Philippines: US manufacturer aims to improve 1 million lives by recycling fishing nets

A. Azim Idris Asian Correspondent 29 Nov 16;

ABANDONED, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear — including nets — makes up about 10 percent of marine waste globally, but an Atlanta-based manufacturer is embarking on a large-scale cleanup effort while helping impoverished fishermen earn extra income to improve the lives of 1 million people by 2020.

Through the Net-Works programme, U.S.-based Interface Inc, one of the world’s largest carpet tile manufacturers, has enabled community members of some of the Philippines’ most under-served fishing villages to gather and sell discarded nets, with the aim of restoring the environment and improving the quality of life among the communities involved.

Speaking to the Asian Correspondent recently, Interface’s Chief Sustainability Officer Erin Meezan said the company has set goals on how much ocean it wants to protect by 2020 and to provide 10,000 families access to community banking.

“We stated this idea of a partnership opportunity that then evolved to include (fishing) communities in the Philippines where they would be paid to collect the nets and ultimately, we got them into a contractual agreement with our yarn supplier who then takes the nets before we incorporate them into products,” Meeran said.

Already running in its fourth year, the Net-Works programme is a collaborative effort between Interface’s supplier and nylon manufacturer Aquafil and leading marine experts Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

The programme, Meeran said, works by turning recycled nets into yarn that Interface can then purchase from Aquafil which buys the discarded material from the fishing villages.

This, in turn, provides additional income for the communities to acquire food in times of need, support education choices, or to invest into other livelihood opportunities.

Since 2012, the Net-Works had collected 66,860 kilos of nets, by residents in 14 collection sites in Danajon Bank and the Bantayan Islands in the Philippines.

Collected fishing nets are processed into yarn which is then turned into carpet tiles, supporting Interface’s Mission Zero goal to source 100 percent recycled material.

Net-Works, according to Interface, is the “first inclusive business model of its kind” to combine the conservation and livelihood expertise of ZSL and the business know-how of Interface to integrate fishing communities in the Philippines into the global carpet company’s supply chain as a source of recycled nylon.

Meezen said the idea came about when Interface aspired to go beyond using recycled content for its products to sourcing raw materials in a way that has a social and environmental impact.

“In speaking with our yarn supplier, Aquafil, Interface realised that they have been experimenting with marine nets, and so the idea was hatched where Interface would try to find a way to incorporate marine nets into our supply chain in a way that has an additional social and environmental benefit,” she said.

After a series of meetings, she said the company realised that the ZSL was doing similar work to protect some marine habitats in the Philippines.

“We saw an interesting marriage between the resource and the marine conservation work they were doing in the Philippines, where they were seeing these marine nets making a huge negative impact, and our desire to collect the nets,” she said.

Net-Works has shown that it is possible not only to effectively tackle this growing environmental problem, but to also empower some of the most disadvantaged communities in the Philippines to join a global supply chain by taking care of the environment, the company said in a statement.

The programme has also created 508 memberships in Community Banks, with the opportunity to earn supplemental income through the sale of nets, as well as access to financial infrastructure via locally-established CoMSCAs (Community Managed Credit and Savings Associations) or local micro-finance initiatives, for the fishermen.

While the company has not set any specific target in terms of collection of nets, Meeran says the focus was on the impact of the programme by the year 2020.

Meeran said one of the most important aspects of Net-Works was to establish a community bank where money from the yarn suppliers could flow and be distributed to the local communities that previously did not have access to banking.

Asked why the company chose the Philippines for the programme, Meeran said it was because the ZSL had already established an on-the-ground presence, and was already working with communities there, adding the Danajon Bank, where a net collection hub was established had a special ecological significance due to the sensitivity of the area.

However, she said the company was also looking to expand the programme to other countries such as Thailand and India in the near future.

For now, the fishermen in the Philippines, she said, are paid to collect the nets but the source of income is not meant as full-time job.

“It’s meant to be a supplemental source that goes on top of what they normally do so they are paid for the nets collected and they also have access to the community banks to use those services on whether they want to get loans or something else,” she said.

On whether the company compromised on its profits for the green effort, Meeran said it did not as the company paid the same price to the yarn supplier for recycled yarn that is made from these nets.

“Aquafil has said there are marginal additional costs associated with the programme but those are not being passed on to us and nor are they being passed on to customers, they are simply being incorporated into sourcing their material,” she said.