Fishing Nets for Carpets

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Giant ghosts have been eating the fish caught by the local fishermen in the Philippines: “In old days, wherever you go out for fishing, you were assured of a catch, unlike today there will be times you will catch nothing,” said Eduardo Valmoria Furog from Jao Island, Philippines in a video about the Net-Works program.

The “ghosts” are actually plastic fishing nets that have been discarded in the sea, where they kill large numbers of fish and other marine animals. A phenomena known locally as “ghost fishing”, it is one of the biggest problems the region faces.

In the absence of proper recycling methods for these nets which can last for more than 600 years, the fishermen have two options for disposal: either throw them in the water or burn them. In general, the fishing nets made from nylon thread are cheap and people have no incentive to create any other way of disposal but to dump them in the water. If they decide to do that instead of burning them, they linger under the sea level and catch various marine animals. Once caught, the animals die and rot there.

Ghost fishing is adding both to pollution and to the degradation of local coral reefs. It has led to a significant decline in the actual fishing catch in a region where families rely on just one source of income.

Net-Works is turning old fishing nets into carpets.

Elmar Eye/flickr

Net-Works is turning old fishing nets into carpets.

Now, however, a new program is attempting to solve this problem by turning the old fishing nets into carpets. “That’s disgusting!” said a fellow student reporter, when she first heard about this.

“No, it is not disgusting! You can make a beautiful product,” exclaims Dianne Dillon-Ridgeley when she was asked to explain more about the new project that aims to stop ghost fishing by collecting the old nets from the water and the coast line of impoverished regions and transforming them into carpet tiles.

Dillon-Ridgeley said that continuous re-use is a key to making this project successful. “Part of the problem is that if we take nylon and make it into a carpet and then seven years later it goes to the landfill: That is disgusting! But if you take that same old carpet and make a new carpet out of that same old one: That is good!”

The project’s name is Net-Works and the carpet tiles are part of a collection called Net Effect produced by Interface, a company that works towards sustainable design. Dianne Dillon-Ridgley is a member of its board of directors. The collection is in various shades of blue that allude to the water. The company’s partner for collecting the fishing nets is Danajon Bank – one of the only six double-barrier reefs in the world, an area with one of the most important marine ecosystems in the entire Pacific Ocean.

Once the fishnets are collected and the money is given to the Community Banks, they are transported to a factory in Ljubljana, Slovenia where the Italian company Aquafil has introduced nylon recycling technology that turns the high performance engineering plastic (nylon 6)  into yarn for the carpet tiles.

On the question of whether shipping the nylon for recycling from the Philippines to Europe creates actually more damage to the environment because of the emissions from the transportation than doing good by cleaning the reefs, Dillon-Ridgeley said there were no recycling plants in the Philippines. However, she said the company has done the appropriate analysis and had chosen the least polluting way of transportation.

“We have a new source of being able to reclaim and recapture nylon 6, which we can turn into fiber again,” says Dillon-Ridgeley. And that they are transforming a product with only negative attributes into resource. “Nylon 6 is the input for a product and the cost was going up for a long time. By doing this you actually get to stabilize the world price so it does not continue to rise. This then helps to keep the price of our products stable.”

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