Why Kia Took Me on a Boat to Look at Trash in the Ocean

I took a boat ride with Kia...to look at trash. The company's interest isn't just altruistic: Kia is harvesting ocean plastics as a source of sustainable materials for its electric cars.

The Ocean Cleanup Interceptor 007 At Ballona River Mouth In Los Angeles. Photo: Kymri Wilt
The Ocean Cleanup Interceptor 007 at Ballona River mouth in Los Angeles. Photo: Kymri Wilt

Sustainable Mobility is Closer Than We Think

Last week’s Los Angeles Auto Show was a week-plus event that filled the LA Convention Center with the latest and greatest new car models, incredible collections and concept cars. It was also an epic week to be on the water in Southern California.

And, it turned out to be the best way to see the hottest new thing in automotive. As a guest of Kia, I got to board a boat for a closeup look at how ocean plastics are being recaptured and changing the future of automotive, including those concept cars on display at the show.

The Ocean Cleanup At Work

The Ocean Cleanup at Work. Photo: The Ocean Cleanup

We’ve Been Worried About Ocean Trash for a While

I’m a surfer, a water person with a true affinity for the Pacific Ocean. Seeing the news of trash spills, seeing trash wash up on our shores, and worse, is scary. So when I had the chance to see how The Ocean Cleanup is working to change this, I had to go. I set out for Marina Del Rey where I boarded a boat with executives from Kia to visit a project that is near and dear to their hearts, a trash interceptor.

Our cruise took us to the mouth of Ballona Creek to learn about ocean trash in the form of plastics that makes its way out to sea and wreaks havoc with marine ecosystems and wildlife, ultimately harming our the ocean’s ecosystems and ultimately, our planet. This is a concern that I am passionate about, and it impacts me directly as a surfer.

But Kia’s interest isn’t just altruistic. It’s business. Supply chain. Materials. Design. Engineering.

Related: So, You Want to Buy a Kia EV9?

The Earth-Tone And Earth-Inspired Interior Of The Kia Concept Ev4 Is Grounded In Nature. Photo: Kia

The earth-tone and earth-inspired interior of the Kia Concept EV4 is grounded in nature. Photo: Kia

A Global Problem Requires a Global Solution, and for Kia, a Global Partnership

Kia takes great pride in innovation that is inspired by nature. In moving toward a sustainable future, Kia endeavors to be a “sustainable mobility solutions provider,” not just a brand talking the talk but seeking out and actively participating in solutions. Beginning in 2022, they took a progressive step toward this end by forming a global partnership with The Ocean Cleanup organization.

Related: Polestar Day: This Automaker is Making Bold Moves 

Kia Is Working With The Ocean Project To Clean Up The World'S Seas. Photo: Kymri Wilt

Kia’s global partnership with The Ocean Cleanup works to prevent marine plastics from going to sea. Photo: Kymri Wilt

The Ocean Cleanup Project Goes Beyond Community Beach Cleanups

Based in the Netherlands, The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization fully reliant on donations from individuals, corporations, governments, and institutions.

The mission of The Ocean Cleanup is two-fold:

  1. To clean up the “legacy” pollution of floating plastics collected in ocean garbage patches
  2. To stop new plastics from entering the ocean at river mouths; essentially “shut off the tap”

These are some pretty hefty goals to be sure, but with innovative technology, funding, and global partnerships, The Ocean Cleanup projects to be able to remove 90% of floating ocean plastic by the year 2040. A seemingly impossible task, but they are committed.

Plastics have been around for six decades and are very slow to break down. It is estimated that over 5 trillion pieces of plastic are currently floating around the oceans, collecting in five gyres, or “garbage patches,” where they circulate until they break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Over 80% of ocean plastics come from just 1,000 rivers. These rivers continue to flow into the ocean, sweeping plastic and trash along with them.

Related: Women, Wine and Kia: A Tour of Walla Walla 

Alex Tobin Of The Ocean Cleanup And Myself. Photo: Kymri Wilt

Our Cruise Host with The Ocean Cleanup, Alex Tobin, and journalist Kymri Wilt. Photo Kymri Wilt

Kia and The Ocean Project Filter a Global Problem into a Tangible Solution

When Kia invited us to board a boat at California Yacht Club, our destination was not the Pacific Garbage Patch (which takes a week of travel to and from), but the mouth of Ballona Creek in Los Angeles, where The Ocean Cleanup’s Inceptor 007 is stationed to capture the plastics and garbage lining the channel river banks which are picked up and carried toward the sea during a rain event in Los Angeles. As it happened, rain was expected that week, so it was the ideal opportunity to view and learn how the operation works.

Our host onboard was Alex Tobin from Rotterdam, The Netherlands. As the Head of PR & Media for The Ocean Cleanup, Alex explained that Ballona Creek is not among the top 1,000 polluting rivers, but it is a strategic location to demonstrate the effectiveness of a river mouth trash interceptor – in a big city near an international airport, and in plain sight of residents and visitors. It is ideally situated to attract global partners, donors, and funding. It brings it home rather than just being something abstract somewhere out there in the ocean. The week of LA Auto Show provided the perfect window of visibility for us to see that Kia’s partnership with The Ocean Cleanup is a genuine “hands-on” investment.

Kia'S 10 Must-Have Sustainability Items Overview. Photo: Kia

Kia’s commitment to incorporate at least 10 sustainability items in every EV begins with the EV9 in 2024. Photo: Kia

Kia Sets a High Bar for Sustainability in the Automotive Industry

In the manufacturing of electric vehicles, Kia is projecting an EV fleet of 11 vehicles by 2026. By 2045, the company’s entire global product lineup will be electric. But manufacturing is not overlooked – the goal is to have 100% renewable electric energy used at manufacturing sites worldwide by 2040. Further, Kia is implementing guidelines to help their partners, particularly steel suppliers, to achieve greenhouse gas reductions and carbon neutrality with a goal of reducing carbon emissions by two-thirds by the year 2030. Lofty goals, and the automaker knows they can’t go it alone. Thus, a partnership with The Ocean Cleanup is crucial in reaching these goals.

Kia Concept Ev3 Exterior. Photo: Kia

Kia’s Concept EV3 debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Photo: Kia

Kia’s Future EV Fleet is Inspired by and Sourced from Nature

Kia’s vision for their EV fleet includes 10 must-have sustainability items that consumers can expect to see in new models. These must-have materials include Bio Polyurethane as a replacement for leather, plant-based paints, and parts derived from bioplastic, produced from biomass sources. Even the vehicle carpets can be derived from material sourced from recycled fishing nets. Starting to get the picture?

Kia is not just a partner with The Ocean Cleanup but is also able to utilize and re-utilize marine plastics in manufacturing their vehicles. And that’s exactly why they took us on a cruise to look at trash.

Visitors at the LA Auto Show were able to see the effort at work its existing EV fleet and concept cars: Kia’s flagship all-electric SUV, the EV9, as well as the EV6 and the Niro all feature these sustainable materials inside and out. And they’ll be seen in the futuristic concept models, the EV3 and EV4, which preview the brand’s vision of clean design, open concept and beautiful, sustainable materials.

Inspired By Air, The Interior Of Kia’s Ev3 Concept Vehicle. Photo Courtesy Of Kia

Inspired by air, the interior of KIA’s EV3 concept vehicle. Photo: Kia

Kia Concept EV3 All-Electric Crossover

The concept EV3 crossover will incorporate natural fiber structures sourced from mushroom roots (rather than carbon) in their seat design with zero-waste material. The cabin environment will promote emotional well-being, enhanced by soft mood lighting, ultra-clean dashboard surfacing, and an expansive visual display.

The Sleek Sporty Profile Of The Kia Concept Ev4 Sedan. Photo: Kia

The sleek, sporty profile of the concept EV4 sedan. Photo: Kia

Kia Concept EV4 All-Electric Sedan

Kia’s concept 4-door EV4 is designed to push boundaries and has a sleek, sporty profile, appearing more like a race car than a sedan. Elements are inspired by earth tones and materials, such as natural dyes and 100% recycled cotton and hemp, to keep the cabin grounded in nature.

The Modern And Sustainable Interior Won Me Over. Photo: Connie Peters

Would you go with the lighter or darker interior? Photo: Connie Peters

Kia’s EV9 Sets the Pace for the Electric Future

The carmaker is on the right track. The all-electric Kia EV9 was named as a finalist in the competition for 2024 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year by the North American Car of the Year (NACTOY) jury. Rolling out in the last quarter of this year, the EV9 has a starting price of $54,900 with an estimated all-electric range of 230 miles. It comes standard with DC fast-charging capability, seating for up to seven passengers, 19-inch alloy wheels, 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with heating and ventilation.

The 2024 Kia Ev9 Leads The Way Toward The Electrified Fleet Future. Photo: Kia

The 2024 Kia EV9 leads the way toward the electrified fleet future. Photo: Kia

From Sea to See Natural Inspiration

The cruise was fun and informative, but the true thrill will come in actually driving the EV9 and Kia’s  following EV models. It’s simply incredible to look at a piece of trim on a door panel or a dashboard and think that not long ago, the particles that make up that piece were floating in the Pacific Ocean. And now, they are a true “hands-on” experience of environmental sustainability inspired by, and sourced, from nature.

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Based in Cardiff by the Sea, California, Kymri is a freelance travel photographer, writer, and videographer. Between travels, she... More about Kymri WIlt