May 14, 2014
This summer, you could be surfing the streets on a skateboard made of fishy nets. Bureo Skateboards, is a skate company that recycles discarded fishnets into stylish plastic skateboards. Three crazy gringos came together to start a fishnet recycling company in Chile, and are now hoping to bring the end product to stores, and skateparks, near you.
While working in Chile as an environmental consultant, Ben Kneppers saw first-hand the immense amount of waste produced by the robust Chilean fishing industry. According to Bureo, discarded fishnets amounts to 10% of the oceans' plastic waste. "It's not the fault of the fishermen," Kneppers said. "They're just dealing with an incredible turnover of this material that is constantly becoming waste."
Encouraged by the Chilean government, Kneppers came up with the idea of Net Positiva, Chile's first collection and recycling program for fishnets. "I approached World Wildlife Fund Chile and said, 'How about my two crazy gringo friends come down here and we set up the first ever fishnet collection and recycling program in Chile,'" he said.
Those three crazy friends, Kneppers, David Stover, and Kevin Ahearn, made a formidable team. "We had this great trifecta, where I was on the ground in Chile with this environmental sense, David had this business sense, and Kevin had a product engineering background," Kneppers said.
Just collecting and recycling fishnets wouldn't sustain a business, so that business sense came into play early. The plastic would need to be parlayed into something valuable in order for the business to grow and increase its recycling capabilities. "We didn't want this to be a non-profit," Kneppers said. "We wanted it to be a social business, where as the business succeeds, our abilities to improve the environment and community will also grow."
It needed to be a product that required very little plastic, but also a relatively high intrinsic value. They found their solution in plastic skateboard decks. It takes one kilo of plastic per board, and a complete skateboard is worth more than $100.
Bureo has a Kickstarter page and hit its initial fundraising goal in three days. This will fund its first production run and help market the boards to skate shops. The company plans to road trip from San Diego to San Francisco this summer, engaging with the skateboard industry and hosting beach cleanups along the way.
Bureo has an interesting dilemma: it needs a constant source of material for the boards, yet its goal is to eliminate as much waste as possible. So would it be a success if Buereo ran out of material and were no longer able to make boards?
"Absolutely. That would be an incredible achievement," Kneppers said. "Right now, the material is probably 100 times greater than we can deal with, but if we could scale up production to a level that eliminated waste, that would be an incredible accomplishment and something we aspire to."
--Images and Video courtesy of Bureo Skateboards
Callum Beals is an editorial intern at Sierra. He recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz where he studied history and literature. He enjoys hiking, camping, and waking up at ungodly hours to watch soccer games.