14 September 2018

De Brauw and The Ocean Cleanup: a pro bono partnership

De Brauw’s Jonathan Soeharno has been involved with The Ocean Cleanup since the beginning of our pro bono partnership, and travelled to San Francisco for the launch of Wilson, the revolutionary ocean cleanup system. Here he speaks about why and how De Brauw contributes to this worthiest of environmental causes.

What is The Ocean Cleanup and why is it unique?

TOC began in 2013 when Boyan Slat, then a teenager, wrote a paper for a high school assignment after being shocked by the amount of plastic he saw while diving on holiday in Greece. He decided to do something about it – so he began working on systems to remove plastic from the water, developed this further at university, and eventually begin to attract global interest, awards and funding.

It’s unique because it has a single-purpose vision: removing plastic from our oceans. It’s not an activist movement against plastic itself – much of the plastic removed from the water is re-sold – but it aims to solve one specific problem, and all the energy is focused on technical methods to fix it.

How did De Brauw become involved?

In 2015, TOC was growing rapidly. I had a contact in TOC and they came to tell us their story and ambitions. We loved it: a Dutch organisation offering an innovative and unique legal challenge, while collaborating with experts from all over the world – and all in the name of a great cause. It fit perfectly with De Brauw’s values, and we’ve been right there, pro bono, ever since.

What exactly does De Brauw offer to TOC?

We are the first port of call for legal matters. We advised on their entire restructuring, which was crucial for their funding. Recently, we helped conclude a unique negotiation with the State of the Netherlands for TOC’s vessels to sail under the Dutch flag. This required unique thinking and the ability to create innovative solutions, qualities highly valued by both TOC and De Brauw.

What are you most proud of from this collaboration?

Aside from all our operational assistance, we also connect TOC with law firms all over the world – from Europe to South America, from the US to Asia. For instance, we put them in touch with Latham & Watkins, the US firm, which handled all the permits for operating in US coastal waters – and you need plenty of them! We’re proud to have been a part of this expansion and look forward to keeping it moving forward.

What’s next?

Following the successful launch of Wilson, we’ll be advising on funding, since that will be a big focus for TOC as it grows even more. TOC is also working on a system for removing plastic from rivers. This will involve challenging regulatory work, so we will be assisting wherever we can. Of course, we hope not to be needed for any emergencies or accidents – but if they arise, we’ll be there.

The Ocean Cleanup in numbers

  • 5 trillion – pieces of plastic currently littering the ocean
  • 5 years – time to remove 50% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
  • $600 million – rough cost in USD of the 60 cleanup systems TOC hopes to build and deploy across the world’s oceans
  • 600 metres – length of Wilson, the first ever cleanup system operating in open ocean
  • 90% – amount of ocean plastic TOC aims to remove by 2040
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