Global carpet tile manufacturer Interface, Inc. will soon begin using discarded fishing nets to make carpets, bringing both conservation and socioeconomic benefits to some of the world's poorest coastal communities.
The company recently completed a pilot project, called Net-Works, with conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). 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 ton (1,000 kg) 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.
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Collection systems will now be set up in at least 15 local villages, involving more than 280 impoverished households (equivalent of 1,400 people based on an average household size of five). The goal is to collect 20 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 $157 a month.
Nigel Stansfield, vice president and chief innovations officer for Interface, Inc., says, "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."
During 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.
Interface says sustainability progress is linked to inquiry, and last year the company released a list of five questions that can test any business’s approach to becoming a sustainable organization.
@Bart_King is a freelance writer and communications consultant.