Sonapesca-Bureo Partnership Finds Net Positives in Gear Recycling Scheme

Marine plastic pollution has only recently begun to capture the public’s imagination, but now it’s right near the top of global concerns. However, while campaigns to ban single-use water bottles are certainly worth pursuing, the fishing industry remains a significant contributor of plastics in our ocean.

With its 4,270km of coastline and the seventh largest fishing region in the world, Chile is only too aware of the issue – and Sonapesca, the country’s national fisheries society, took action and confronted the reality of the situation head on. For the last five years, Sonapesca – representing 109 industrial fisheries of various sizes – has been working with a company called Bureo (‘Waves’ in Chile’s indigenous Mapuche language).

Together, they ensure that fishing nets in Chile are no longer discarded when they come to the end of their lives. Instead, they’re collected, processed and recycled into all kinds of other products, with profits from the sale of the reused plastic going into sustainable community projects.

Like many big ideas, this one had small beginnings: Bureo was founded by three Californian surfer friends who realised that a circular economy model might be applicable to fishing nets, and started exploring the possibilities. In 2014, the Chilean government invited them to Cocholgüe, a fishing village in the centre of the country, to try out their idea for real. The same year, Bureo received its first delivery of 20 tons of used fishing nets.

At Our Ocean 2016, Sonapesca and Bureo made a commitment to roll out the scheme on a national level. True to its word, in 2017 it set up the ‘Net Positiva’ programme to provide all discarded fishing nets to Bureo to recycle for free, with the company agreeing in return to plough profits from selling the Net Plus plastic back into local projects.

So far, the so-called Net Plus plastic has gone into creating items as diverse as sunglasses, sports clothing, office chairs and skateboards, all of which gain environmental prestige from the previous life of their raw materials and the reduced GHG emissions involved in their construction processes.

Fast forward to 2019, and the small beginnings are dwarfed by the size of the scheme’s success: in five years, Bureo has received more than 340 tons of fishing nets for processing. Bureo is now looking at creating a complementary programme for longlines and gillnets from smaller artisanal fisheries, so the whole national industry can have access to effective plastic recycling.

One of the best things about the Sonapesca-Bureo commitment is the ease with which lessons can be learned and new circular models replicated around the world. Bureo is already working on similar schemes with Peru, Ecuador, Mexico and Argentina – in fact, the latter has already delivered its first consignment of end-of-life nets for processing. There’s no reason either why the model should be restricted to South America – other countries are sure to be watching developments with interest.

Such knowledge-sharing is of course a central element of the Our Ocean events, and Sonapesca is keen to continue playing a leading role in this area: ocean conservation is a global challenge that needs global solutions, and that means global collaboration.

Photo Credit: Bureo