A Chilean company is taking beachcombing to a new level. Not only is it cleaning up the oceans of plastic, it is turning the materials into sunglasses and skateboards.
Bureo, a three-year-old business that turns discarded fishing nets into new products, has two models of skateboards, sunglasses, a partnership with activewear label Patagonia, and a recycling programme for discarded fishing nets in 20 communities spanning the entire coast of Chile.
Operating out of both Los Angeles and Chilean capital Santiago, the company has sold over 4,000 of its upcycled skateboards after launching its second model, the Ahi, earlier this year.
David Stover, one of the co-founders of Bureo, said that making skateboards with recycled nylon cuts the greenhouse gas emissions from production by up to 70 per cent, in addition to diverting waste from the ocean.
Besides skateboards, the Bureo founders have also rolled out a series of sunglasses that are 100 per cent composed of recycled fishing nets.
More impressively still, since November 2013, Bureo has collected and recycled over 130,000 square feet of unwanted fishing nets - more than two football fields’ worth of plastic that would have otherwise gone into the ocean.
Bureo is a word belonging to the language of the indigenous Mapuche people of Chile and means “waves”, and the company’s name is a nod to the country where the project began as well as a symbol of the founders’ hope to create a wave of change and make an impact through their work.
The determination to start a recycling project focused on trash in the ocean followed the three would-be founders of Bureo, Stover and his partners Kevin Ahearn and Ben Kneppers, from the shores of Sydney to Santiago, when Kneppers took up a job in Chile.
They also found an opportunity with a start-up incubation programme in Chile where they submitted a proposal for the first national project for recycling discarded fishing nets. As avid surfers and skaters, the trio’s primary motivation was to save the ocean from plastic pollution.
According to a 2015 study, a staggering 8 million tonnes of plastics is dumped into oceans every year.
“(When) we started doing our research and looking at consumer products and food packaging that was winding up in the ocean, we saw alternatives to those materials through organic or compostable products and also recycling programmes for them,” said Stover. “But we came across fishing nets and there were no recycling programmes for this.”
This despite the fact that discarded fishing nets are responsible for 10 per cent of ocean plastic and pose a major threat to marine life and ecosystems. Nets can get caught among corals, breaking or smothering them as a result.
With that in mind, the Bureo founders set up what is now called the Net Positiva recycling programme with the aim of making collection easy. In order to encourage fishermen to dispose of their nets responsibly, they cobbled together a scheme where a donation would be made to a non-profit organisation in the local community for each kilogramme of netting deposited in the wooden crates and containers Bureo had left by at the town’s port.
That system has now grown into a wider recycling programme covering 20 communities in Chile, said Stover, though Bureo plans to make it national and eventually expand it to other coastal communities around the world.
However, a key requirement of the start-up programme was to have a for-profit business plan as well. As skaters themselves, the trio settled on making skateboards - a convenient, exciting and environmentally friendly form of transportation.
From the point of collection, the unwanted fishing nets hitch a ride to Santiago on trucks owned by logistics companies that have extra cargo space. They then go to Bureo’s recycling partner in the capital where they are shredded, broken down by heat and pressure, and reconstituted into long strands of nylon 6, the durable material with which fishing nets are made.
Since November 2013, Bureo has collected and recycled over 130,000 square feet of unwanted fishing nets - more than two football fields’ worth of plastic that would have otherwise gone into the ocean.
This rope is then cut up into little pellets and melted down to be injected into steel moulds, thus forming the bulk of the body of Bureo’s pioneering skateboard. To add stiffness, an additional glass compound is added, but the outcome is a skateboard that is 80 per cent comprised of recycled fishing nets, shaped like a fish and patterned with ‘scales’ to match.
Stover said the steel moulds are created by manufacturers while Bureo designs the board, which it does with a combination of software including Autodesk’s Fusion 360. It is a cloud-based software that allows teams spread across different locations to come together and work on a project, as design information and data and stored centrally online. The Bureo team first started harnessing the tools as part of Autodesk’s programme for students but have since transitioned to the Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact Program.
In fact, the Net Positiva programme has been so successful that Bureo is starting to look for newer avenues of collaboration. It is currently working with activewear companies including outdoor clothing maker Patagonia to whom it will sell its recycled nylon 6 to be transformed into accessories or any plastic part that can be made with the material.
Said Stover: “We’re in a transition now but we are going to continue making our own products. We have an abundance of this recycled nylon and we are going to put that into other collaborations.”
It sounds like Bureo is going to continue making waves.
Bureo is part of the Autodesk Entrepreneur Impact Programme, which supports early-stage start-ups and entrepreneurs building hardware solutions for the social, clean tech and environmental sectors.
As part of the programme, eligible companies receive world-class software to design, visualise and simulate their ideas and accelerate their time to market through 3D Digital Prototyping. To apply for or learn more, visit www.autodesk.com/entrepreneurimpact and follow @AutodeskImpact.
Thanks for reading to the end of this story!
We would be grateful if you would consider joining as a member of The EB Circle. This helps to keep our stories and resources free for all, and it also supports independent journalism dedicated to sustainable development. It only costs as little as S$5 a month, and you would be helping to make a big difference.