Q&A: IMPA Save tackles plastic waste on ships

Written by Heather Ervin
Mikael Karlsson, founder of IMPA Save

Mikael Karlsson, founder of IMPA Save

Mikael Karlsson began his business journey by studying economics in the United States through a soccer scholarship at Walsh University, earning his bachelor’s degree in economics. He also won a national soccer championship while there.

In 2021, he gained a certification specializing in business strategy at Harvard Business School.

Looking to put this knowledge to good use, he established IMPA Save in 2020, an organization aiming to influence and support the marine and offshore industry to reduce single use plastic on ships.

Alongside IMPA Save, Karlsson is head of business development at Northern Marine Group, an IMPA Save supporter.

ML: First, can you tell us a bit about IMPA Save and how it came to be? 

Mikael Karlsson (MK): I was watching a documentary from Lord Howe Island in 2019 on how the bird population had decreased 30% over a 10-year period. The cause was plastic bits attached to algae, fed to bird chicks and the birds eating this. A bird had up to 97 bits of plastics inside. I was surprised that this was a problem and felt dumb that I had no idea. I started reading up on this and started seeing the plastic problem and waste in general polluting our oceans. I went to the IMPA exhibition in 2019 wearing a recycled suit, and a armband of bottle caps to make a statement, and I was after asked to start IMPA Save and the journey began.. 

ML: Who makes up IMPA Save? Are there shipping companies involved? 

MK: I wrote up the goals for the IMPA Save journey, then consulted trusted friends on the idea of reducing plastic bottles, reduce soaps and chemicals, more sustainable food etc. All thought this was a good idea as we have solutions to the problem, and these individuals wanted to be part of this, and collaborated, these like-minded individuals representing Maersk, Scorpio Shipmanagement, Teekay, Oceanic Catering, Weco, Northern Marine + more.

ML: What sustainable solutions would you recommend to the greater maritime industry? 

MK: I have stated many times, “saving the environment while saving cost too, what not to like? Doing the right thing!” So, we at IMPA Save made a pledge for shipowners and managers to reduce use of plastic drinking water bottles onboard their ships. This was a straight forward action with a brilliant solution. We found on average a ship consumes close to 18,000 liters of drinking water onboard a year, having cost of bottles, transport and waste, amounting a cost at $6,000 to $9,000. We then found solutions to produce the drinking water onboard to make a ships self sufficient with water onboard, saving costs, too, and reducing the environmental footprint.

On this journey, we understood companies needed some stock of bottled water and have through suppliers in the industry gotten carton packaged solutions available to the ships in regions not possible a year ago. However, we are not suggesting replacing all stocked plastic bottled water with carton. We are simply saying onboard the water production solution and if any excess stock of bottled water is needed, choose carton. 

ML: How can people get involved with IMPA Save? 

MK: Today, there are close to 50 owners and managers committed more than 10,000 ships, and we have suppliers pledge too so suppliers can joining and support the supply chain and the change needed. Owners and managers can sign up on our website www.IMPAsave.org and pledge their company. It is free of charge and takes 10 minutes. We want all owners and managers onboard—no one on the outside.   

Other actions we have fronted have been reduction of other single use items onboard. Now, two owners on our IMPA Save board are testing cleaning and disinfecting solution made onboard. We are working on waste management solutions and mapping the environmental journey on line items, with more to come. I believe IMPA Save is on the forefront on sustainable procurement actions and every owner and manager should be onboard. 

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