The Chilean coastline is one of the longest in the world, coursing 4,000 miles through tall, foggy bluffs and fishing villages down to fjords at the southern tip. Fishermen in Chile generate the seventh largest catch in the world, right after India, but they also use miles of heavy plastic netting that’s expensive to dispose of and often gets dumped in the sea.
Hundreds of tons of netting comprise an enormous waste stream, but a trio of surf-dude engineers and consultants say that all that plastic can be used for good. With the financial support of the Chilean government, Ben Knepper, David Stover, and Kevin Ahearn have created a system to collect that plastic, pressurize it, and morph it into high-end, fish-shaped skateboards intended for southern California beach communities.
Right now, Bureo Skateboards is gearing up for its inaugural production run and the first-ever fishing net recycling program in Chile with a Kickstarter campaign. The World Wildlife Fund introduced the entrepreneurs to three fishing communities that were willing to donate their nets, which then go to a manufacturing facility in Santiago.
“There are several commercial fishing companies with battleship size boats, and over 70 artisanal fishing companies with boats that have nets that are two to five tons,” says Knepper, a former environmental consultant.
“Every six months there’s this wave of waste,” he says. “Fishermen give some of it to farmers to make fencing, and we’re all for that, but what we’re trying to say to them is that when there’s absolutely nothing more to do with this material, and there’s just this little debris, that’s where it’s most dangerous. And that’s actually perfect for us to work with.”
The trio has already raised more than $55,000. But once they get the ball rolling, they’re hoping to take a step back from the on-the-ground recycling process, and see if demand for the $135 boards–a cruiser design made for commuting to work or to the beach–can sort out the rest.
“It’s a benefit for [fishermen] because it’s expensive to dispose of this material,” Knepper said. “But if we can prove this is successful, and there’s a demand for using this plastic with greater social and environmental responsibility, the goal is to make this a commodity for these communities, like produce.”