coastal ecosystems and communities by increasing food security, creating jobs, improving water quality, protecting coastlines, providing a range of additional ecosystem services, and supporting ocean justice.
Some models of regenerative ocean farming rely on polyculture systems that utilize the entire water column to co-cultivate a diverse mix of shellfish and seaweeds, while others may cultivate a single species. Climatic conditions determine which species can be grown where and when.
Farming and harvesting the seas while restoring local ecosystems is by no means a new practice. Indigenous communities across the world have been sustainably harvesting and farming coastal environments for thousands of years. Bivalves (such as oysters and clams), fish, and seaweed have a long history of traditional cultivation for use in food, medicine, ceremonies, and coastal protection.
Seaweed grows 30-60x faster than land-based plants, and seaweed farms can store up to 20x more carbon per acre than forests. If 9% of the world's oceans were covered in seaweed farms, they could store the annual planetary carbon budget of more than 40 gigatons a year.
The Circular Economy
Sway practices regenerative design, which goes beyond the call of sustainability to simply avoid harm, and goes a step farther – calling for products and value chains that give more than they take.
We follow the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s definition of the circular economy, which is defined by three foundational principles: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials, and regenerate nature.
We pay particular attention to the Butterfly Diagram, which highlights the importance not only of industrial circularity (such as recycling and reuse) but also of biological circularity, which we engage by cycling nutrients from seaweed back to earth through compost.
This framework, and Sway’s broader philosophy, is also influenced by William MacDonough’s Cradle to Cradle, which “reframes design as a positive, regenerative force — one that creates footprints to delight in, not lament.”
Paul Hawken’s Regeneration is required reading for the Sway team, and the first gift given to new teammates!
We are one of many next-generation regenerative materials, and you can find more cause for awe and inspiration in the Materiom regenerative materials library.
Not all bioplastics are created equal. The WWF Position on Biobased and Biodegradable Plastic rightly addresses several issues with the current bioplastics landscape, including lacking regulation around “biobased” and “biodegradable” claims. WWF is a partner in the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, which works with major plastic buyers to address these shortcomings and call for truly responsible bioplastics.
The 5 Gyres BAN List represents a direct study of the relative degradation of different so-called biodegradable plastics in natural environments, finding that many do not decompose on reasonable timelines. This highlights the distinction between “biodegradable” claims, which are unregulated and have no time specified, and “compostable” claims, which guarantee rapid degradation as certified by various groups such as TUV Austria.
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, of which Sway is a member, has seconded this issue, highlighting the need for truly compostable packaging like Sway’s.
The term “bioplastic” does not, as WWF points out, imply any specific amount of bio basis. Many products branded “bioplastics” contain only trace portions of biobased feedstocks, with the majority often still being petrochemicals.
Furthermore, biobased inputs are not made equal. We work with seaweed because it is highly resource-efficient, as detailed above, but the majority of bioplastics on the market today work with inputs that, while certainly better than petroleum, still pose serious climate consequences.
BP projects that between 2020 and 2040, plastic will represent 95% of net growth in demand for oil.
Nearly half of all plastic ever manufactured has been made since 2000. 40% of plastic produced is single-use packaging. In 2021, only 4.7% of plastic waste was recycled in the United States.
About 8% of the world’s oil production is used to make plastic and power plastic manufacturing processes, with projections to rise to 20% by 2050, burning through 12% of the carbon budget.
Every year, 11 million metric tonnes of plastic enter our marine environments, killing marine life, destroying sensitive ocean ecosystems, and polluting food sources that support livelihoods around the world. That’s the equivalent of five grocery bags of plastic trash sitting on every foot of coastline around the world.
The United Nations Environmental Programme conservatively estimates the current negative externalities of petroleum-based packaging to be $40 billion, and only expects this figure to increase if alternative strategies are not researched and eventually implemented.
& Healthy Soil
Across the largest 1,000 cities in the US, 57% of residents have access to some sort of public or private composting service.
Composting saves businesses and individuals money on waste management fees by diverting organic waste from landfills. One study estimated the savings at $700 per ton.
Compost is an important tool in restoring wetlands and forests after wildfires.
Compost drastically improves water retention in soil and can be a vital resource to prevent water shortage and erosion. Just a 5% increase in the organic content in soil can quadruple its capacity to hold water. All of the compost currently produced in the state of California saves farmers an estimated 3.7 billion gallons of water.
More than a third of all farmland in the US Corn Belt has completely lost its carbon-rich topsoil to erosion. Farms that use compost can grow up to 40% more food in times of drought compared to farms using chemical fertilizers.
Applying compost to half of California’s grazing land could sequester an amount of carbon equivalent to that emitted by all of California’s homes and businesses.
Use of compost offsets artificial fertilizers that contribute to nitrous oxide emissions 310x as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
Composting operations create 4x the number of jobs per ton compared to landfilling or incineration.
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