OPP: Cleaning up the oceans, one plastic bag at a time
Mathilda D’Silva recalls an incident in 2015 that changed her life forever. Following a dragon boat competition in Boracay, the former radio DJ and TV producer was hospitalised upon returning to Singapore. Her immune system had failed, she developed vitiligo and numerous health complications.
By OPP: Cleaning up the oceans, one plastic bag at a time on Dec 01, 2020
Her mysterious symptoms only began to make sense after she read a report in 2018 about Boracay hotels and restaurants dumping raw, untreated sewage into the beach. “Just a weekend exposed to polluted water had changed my health forever,” she exclaims. While there is no cure for her autoimmune issues, she questioned if there was a bigger purpose behind the incident.
“I asked myself: What can I do to help others who have been affected by water pollution? How can I shift my perspective to focus on solutions? What can I do today to save tomorrow? That’s why I started the Ocean Purpose Project (OPP),” she tells us.
A social enterprise that seeks to end ocean plastic pollution, OPP envisions a sustainable future with a suite of solutions and initiatives. One of their solutions is a pyrolysis machine that turns ocean plastic to low sulphur fuel — turning trash into usable fuel. Designed to fit inside a 40-foot container, it can be deployed on land or sea to any community facing ocean plastic pollution.
A prototype was sent to Medang, Indonesia in 2019. Islanders could turn their waste plastic into free fuel that powered generators and two stroke engines. It proved to be a success. It mobilised the community to solve their plastic waste problem with free fuel, thus creating a circular solution.
Beyond technology, OPP is determined win their hearts and minds of Singaporeans for sustainability. Programmes they have organised include Learning Journeys with Passion WaVe, a People’s Association water sports community organisation and hosting livestream webinars with the Geylang Serai Community Centre on sustainability themed topics.
“The vision for OPP is really inspired by Pasir Ris town. As the pandemic continues to linger, we are strongly reminded of the need to care for the direct environment around us. We wanted to focus on our backyard first”, shares Mathilda.
Working in the Pasir Ris Sustainability Action Workgroup led by Minister Desmond Tan and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, OPP organises frequent beach clean-ups, and trains grassroot leaders, religious groups and schools to run their own initiatives.
Despite 2020’s tsunami of challenges, Ocean Purpose Project represented Singapore as the global finalist of Climate Launchpad organised by the European Union. Recently, they also won Most Sustainable Marine Conservation Solutions 2020 by Global Brands Magazine and were finalists for two Marketing Excellence Awards 2020 - Corporate Social Responsibility and Mobile Marketing.
Mathilda wants to seek more lasting solutions to clean up waste in the ocean. "We need to focus on long-term ocean solutions through disruptive, purpose-filled projects that move beyond endless social media campaigns to raise awareness toward action. We need to collaborate and innovate. My beach town of Pasir Ris is the key,” she asserts.
She is currently working on a bioplastic proposal to create a new type of single-use plastic made from seaweed and mussels grown off Pasir Ris. “Imagine: The Kopitiam at Elias Mall will use takeaway containers that were grown down the road in our coastline. This could be a gamechanger,” she enthuses. Her hope is for OPP to usher a sustainable future fuelled by the connection between nature and humans through unique and innovative purpose projects.