We have been following Chile-based startup Bureo from its launch in late 2013 to its first incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign last year. Now the company, which got its start upcycling plastic marine waste lining Chile’s waters and shores, has expanded its product range to sunglasses.
Having found such success with its first Kickstarter campaign to launch “The Minnow” — a skateboard engineered from recovered and recycled plastic fishing nets — Bureo recently launched a second campaign to raise funds for its new, upcycled sunglasses. Once again, the response has exceeded all expectations: Reaching its initial target of US$30,000 within five hours, total funding now stands at over US$114,000.
With an overarching vision of helping to clean up the world’s oceans of marine debris, Bureo co-founders Ben Kneppers and David Stover, set up “Net Positiva”— a fishnet recovery and recycling program based in Chilean coastal communities. The program aims to work with local fishermen to find new solutions to the growing problem of marine plastic pollution. So far, the team says more than 10 tonnes of discarded fishing net material has been recovered.
With almost 400 percent of its funding goal raised and more than two weeks still left in the new campaign, we caught up with Kneppers and Stover to hear more about the specifics of the program and their response to their overwhelming success to date.
SB: Last year we covered your Kickstarter campaign to launch Bureo’s first upcycled skateboard, The Minnow. How successful has the project been since then?
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Bureo: Since launching Bureo last year we have had a tremendous response to the project. We were able to deliver the first production run by September 2014, and have expanded our distribution over the last 11 months. Since introduction of our boards into the market, we have grown from one retail outlet carrying our boards to over 90 in five continents.
SB: You’ve expanded your upcycled products from skateboards to sunglasses. What drew you to these products?
Bureo: We are on a mission to find innovative solutions to prevent plastic pollution, with our Net Positiva program in place to collect fishing net materials along the coast of Chile. For our products, we are focused on high-quality, long-life products with end-of-life solutions (i.e. they’re recyclable). Aiming to capture the attention of younger generations, we focus on positive/exciting products to inspire future generations and push for a cleaner tomorrow.
SB: Tell us a bit more about how the sunglasses are designed — what are the materials involved, and how have they been upcycled?
Bureo: We have collaborated with Karun Eyewear in Chile to develop a unique collection (The Ocean Collection) constructed from 100 percent recycled fishing nets. All of the materials used in production can be traced back to our recycling program in Chile, where the materials are collected and recycled within Chile. Recycled materials are then injected into the frames in Italy, where we are working with industry-leading facilities. Karun brings experience and a unique approach in the eyewear industry, through which they have studied natural elements of whales to incorporate natural design elements into the Ocean Collection. The design for each sunglass model is directly connected to a whale species that exists off the coast of Chile.
SB: What are the key environmental and social benefits of the Net Positiva program?
Bureo: The goal of Net Positiva is to provide positive solutions for local fishing communities in need. We aim to grow from our current operations in Chile to reach every global fishing community in need of recycling support. Through Net Positiva we are able to educate fishermen about the materials and responsible disposal, while providing local employment and generating funds for communities. We have found in all of our conversations in fishing communities around the world that fishing net material is a burden for the fishermen, as they are constantly producing waste given that the nets tear and have to be repaired and replaced on an ongoing basis. Our goal is to pass on the knowledge that there is an end-of-life solution, and these materials should be taken care of and disposed of in an environmentally conscious manner, with Bureo providing collection points for the nets.
SB: How involved are the local Chilean communities and what do they gain from the project?
Bureo: We partner directly with fishing communities in Chile, where we set up collection points by or close to ports where the fishing boats work. We educate the local fishermen on our program and contract local workers to manage the collection points in order to recycle their nets at the end of their “life.” Incentivizing the communities, we currently offer a commodity price for the material. Structured as a fair trade model, these funds are administered by local NGOs to support waste management and community development. Additionally, we work with local contacts on the collection and preparation of the nets to create local jobs. We believe it is important to put value in the material, as everyone involved needs to be incentivized in order to ensure nets are used and disposed of in a responsible manner.
SB: Once the fishing nets are recovered, how involved is Bureo in the rest of manufacturing? How do you ensure that high social standards are maintained throughout the supply chain?
Bureo: We apply life-cycle thinking to all of our products. For our recycling and manufacturing partners, we align with ISO-certified facilities and we are deeply involved with the design and implementation of the recycling and manufacturing processes. We have measured the energy consumption of the machinery used for our recycling process to identify opportunities for improvement and have even managed to contract empty returning trucks to transport our fishing nets back to the recycling facility for the most efficient transport.
SB: You reached your latest fundraising goal of US$30,000 within five hours and the total now stands at over US$114,000. Why do you think you’ve received such an overwhelming response, and what do you plan to do with the extra funds?
Bureo: We have been humbled by the response to the campaign, and have so much gratitude for all of our supporters. Similar to our last project, we have done everything possible to develop the Ocean Collection with Karun to ensure we can deliver a quality and responsible product to market in a timely manner. Our strong networks in the ocean and design communities has supported a wider audience for the project. Additional funding received will be directed to cover the project costs we have incurred over the last 12 months, including the expanded recycling programs in Chile and now a larger production run.
SB: What’s the projected timeline for this project, and what are the company’s plans moving forward?
Bureo: The Kickstarter campaign for the Ocean Collection is ongoing until September 10th, after which the first production run will be delivered to supporters in October of this year. Going forward, Bureo will continue to find innovative solutions to expand Net Positiva and find long-term solutions for the recycled materials. In the near term, the team will be releasing a new skateboard model at the end of 2016.