A longtime kayaker and marine biology buff, Dylan Cross noticed that clothing made from recycled plastic featured attractive qualities for outdoor use: moisture-wicking, breathable, ultraviolet resistance.
“I realized, ‘Oh wow, this makes really nice material. Why not go a step further and have a much bigger impact by actually using plastic from the ocean, rather than just the recycling bin?’ ” Cross asked.
The Titusville entrepreneur has launched Sea Threads, a startup company dedicated to crafting clothing from 100% certified ocean plastics.
A World Economic Forum-Ellen MacArthur Foundation report warned five years ago that the world’s oceans may contain more plastic than fish, as measured by weight, by the year 2050.
Cross, 24, earned a bachelor’s degree in business and environmental studies from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2019. Shortly afterward, he established a base for Sea Threads at Groundswell Startups, a high-tech business incubator on U.S. 1 in south Melbourne.
Sea Threads uses ocean plastic waste that is collected in Indonesia, then compacted into bales in Sri Lanka. From there, the plastics are broken into small bits, melted and converted into polyester thread.
This thread is spun into yarn. Spindles of yarn are shipped to China, where they are woven into fabric. From there, fabric is shipped to The Sublimation Station, an Orlando custom T-shirt shop, for conversion into merchandise.
“It’s definitely a somewhat expensive process. But it makes sense, because consumers are going to be paying somewhat of a premium for an ultra-sustainable product,” Cross said.
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“Each long-sleeve shirt is literally going to remove half a pound of plastic from the ocean,” he said.
In January, Sea Threads started selling double-layer masks for $14.99 and neck gaiters for $16.99 at seathreads.co, the company website.
On June 8 — which is World Oceans Day — Cross plans to launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to introduce long-sleeve shirts to the Sea Threads lineup.
Jarin Eisenberg, Groundswell’s chief operations officer, serves as a Sea Threads adviser, providing Cross strategic direction and connections with mentors.
“I think he’s solving one of the most complex problems that’s in front of us. And I think he’s got a really creative way to do it,” Eisenberg said.
“He’s a super determined and focused entrepreneur. And I think people are going to love wearing those shirts,” she said.
Kelli Hunsucker is an assistant professor of oceanography at Florida Tech. She said plastic waste pollution breaks down into tiny particles — harming local wildlife in the Indian River Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean.
“(Plastics) get mistaken for food items by birds and fish, and then they get patched up the food chain. So it’s not just the beaches. We see it in the lagoon because, unfortunately, plastics are everywhere,” Hunsucker said.
“They’re in our everyday use, and so they find their way into the water, whether it’s accidental or intentional. And these things just persist. So they’re in the estuaries. They’re in the inlets. I’ve seen them 25 miles offshore,” she said.
They’re everywhere,” she said.
The University of Central Florida’s Coastal & Estuarine Ecology Lab is researching the impact of microplastics on Indian River Lagoon shellfish.
In a spring 2017 study at three sites across the Mosquito Lagoon, researchers found crabs contained an average 22.7 pieces of microplastics, while oysters contained an average of 16.5 microplastic pieces.
“In general, microplastic fibers dominated in oyster and crab tissue. Possible sources of fibers include boat ropes, synthetic clothing, and fishing equipment,” UCF graduate student Heidi Waite wrote in her honors thesis.
“The high abundance of microplastics in water and animal tissues suggested that microplastics are widespread in the IRL,” Waite wrote.
The New Smyrna Beach-based Marine Discovery Center will host a free lecture series webinar on “Microplastics in the Indian River Lagoon” at 7 p.m. Thursday.
To register, visit marinediscoverycenter.org