But it wasn't until they visited Bali themselves that Cooper and Schulze had an epiphany about an entrepreneurial method of attacking the problem.
Despite the garbage on Bali's beaches, the surf breaks were still crowded with surfers when Cooper and Schulze visited in 2015, they tell CNBC Make It, so they paid a local to take them to a private surfing area. Out on the water, they watched Balinese fishermen navigate their boats around masses of floating plastic and pull up fishing nets bulging with plastic bottles and trash. The fishermen simply tossed all of the rubbish, everything but the fish, back into the water, Cooper and Schulze say.
"They're pulling the nets back in and taking the plastic out of their nets and throwing it back overboard, and the boats are driving around these islands of plastic," Cooper says.
Cooper asked one fisherman: "'How come you guys aren't taking this plastic back and recycling it? You're just throwing it back in the water where it doesn't belong.' And, they simply responded, 'Well, we don't get paid to pick up plastic, we get paid to pick up fish.'"
That response was another eye-opener for the two Americans, who say at that moment their business sense kicked in. "Well, there's a demand for seafood, there's not a demand for plastic, so you can't get mad at him," Cooper says. "And, that's when we really came up with this light bulb idea of 'Can we shift the demand from seafood to plastic?'"
It was just a kernel, but Cooper and Schulze couldn't stop thinking about it when they returned home. "We told our families we had this crazy idea," Cooper says, adding that the pair knew they wanted to manufacture and sell a product made from recycled marine waste — they just weren't yet sure what the product would be.
"We knew that we wanted it to be gender neutral," Cooper says. "We knew that it didn't need to be too much of a statement of your personality or your outfit — very subtle and subliminal — but still a talking point. And, the bracelet just kind of evolved itself out of all that."
Cooper and Schulze spent most of 2016 laying the groundwork for the launch of 4Ocean. They designed a logo and a prototype for the bracelet and found a local manufacturing partner who could make it, giving them something to put on social media as well as the website they designed to lay out their mission and solicit orders.
The pair had already started doing their own cleanups at the beaches near Boca Raton to get the materials for the first batch of bracelets, which feature clear beads made from recycled glass and a colored cord made from recycled plastic. The cords are available in a range of colors, from the original deep sea blue to dark red or bright green.