NATULON® Ocean Sourced™ is a fastening product with tape made of recycled marine plastics. Here, we present the significance, history, and future potential of this item, created out of a desire to help reduce environmental pollution in our oceans.
With the creation of the YKK Sustainability Vision 2050, YKK is working toward global environmental initiatives. These span a wide range of activities, including an effort to reduce plastic waste in our oceans. Yuki Yamamoto in the Product Planning Department of Product Strategy Division had this to say about the problem of marine plastic pollution.
“The advantages of plastic are that it is cheap, mass-producible, and highly durable, but on the flip side, it easily pollutes the environment and, since it takes ages to decompose, has a continuous negative impact on the natural world. It has been reported that plastic tends to contaminate the ocean due to the effects of rain and wind, creating a negative impact on marine life, an issue that concerns many companies and organizations, including YKK.”
Development of this product started with discussions between Mitsugu Maekawa, the then head of sales at the YKK Global Marketing Group on the west coast of the United States, and a client. Maekawa reflects on that time.
“The top outdoor brands in the US are passionate about working on environmental issues. They have goals and are always looking at what resources are available to help them achieve those goals. YKK frequently conducts brainstorming sessions and information exchanges on how we can contribute to these companies and environmental issues. At one information exchange around 2018, we were introduced to a material supplier that recycles marine plastic in Sri Lanka. I visited Sri Lanka as a student, interned at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Japan, and have a lot of other experience related to Sri Lanka, and it is a country I am deeply attached to. As soon as I heard the name ‘Sri Lanka’, I recalled the massive amounts of garbage I saw on the riverside in Colombo and felt a powerful desire to actualize this initiative, which could directly contribute to this problem. I immediately contacted Ryuhei Nagahata, the president of YKK Sri Lanka at the time, and asked him to pay the supplier a visit.”
A view of a river near Colombo, Sri Lanka, taken by Maekawa when he was a student.
This is how YKK got started on the NATULON® Ocean Sourced™ project, which uses yarn recycled from marine plastics collected in Sri Lanka.
Yamamoto explains what kind of marine plastic is used in NATULON® Ocean Sourced™.
“Marine plastic pollution recycled by Sri Lankan suppliers means plastic bottles collected on land within 50 kilometers of the Ceylon coast, which does not have well-established waste management and recycling systems. This kind of pollution has a high likelihood of washing out to sea;* according to a study by the University of Georgia, approximately 80% of plastic pollution in the sea is input from the land. (Jenna R. Jamback, 2015).”
Tomoyuki Kawabata, who handled development at YKK India, says he was impressed by the yarn supplier’s high technical ability.
“Recycled yarn made from crushed plastic bottles inevitably had a yellowish color and tended to be weaker than ordinary yarn. But when we received the prototype from the yarn supplier and made a zipper prototype, there were no issues in terms of strength. We were astonished at their technical ability. The color of the materials was initially yellowish, but they dealt with this flexibly after discussions, changing the cleaning method and ensuring proper separation of plastic bottles so that the material could meet color standards. The yarn used has also obtained certification by GRS, a third-party organization that certifies that this is recycled yarn.”
Development of the product started with the prototype in February 2019 and continued through the COVID-19 pandemic to reach completion in April 2020.
“YKK possesses precise knowledge on what yarn is and what production methods will maintain YKK’s quality, a knowledge we have built up over the years. YKK has also been committed to recycling since before the sustainability movement started gaining momentum, and the data on recycled yarn usage we have built up over the years helped lead to the early development of NATULON® Ocean Sourced™.” (Maekawa)
Sales growth has been strong for NATULON® Ocean Sourced™, with sales in October 2021 ten times that of 2020, the year production started. Sales are predicted to increase even more in 2022 and onward. More than ten companies now use this product, and further demand is expected.
Yamamoto thinks the following about the future challenges of NATULON® Ocean Sourced™.
“While NATULON® Ocean Sourced™ has experienced steady sales volume growth, demand is expected to grow even more in the future, so we are taking the next steps, such as expanding our item range, in an effort to make it even easier for customers to obtain this product.”
Maekawa, who is in charge of sales, says it is important to communicate the significance of NATULON® Ocean Sourced™ rather than simply make and sell products.
PET bottles collection cage
“YKK is a manufacturing company, and so we tend to focus on the products themselves. However, I believe we need to tell a ‘story’ to explain the value that products made from recycled marine plastic and why we are selling them. It is also important to become part of the recycling community. YKK Sri Lanka is working with the Sri Lankan government to start setting up plastic bottle collection boxes in the industrial park where our factory is located, which are then collected and passed on to NATULON® Ocean Sourced™ recycled yarn suppliers to be recycled. We are working proactively on global environmental conservation, both in terms of the products we sell and our efforts as a company.”
Not just making and selling things, but communicating the significance and story behind the product. Collecting plastic waste as a member of the community and getting involved in the recycling loop. These are the next steps toward achieving a sustainable society that YKK is taking with its product, NATULON® Ocean Sourced™.
PET bottles collection cages with YKK Sri Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd. Employees
“NATULON” is a registered trademark of YKK CORPORATION in Japan and other countries/regions.
“OceanSouced” and “OCEAN SOURCED“are trademarks of YKK CORPORATION.