WWU students envision new life for ocean plastics

Each year, hundreds of tons of plastics wash up along Alaska’s remote shorelines — from buoys to nets to plastic bottles. At Western Washington University, students are reimagining the future of those plastics. 

In 2019, Western’s polymer materials engineering program partnered with the Ocean Plastics Recovery Project in an effort to collect and recycle ocean plastics. Over the past four summers, groups of students have engaged in intensive cleanups along the shores of Alaskan beaches, bringing materials back to Western’s labs for student research.  

“Alaska is kind of shaped like this perfect catcher's mitt, and the way the currents come out of the Pacific Ocean, they push debris that's in the ocean up into the shorelines,” said John Misasi, an associate professor of polymer materials engineering at Western.