Global carpet tile manufacturer Interface, Inc. and conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) are celebrating the successful completion of a pilot project and the start of a commercial venture with both conservation and socio-economic benefits. The innovative collaboration, called Net-Works, has been created to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities.
By establishing a community-based supply chain for discarded nets, Net-Works aims to improve the livelihood of local fishers, while providing Interface with an innovative source of recycled materials for its carpet tiles. Discarded nets on the beaches or in the sea have a detrimental effect on the environment and marine life as they can persist for centuries. But, most nylon from these fishing nets is the same material used to make carpet yarn.
The viability of the collaboration was proven between June and October 2012. After conducting research and working closely with local communities and NGOs, Net-Works established the infrastructure to collect the fishing nets, gathering one metric ton of nets in the first month -and substantially cleaning up the beaches in four local communities near Danajon Bank, a threatened coral reef in the Philippines. Operations are now scaling up, with the intention of developing commercial carpet tiles incorporating the collected nets later this year.
Collection systems will now be set up in at least 15 local villages, involving more than 280 impoverished households (the equivalent of 1,400 people based on an average household size of five). The goal is to collect 20 metric tons of nets by the end of April—a significant amount that will generate funds directly for communities and make a positive difference, given that family incomes in the area are typically less than $192 a month.
Nigel Stansfield, Chief Innovation Officer at Interface says, “It is really gratifying to see that the concept we’ve developed with ZSL works and promises so much. At Interface, we are designing for a higher purpose—and feel a sense of responsibility beyond the products we sell. The collected fishing nets have a nylon that can be recycled directly back into our carpet tiles, which will help us reduce our use of virgin raw materials and, critically, create livelihood opportunities for local communities. We are now looking forward to expanding operations and delivering the first carpet tiles from our collaboration.”
Dr. Nick Hill from ZSL says, “Net-Works has been greeted with a huge amount of enthusiasm and interest from the local communities around Danajon Bank. This was clearly seen by the number of people interested in participating in the project and turning out to clear the beaches of discarded nets. Nets are very light, and we always knew our target of collecting one tonne of nets from such a small number of communities was going to be a challenge – so we’re delighted that we have been able to achieve this. It is still early and we will be monitoring both the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the project over the coming year, but the signs are there that these impacts will be positive.”
Throughout 2013, Interface and ZSL will explore opportunities to expand their partnership to other parts of the world. They also plan to develop a toolkit to help other groups and organizations establish Net-Works supply hubs.