A clean-up scheme in the Philippines is benefitting local people as well as the environment
What: Interface Net Effect carpet tiles
Where: Danajon Bank, Visayas, Philippines
According to the Zoological Society of London, the Danajon Bank in the Philippines is one of only six double barrier reefs in the world, and one of the most important marine ecosystems in the entire Pacific Ocean. ZSL has been monitoring environmental damage in the area since 1996, so when carpet firm Interface invited it to be involved in a joint commercial proposition to its local fishing communities, ZSL’s Dr Heather Koldewey, director of global conservation programmes, was circumspect. ‘In 2011 Interface invited us to a workshop, asking us to help provide a social element to its company sustainability programme,’ she recalls. ‘We listened only because conservation funding is tough – marine especially so – and we were keen to hear about their idea for an “ongoing arrangement”.’
Two years later, with ZSL onboard and recommending that the poor fishing communities at Danajon Bank be targeted, the result was the Net-Works initiative. Villagers collect discarded nets – hugely destructive to the barrier reef as well as marine life – from the seas and shoreline for recycling. Nets are exported to firm Aquafil, in Slovakia, which adds it to other nylon post-consumer waste to create ECONYL yarn, used in the Net Effect carpet tile.
‘Income here is about £600 a year, poverty is endemic and it’s subsistence living, so the communities were all ears, not only because of a possible revenue stream, but they’re now aware of how the nets kill fish that will never grow, be caught or eaten,’ says Koldewey. As a result, the scheme’s working in tandem with local enforcement to protect fish breeding grounds.
Everything had to be considered. Targets are set for net tonnage, the economics of harvesting them, the cost of centralising collection and export logistics, resulting in a cost per kg of the nylon nets. At the moment, says Koldewey, 2.5kg of net will buy 1kg of rice. Revenues go into a community bank, which locals can draw on for development loans, education programmes for their children or even food.
So is it working? ZSL is a science-based organisation and has metrics to gauge the success of projects. Koldewey is cautious. ‘We need to review data further down the line,’ she says, ‘but informally, response from the communities has been great. It doesn’t reverse their lot, but it is creating a genuine supplemental income. And working not with charity but commercial models, has made us think in a different way too.’
Net Effect TILES
Interface’s involvement with the communities of the Danajon Bank arose through a process of elimination, and the awareness that they were not best placed to make the decisions on where their input might reap the best social returns. Through various NGOs the firm looked at possible schemes in India, Africa and SE Asia. India, it turns out, has a highly active and developed recycling market, and so would not have been able to yield competitive returns on the projected net volumes. After a ZSL scoping trip to the Philippines, they identified a network where they could build a programme and a business model. In effect Interface’s role was to broker a business relationship between the fishing communities and its yarn supplier Aquafil. Aquafil takes the nets and other consumer waste, combines it all, breaks down the polymer state back to monomers and then re-polymerises it. The end result of the ECONYL regeneration process is a 100% recycled nylon yarn that goes into producing, among other things, Interface’s Net Effect tile.