Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced plans this week to eliminate single-use plastics nationwide as early as 2021, the latest move in a global effort to curb plastic pollution. While lawmakers are taking action on land, two surfers from Florida are fighting the battle on the water: Andrew Cooper and Alex Schulze, who founded the ocean cleanup company 4ocean.

Every year, more than 8 million tons of plastic enter our oceans — but 4ocean has removed 4.7 million pounds of trash from the water since 2017, and created more than 300 jobs in the process. The idea for 4ocean came to Cooper and Schulze when they were in their early twenties. The pair had set off for a surf trip to Bali, expecting one of the most pristine beaches in the world.

“When we got there, what we had seen was the beach absolutely covered in plastic. Single-use bags, bottles, you know, plastic wrappers, and just mountains of them,” Schulze said.

Cooper said he approached a lifeguard to ask why the plastic hadn’t been cleaned up. “He said, ‘Man, it’s the afternoon,'” Cooper recalled. “He goes, ‘We cleaned it up this morning. It’s just high tide.'”

And so 4ocean was born, the brainchild of two surfers with a newfound urgency to solve the ocean plastic crisis. Just a year after their Bali trip, they launched their company. Their cleanup efforts are funded by the sale of their 4ocean bracelets: one bracelet sold pulls one pound of trash from the water. Cooper said that that cord is 100% post-consumer recycled, recovered from a plastic bottle. Schulze added that the beads come from recycled glass.   “You know, a lot of people thought we were nuts,” Schulze said. “But you know, we went for it, we were passionate, we weren’t going to take no for an answer.” Their determination paid off: this year, they were named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of social entrepreneurs.

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