In this episode Benn sat down with co-founder of Bureo, Ben Kneppers. Patagonia uses Bureo plastic for all of their hat brims because Bureo sources their plastic from discarded fishing nets that would otherwise be polluting our oceans. Fishing nets are among the most dangerous plastic in our oceans, and thanks to Bureo, they’ve saved 3.2 million pounds of it from living on the ocean floor. Tune in to learn how Bureo got started and about some of the important nuances of recycling.
The concept of a circular economy is at the forefront of solving the pollution crisis that our society is currently facing. A circular economy aims to eliminate waste by ensuring that when something is no longer useful, it becomes a resource for another supply chain. This approach is crucial in tackling the various forms of pollution that are plaguing our planet.
On our Responsibly Different™ Podcast Ben Kneppers, one of the co-founders of Bureo, discusses how their company is actively working towards achieving a circular economy. Bureo focuses on addressing plastic pollution in our oceans by targeting one of the most harmful forms of plastic waste – fishing nets. They collect discarded fishing nets and transform them into high-quality products such as skateboards, sunglasses, surf fins, and even Patagonia’s hat brims. And, since our conversation with Ben, Bureo has expanded their offerings to Patagonia to include fabrics that are used for Pataogonia’s swim trunks, jackets, and more.
The idea behind Bureo’s innovative approach to recycling came from the three co-founders who share a passion for the ocean environment and a desire to create a positive solution for plastic pollution. Ben Kneppers, along with his co-founders David Stover and Kevin Ahearn, initially met in Sydney, Australia. They connected over their shared interests and the idea of utilizing their skill sets to tackle a pressing environmental issue.
After their initial meeting, their careers took them in different directions. However, Ben Kneppers ended up in Chile, where he noticed the country’s raw and untouched coastal environments. Inspired by this, he realized that Chile could provide a perfect opportunity to turn their late-night conversations into reality. The Chilean government’s support for entrepreneurs, through programs like Startup Chile, further encouraged them to pursue their idea.
Over the course of six months, the Bureo team delved into research and exploration to identify tangible solutions for plastic pollution. They recognized the importance of infrastructure, as 90% of ocean plastic originates from land-based sources. By focusing on stopping plastic waste at its source and implementing proper infrastructure, they could prevent it from entering the ocean in the first place. Education was also a key aspect, as many people still do not fully understand the consequences of discarding plastic waste.
Bureo’s approach to recycling fishing nets not only tackles the issue of plastic pollution but also demonstrates the principles of a circular economy. Instead of allowing fishing nets to become waste, they transform them into valuable resources for various industries. This not only reduces the amount of plastic waste in our oceans but also minimizes the need for new raw materials, conserves energy, and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.
The concept of a circular economy goes beyond just recycling. It involves rethinking our entire production and consumption system, ensuring that resources are used efficiently and waste is minimized. By adopting a circular economy model, we can break free from the linear “take-make-dispose” approach that has contributed to the pollution crisis. It encourages innovation, collaboration, and sustainable practices across industries.
A circular economy is a powerful solution to the pollution crisis we face today. Bureo’s efforts in recycling fishing nets highlight the potential of transforming waste into valuable resources. By implementing infrastructure, educating the public, and embracing the principles of a circular economy, we can create a sustainable future and protect our planet for generations to come.
Maine Community Solar – This is the local Solar program DC is looking into
[00:00] Ben Kneppers What we want to achieve is a circular economy. That’s ultimately what we have to get to as a society in order to solve the class of pollution crisis so that when something becomes a waste, it actually becomes a resource for
[00:14] Benn Marine another supply chain. From Dear Go Collective, this is Responsibly Different, sharing stories of certified B corporations and our journey of joining them in leveraging business as a force for good. I’m Ben Marine. In this episode, I sat down with Ben Kniepers, one of the co-founders of Bureo. Bureo is tackling the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans by taking on one of the most harmful forms of plastic pollution, fishing nets. They take discarded fishing nets and turn them into high quality skateboards, sunglasses, surf fins, and Patagonia’s hat brims. Ben shares a peek behind the curtain and some of the nuances in recycling. And be sure to stay tuned after my chat with Ben to hear more about our own B Corp journey and how we’re looking into different solar options. First off, Ben, I want to welcome you to the show. Super excited to have you and Bureo represented here. To kind of kick us off, I mean, you all turn fish nets into other products. I’m so curious, where did that idea come from and how did you all get started?
[01:34] Ben Kneppers How did you bring that idea to life? Yeah, I mean, first off, thank you for this opportunity. It’s an incredible group that you’ve gotten already to contribute to this great outlet you’ve developed here. So it’s an honor to be a part of that. I am notorious for being a bit too long winded with my answers. So I’m going to try very hard to summarize a very complex and whirlwind story into as succinct as possible, while still giving plenty of the anecdotes along the way that I think are worth sharing. But basically, Bureo started just with three gringos wanting to create a positive solution out there for a place that we love being the ocean environment and the problem that we saw firsthand affecting it being ocean plastic pollution. Although my two other co-founders, David Stover and Kevin Ahern, are from the Northeast of the United States, we actually first met the three of us together on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia. I was working as an environmental consultant, David was a financial consultant, and Kevin, who went to engineering school with David at Lehigh, was taking a year off from his engineering design career to travel around the world doing surf trips with his twin brother, Brian. And we connected in the northern beaches of Sydney and Manly, and as you do, the late night beers led to a few conversations and just kind of saying, hey, wouldn’t it be great if we took our skill sets and connected it to something that we’re really passionate about? And we left it there and our careers went on. And interestingly enough, mine took me to Chile, where I continued as an environmental consultant. And I was just struck by, wow, there’s this country that is still very, very much unaffected by industrialization in many coastal environments. Many people say it’s like what California was 50 years ago. There’s so much raw nature, so much beauty, especially in the coastal environment, Chile being this long, narrow country along the coast of the Pacific. And in addition to that, there was a really great support network for entrepreneurs in Chile. The Chilean government, their most famous program to date is called Startup Chile. It’s arguably one of the best offers in the world for any really early stage startup to want to just create a business from scratch. They’ll give you startup capital, equity free, visas, office space to come to Chile for six months to start your business. So anyone out there looking to start, have a look at Startup Chile. And with that information, I said to Dave and Kevin, hey, remember all those talks we had late night? Well, I think we could actually have a place to make those into reality. And so we spent the next application deadline was in six months. We spent those six months really digging in and saying, what could we create? And we kept coming back to that point of having this touch on our skill sets being finance, sustainability and engineering design and combine them with our passion being the ocean environment. And again and again, we kept seeing this problem plaguing it from all of our surf travels and spent time spending coastal environments around the world with plastic pollution. And so we really just took it from a very academic approach to an understand the problem. And to our surprise, there was a lot of tangible solutions out there that could be done. And what three things that we kind of hooked on to were one, infrastructure. Ninety percent of the plastic in the ocean is coming from land based sources. So by stopping at its source, looking upstream and putting the infrastructure in place where it should be in the first place and having a solution for will eliminate that stuff from getting out there in the first place. Two, education. People to this day still don’t really understand the consequences of discarding plastic pollution. In many cases, environments have historically had a cultural habit of discarding things after they were used because they were traditionally made from natural fibers that would naturally biodegrade. And then suddenly 30, 40 years ago, it all just suddenly turned into plastic where nobody told them this stuff doesn’t break down. So that plastic you’re leaving in your environment, it can last 500 years and nobody really got them aware of that. And unfortunately, now it’s catching up with them with decades and decades of this single use plastic consumption being discarded in irresponsible ways. And then the third being behavior change. When people connect materials to value, they’re no longer seen as a waste. So by letting people see that there’s a valuable resource in what you’re perceiving as a waste, they won’t throw it away anymore. And so based on those things, we had this novel idea. What if we could take plastic pollution, upcycle it into something of high value and by doing so, finance this effort we need to do to educate communities and implement infrastructure and also demonstrate there’s value in this material so people no longer choose to discard it anymore. And that’s when we had this very complimentary background skill set where Kevin from his design background came in and said, we can’t just expect to collect any rubbish off the beach and make it into a consistent high quality product. We need to have a uniform source of material if we want to recycle it and make quality products out of it. We’re not trying to make some cheap little paper clip or desk toy. We want to make something of high value upcycled. And so that’s where we took a step back and said, if this is all about plastic pollution, what actually makes the plastic that’s ending up in our oceans? And to our amaze, and coincidentally enough, I was actually doing an environmental study for the wild caught fishing industry in Chile at that time where I was struck to find how significant fishing nets are. Fishing nets numerically are the estimates have given it’s at least 10% of the ocean’s plastic pollution. But more staggering is the fact that it is four times more harmful to marine life than all other forms of plastic pollution in the ocean combined. It’s designed to trap and entangle marine life. That’s the purpose of it. So when it’s left in the ocean environment and it’s made from a plastic, it can do that for up to 500 years. And so from that, we just simply took an approach to asking around, understanding my time in Chile, what the fishermen were doing. And to our amaze, there was really no solution for it. And at the same time, one fishing net is almost always made from one uniform type of plastic. So by putting all these things together, we kind of got this perfect coincidental, in some ways, combination of things happen where we got a really uniform source of plastic that didn’t have a sound end of life solution that would be perfect fitting for high value products because nets are also made from high value forms of plastic because they need to be really strong and durable. So that gave us an opportunity to make really high value products. And then summarizing this whole thing, where we finally got to with the start of the business was, well, what should we make? And then that came back to our roots of being skaters and surfers. And we thought, well, the plastic cruiser skateboard craze was going off in Australia before we left. And we thought that’s one kilo of plastic you can transform into something worth well over $100 with wheels and trucks. And so that’s where we kind of ran with it. As we started, we started Borreo just on that novel idea, transform this once harmful pollution into a really positive solution that could then, in effect, by upcycling, continue this chain reaction of all these other positive solutions along with it. RG That’s amazing. That’s so how’d I do? How’d I do with my reputation of long-winded answers?
[09:57] Benn Marine RG That was really great and super helpful to paint that picture. I mean, I saw a stat on your site too that there’s 640,000 tons of discarded fish nets and gear that pollute our oceans every year. I mean, that’s a number I can’t even fathom it. Like, I don’t even know how to wrap my brain around that number. RG Yeah. RG That’s pretty wild.
[10:17] Ben Kneppers RG Yeah. In terms of plastic pollution, I mean, there’s so many different analogies. I mean, one that’s pretty simple is if we wanted to compare all the plastic pollution, it would be every single minute. Imagine you’re waking up, you’re having your coffee, and then you’re picking up the morning paper and the dump trucks coming to get the trash. That full dump truck of plastic is being dumped in the ocean every minute of every day. That’s the rate we’re at right now.
[10:44] Benn Marine RG Oh, man. That’s so wild. RG Yeah. RG I’m curious, when you were getting this started, what were some of the biggest challenges? I mean, I imagine it wasn’t easy to, or maybe it was, I don’t know, to go out and collect all these nets.
[10:57] Ben Kneppers RG Super easy, of course. Yeah.
[10:59] Benn Marine RG Right. RG What did that look like? The actual, like, all right, we’re going to do this and making it happen.
[11:06] Ben Kneppers RG Yeah. I mean, we get that question all the time, like, what was the hardest thing? Everything was hard, to be honest with you. Nothing was easy. We were just really fortunate to have such a great network around us. Taking a step back, people ask why Chile? Chile is because we got the opportunity there. And not just with the funding from the government, but the network of fisheries that were open to working with us, the recycling partners we had on the ground, the trucking companies, everybody was willing to give us a go. And that was by far our hugest break we had early on. But to make it happen is a different story. So to have people say, yeah, sure, Gringo, if you want to get this trash and move it here and run it through our machine, like, yeah, go for it. But it’s a whole other thing to actually see that through. And that was really the thing was, in essence, the biggest challenge was creating an entirely new supply chain from scratch. There was nothing in place before we started this thing, and we had to create it all.
[12:10] Benn Marine RG And so with that supply chain, I’m curious, are the fishing nets, are you working with fishermen saying, when you’re done with your net, give them to us? Or is it, hey, when you’re out fishing, if you find a discarded net, grab it and we’ll pay you for it? Or is it both?
[12:27] Ben Kneppers GR Great question. Yeah. We focus on, and this is consistent with what we found in those early studies, is we focus on the stuff before it ends up in the ocean. When it gets lost at sea, you have so much more complications and so much more risk of that material being compromised on its quality, its performance, its consistency, its chance of it being contaminated by other foreign debris. And so the whole way we work is we work together with the fishermen. We educate them on the problem and that we have this really cool solution for them. And then by giving them that equipment and making their lives easier, because to be honest, their current options they don’t like either is to dump it, they burn it on the beaches, or they have to pay a really expensive fee to send it off somewhere else. And so by offering them a really sound end of life solution where we give them a compensation port per kilo that they provide us to make that value connection, it’s just become a win-win-win.
[13:32] Benn Marine RG That’s awesome. And for folks that are listening to this at home and thinking, how can I get involved? How can I also help protect our oceans in that way? Are there ways that folks can contribute to helping either spread the knowledge of this process or helping to maintain keeping plastics out of the ocean?
[13:51] Ben Kneppers JG Yeah, I mean, there’s many levels to it. There’s the day-to-day level of just being conscious of what you consume and how you’re managing it when it does meet its end of life. It is pretty unreal how much stuff that we still don’t even have recycling solutions for that are consumed in the millions every day. So being aware of what you’re consuming, focusing on staying away from single-use plastic products, using your reusables whenever possible, knowing that every dollar is a vote. So when you’re supporting, the market does respond and react. And that can be in many ways the quickest way to take action is by industry saying, the market’s demanding it, and therefore we need to support this. And then from a bigger approach, policy is huge. That will just set the tone for the entire industry, because industry can only go so far, especially with how cheap virgin plastic is and how easy it is to work with. That’s not going away anytime soon. So by having us to be pushing our politicians to step up and make more effort to be more responsible, there’s great things going on. In Chile, for example, they’ve banned the plastic bag. They’ve had an Extended Producer Responsibility Act that now holds businesses accountable for every kilo of a material they introduce into the economy. They’re now held accountable for properly supporting the disposal of that same amount of material. So there’s great things on that level. And then on a life mission level, we also get the feedback, why are we only fishing this? Well, we never said we were going to solve the whole damn problem. We need more people out there creating more solutions. Again, like I said, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit. There’s a lot that still can be done that is tangible. Yes, it is a complicated problem. And we’re trying our best to be part of it with just fishing nets, but there’s so much more that can be done. So if you really are passionate about this, there’s plenty of work and even a life’s work that you can do to take these issues on. I’m curious, are there plans to bring this concept that you’ve developed in Chile and bring it to other parts of the world? Absolutely. That’s right. What we’re in the middle of now. So we’ve already launched our program in Peru and Argentina. We’re actively operating there in both of those locations for almost two years now. Without COVID and the complications there, we were on track to then get to Uruguay and Ecuador, which we’re still looking to do in the near term. And then, yeah, really, the whole mission we have is to provide this net positive solution to end of use fishing gear to every fishery in need worldwide. The recycling innovations we’ve been able to work through with our partners at Patagonia’s material development team have been phenomenal. And now we basically have the demand in place to provide the solution and offer at a market price for every fishing net we can get our hands on. If it meets our requirements and we can have the infrastructure in place country by country, we can provide this solution. So that’s really what we’re after now. Obviously, in a controllable rate, there’s a lot that we have to maintain in every place we set up. We’re just taking it step by step. But yeah, really, in essence, we want to be that solution.
[17:30] Benn Marine That’s great. And I know that your process of breaking down the fishing nets into pellets, making it a plastic really ripe for any injection molded product. If there are businesses, again, listening to this, that maybe have a need or have a plastic product and want to use your pellets, is that something anybody can come to you and do? Or how do folks navigate reaching out to
[17:54] Ben Kneppers for that? I wish I could say yes and say, yeah, go for it. But we have been working with our in Patagonia, we’re part of their Tin Shed Investor Fund, investment fund. So we actually are, they own an equity stake of our company. They provide a seed investment with us incredibly early on that completely supported us to expand the way we have expanded. And in addition to that, over the last five years, we’ve been working with their materials development team to on how we can actually take our novel material and incorporate it into legit Patagonia products. And thankfully, we’ve been able to achieve those. And but but unfortunately, what that has led us to is working our tails off to meet that demand that we already have put in place. So right now, that’s really our focus is scaling this solution, which conveniently enough sticks with our mission of providing this as many fishermen as we have a need is to meet the demand we already have for Patagonia. So that is kind of stage one of our effort. But obviously, with time, once we continue the expansion as it’s taking course right now, certainly we’d love to be able to apply offer this to more and more brands, because really, that’s what we need to do. And and for what it’s worth, I mean, we’re not the only business out there that that’s providing an alternative material solution. There’s a lot there’s a lot of options out there. But we’re certainly the ones that we’re proud to say we’re producing the first fully traceable 100% end of life wild caught fishing
[19:32] Benn Marine nets. That’s amazing. And and also, I know historically, you’ve also worked with Costa for sunglasses futures for surfboard fins. And I mean, even Jenga for the you know, their their game there. I was that was that all pre your partnership with Patagonia? Or are those still
[19:52] Ben Kneppers ongoing partnerships? No, they’re all still ongoing. Absolutely. They’re you know, Costa is going great futures is just incorporating our material into more and more of their their their fin collections. Jenga Ocean still still cruising and we’re looking at more ways we can develop other collections there. Trek bikes we’ve done already started with a few accessories and hoping to roll out more human scale office chairs. We’ve done the smart ocean chair with them. Waymo frisbees we’re doing a we’ve done various frisbees and we can even do custom frisbees for any brands interested out there. Yeah, gosh, I know I’m kind of stuck listing them all off and I’m on the line if I forgot anyone Carver, of course, Carver has been a great transition for us for covering skateboards. So they’re they’re now working on more opportunities for other models that we could try to do but we’re still you know, just exploring but by far, while that was always going on, by far the biggest one was with Patagonia and that’s really kind of overtaken all of that while we still can certainly continue delivering on all those product applications. The biggest opportunity to date is what we’re working on now with Patagonia.
[21:15] Benn Marine That’s really cool. And something that you’ve mentioned is the net plus, kind of I think which is what you kind of call the pellets, right, that you’re creating out of the fish nets. Exactly. You were involved in something with I think it was International Living Future Institute and the Living Product Challenge that I think you participated in back in 2016. Is that an ongoing certification? And can you kind of share with us a little bit about
[21:38] Ben Kneppers what the Living Product Challenge is? Yeah, it’s so this is really touching on my background personally. I was specializing in the field of life cycle assessment. So what that is, is it’s the science behind just as we can account in monetary terms, the economic cost of a product. This allows, this is the science behind accounting for things in the environmental costs. So the most common form is a carbon footprint but what it does is it studies the entire life cycle of a product or service or any defined system and it allows us to calculate the environmental cost it took to deliver that. So in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water, ecotoxicities, typically there’s eight to 14 common environmental indicators that it gets measured against but the most common is carbon emissions. And so what the International Living Futures Institute and the Living Product Challenge does is it takes it a whole step further where typically an environmental eco-label, an environmentally preferable product label that you see on things usually reports a product that’s done less bad to the environment. But the reality is it’s still doing harm. It’s just reduced its harm, which is good. But what they’ve tried to take it a step further with the Living Product Challenge is actually certified products that are only causing a net positive impact. So actually when you add everything up, the fact that it’s doing good in essence of the product itself is actually generating more good than harm and it’s actually a net positive impact on the environment. And so that’s what really connected me with this certification and when we started with our very first mechanical recycling process taking place in Chile, we partnered up with them and we got our skateboard deck and our materials certified under it, being the net plus material. And we are intending to revise it but we have a new recycling process, a new supply chain and all of that is going through the new life cycle assessment that we hope to be finalized in honestly the next couple months. And then based on that information, we can get back into the certification and apply that information. But since that’s all been updated and we’ve basically been going through a massive research and development phase over the last five years, we haven’t renewed it because there wouldn’t be any point since we’re still developing a new application. So all the material that’s in the current product applications, the everything we just said, the Jenga’s, the costas, all those, those were through that material process but we’re going to be switching that over and then that’ll require us to go through the certification again. So we do intend to do it, it’s just going to take some more time.
[24:39] Benn Marine That’s really cool. And there was something that I thought was really interesting when I was kind of reading through the certification there was they mentioned they had a score for the footprint and then a score for the handprint. Yes. And like the handprint being the positive and that was just the first time I’d seen that and I didn’t know if that was kind of a new kind of language that’s coming out but I thought that was
[25:01] Ben Kneppers really exciting. I connected it with the exact same way. I love that. That was created by Greg Norris, who’s been a bit of a mentor to me now from starting Borreo. And it’s a really brilliant concept where we always think of the ecological footprint, the carbon footprint, which is you stepping into something but the handprint is actually you reaching out and benefiting something. And that’s really the concept of that net positive impact. So I totally connect with that and I think that needs to be the new standard. Absolutely. And I do hope that does catch on more. I know he’s got a lot more in the works to expand on it and I’m excited to be a part of it and see where it can go because we need to see more companies embracing not just neutrality but net positive. And it’s not easy. I’m not saying we’re perfect either. It’s a progress. But just to say we’re less bad or neutral, I mean, it’d be nice to say we could actually regenerate environments and empower communities. That’s really, I think, should be the benchmark. That’s so cool. I’m curious, how did you hear about B Corp certification and how did that come into the mix of everything? Yeah, I mean, again, I think it definitely came with the territory of being an environmental consultant before I started. So always was well aware of a B Corp. And we did go through a pretty lengthy process of debating, should we be a nonprofit or should we be a private entity when we started Borreo? And when we eventually got to the conclusion we want to be a force for good and kind of use the way that business is for good, that when we scale, our positive impacts can scale. And when we saw the B Corp movement already taking place, it just perfectly spoke to what that vision was for us. And now there’s something that you don’t have to have this long-winded explanation of what that is. Instead, you have this beautiful seal and you’re in this network of like-minded companies that people recognize and respect. And so I believe, I don’t know if it’s fair for me to say this, it would be nice if I could get this verified. But I believe when we applied, we were the first startup ever to become a, I think they put us in like pending B Corp status because we’re still such an early stage startup, but we’re the first ever startup to be a B Corp certified that early in the stage of a company.
[27:32] Benn Marine That’s so cool. That’s really cool. So I’ll take it. I don’t know. B Corp people, feel free to correct me on that and I’ll take it back, but I’m pretty sure we got that claim. That’s so awesome. And so I’m curious with that, now being part of the B Corp community from, sounds like the very, very beginning,
[27:51] Ben Kneppers have you had partnerships that have come out of that or what benefit have you seen from being certified at B Corp? I think it’s definitely added to our legitimacy. I think it’s the biggest thing, like I said, like just simply having that by your name and having that due diligence behind what we’re saying. We’re not just some greenwashing campaign here. It’s audited every year. And certified. But yeah, and then in addition to that, we certainly have made great connections in that space. Honestly, it hasn’t really gone further than connecting with like minded companies, doing some cross promotional campaigns. But yeah, I think with time, we’d like to see it go further. And then just really anything beyond that. I mean, I mean, my wife was the language translator for B Corp Chile. And we were very much in that space when we were based setting things up in Chile. And we just love the community part of it
[28:55] Benn Marine is the biggest thing that we’ve gotten out of it more than anything else. That’s cool. And I’ve heard that from a lot of folks too, like where it is, it’s such a great supportive community, for sure. I’m curious, what have been some of your, we’ve talked a little bit about some of the struggles of getting started and what that looks like. What have been some of your fondest memories and what have been some of the more
[29:17] Ben Kneppers rewarding moments of your journey so far? Yeah, I think definitely when the products are actually in your hands and you’re experiencing them, that’s pretty phenomenal. I mean, and it just, it gets more and more crazy now that we’re working with bigger and bigger brands are making more and more impressive stuff out of our material. That is really something. The accomplishments of the scale we are getting to, I mean, we’re shipping over 100 tons every two months now of material and just seeing it get out the door every time and the work that’s put in to get that done is really rewarding. Not a lot of times, especially coming from an environmental consulting career, you get to actually really feel the results of what you’re doing and when you’re down in the field and you see that impact, it feels great to actually see the results come to fruition. And then on the ground, the consciousness of the behavior change, like I talked about before, of what you’re seeing in the communities, it’s clear that it’s caught on and people are really being aware of it. It’s not only thanks to us. I mean, I think Chile as a country has really embraced what needs to happen in terms of protecting their environment and readjusting their industry so that it can be more aligned and operate in a more sustainable way. And then just, yeah, but beyond that, and then just simply stuff like the personal notes we get, especially from kids that are saying, my son, more than anything he wanted for his birthday this year was a Borreo skateboard because he said it was made from fishing nets that were protecting the ocean in so many words. But I mean, that’s really what it has to be about at the end of the day. If we want, we’re not going to solve this. Like I said, at the beginning, three gringos down in South America, it’s going to be a collective effort. And I would love to feel that, in some respect, we’re setting the tone for the generation to come to really come in and have us as elders cheering them on and just passing the torch where they’re going to fully get it. I personally feel like our generation was kind of figuring it out. But these guys from day one, I believe, know these things are a problem and are very committed, unlike any other generation, to doing something about it. So I’m very much proud to feel like we’re sparking some of that as well and seeing them carry that on after we fight the good fight.
[32:00] Benn Marine RG What’s next for Borreo? To date, you’ve partnered with some really great brands. As we mentioned, Costa Patagonia, the list goes on. I’m curious, what can fans look forward to seeing from you all
[32:13] Ben Kneppers in the future? I mean, unfortunately, all I can say for now is stay tuned. There’s a lot in the works, but not much to be said right now, other than there’s going to be many other ways we’re looking forward to offer you our solution in various product applications. And for now, I mean, there’s some pretty rad stuff out there. The hat launch we did now, every Patagonia brim is made with our plastic, has been a really great accomplishment. And really, the next is going to be another big step for us that we’re just can’t wait to get to happen. But until then, I can’t really say much other than we’re on our way. RG Cool. I’m curious too, with Patagonia, how did you and Patagonia connect? How did that bond form? RG Good question. Yeah, we get that a lot too. So it was surprisingly organic, I mean, I guess naturally with Patagonia, but we had various encounters early on. When we started, we set them again with the B Corp movement and everything. We really looked at again, as a great example was Patagonia as a business that was for profit, but really making driving change in positive solutions with the way their for profit business worked. And so all along, we had them in mind. And we actually, when we applied for the grant from the Chilean government, we even reached out to their director of their operation in Chile to see if they’d write a letter of support. He did. That kind of kept us in the loop with him. So that was great. And then we actually got a story on the CBS Evening News on our Kickstarter campaign and the launch of our skateboard. And that’s where their new investment director saw it. And although we were by far the smallest company to be considered for their investment portfolio, they gave us a meeting. And I think our transparency and our passion and our experience as well came through. And even though at the time we were just this teeny little classic cruiser skateboard company, they took us on and that seed fund really allowed us to keep going and get to where we are today. Yeah. Well, here’s another actually a question from a listener, if you will. So the question is, how do they balance removing waste and selling a product that might go back into the waste cycle? So all the products we’ve brought to the market to date are all able to be recycled again. And we’ve already, and like on the skateboard packaging, on the sunglass packaging, it’s all we have a contact us and we can take it back and recycle it again. So that’s the benefit of injection molded parts. It’s something you can easily recycle again. So really we do already have in fact in the plants, so it’s not to be discarded. But the bigger thing, honestly, more than that is, because it is one thing to say it can be recycled. It’s another thing to have someone go through the effort of sending it all the way back and going to the post office and everything. What is more important to us is that we’re making really quality products that have a long life. And so we really focused in on that. We’re not doing anything remotely close to a single use product. It’s all stuff that will last a lifetime, we believe. And really the cases that we run into, we do get it from time to time, is the skateboard gets run over by a truck and it broke. Like, can I send it back? Yeah, of course. Stuff like that is really the only thing we’ve run into to date. But definitely always have had in mind. What we want to achieve is a circular economy. It’s a work in progress. We’re not saying it’s buttoned up, but that’s ultimately what we have to get to as a society in order to solve the classic pollution crisis. So that when something becomes a waste, it actually becomes a resource for another supply chain. That makes sense. I’m curious,
[36:26] Benn Marine in terms of going deeper on the actual process, I imagine there has to be some negative effects in terms of actually processing the plastic or maybe there isn’t. I’m curious,
[36:44] Ben Kneppers how do you navigate that process? Yeah, exactly. So that goes back to the life cycle assessment study that we do. So that tracks the entire process. So nets are collected from the fishermen. They’re transported through obviously a diesel truck. So there’s an impact there to get to a warehouse where they are then pre-processed. That does involve some industrial equipment that consumes electricity that’s typically from a mix of coal-fired power and chili and hydropower. So there’s some impact there. Then it has to get shipped to a recycler. The recycler uses industrial equipment, which requires more electricity. So every step, there’s unavoidable impact. So what we do is through the life cycle assessment, like we did in the initial one, we understand where the impacts are. First, what we can do to reduce them. For example, when you’re recycling, when you’re transporting, we made a policy that we need to keep the trucks to a certain capacity and the recycling runs to a certain minimum capacity to ensure that it can be run as efficiently as possible. If you’re saying a massive truck to only get 500 kilos and the truck can hold 20, that’s a real waste of energy and is not an efficient way to operate. Same idea with recycling runs. The recycling equipment has to heat up. It has to prep. That’s at least an hour of the machine running before you can actually use it. So in order to do that, we should be doing recycling runs that’s at least 5, 10 tons. So we’re not doing it for a couple hundred kilos and wasting all this energy that wasn’t consumed to set everything up. So those were the first steps. But the deeper thing we’re trying to do here, and this is something that’s still very much a work in progress with the new LCA being completed, but what we achieved early on with the living product challenge, and that’s how we got certified, is we actually… So when you’re an artisanal fisherman, when you’re a fisherman, subsistence living fisherman, we happily pay you per kilo for your net because it takes time, it takes energy, it takes an effort, and you can always use an extra buck to get by. So we want to pay you directly per kilo. They could really use it. In terms of commercial fisheries, these are huge fleets. One fishing net can be 30,000 kilos, 60,000 pounds of fishing net. And they have big warehouses, infrastructure, and they’re actually running more into the cost of a waste management service having to pay an expensive fee to take this material away for them. They have to pay to take it away. And so in that case, what we developed was national agreements in both Chile, Argentina, and Peru with the commercial fishing industry associations where we now have the largest commercial fisheries in each country instead of selling us the nets, committing to donate the nets to us, where we in return commit to the budget we already had to buy the nets to instead go to local NGOs that are then going to use that money to implement environmental projects in those surrounding artisanal fishing communities where those commercial fisheries operate. What those projects are doing is not only going to be there to find the needs of the community and implement empowering work, but also it’s tying in how do we offset these unavoidable impacts we have in our supply chain. So the non-renewable energy we’re consuming, the water consumption, and so forth are things that we can actually offset by the work we’re doing with those community projects. That’s how we achieved the Living Product Challenge certification early on, and that’s what we’re looking to scale as we’re consuming more and more materials donated by commercial fisheries in more and more countries. How do you select those different community projects? Do community projects, do they pitch to you all, or do you go out and find them, or how do those relationships get built? We typically focus on waste management, environmental education, and renewable energies, but we definitely don’t try to come in with any more of an agenda other than that. So invite the local NGO to be the ones to engage with the community leaders and see what their
[41:04] Benn Marine needs are first and foremost, and then decide on the project based on that. That’s so cool. Are there a small handful of NGOs that you’re working with, or do you
[41:13] Ben Kneppers kind of have relationships that you just kind of go back to? Yeah, we have in Argentina, it’s the Whale Conservation Institute, which we just started working with about a year, just over a year ago, that’s using the funds to first and foremost, they identified, you know what, fishermen don’t even know much about this problem. So the first thing they’re doing is actually educating, and the great breakthrough they got is they actually, there’s a standard curriculum that every fisherman operating on a vessel has to take by the country’s requirements, and they’re getting into the curriculum a portion that’s going to educate all these fishermen getting trained on how to operate safely on a boat to now know about the consequences of discarding trash and fishing nets overseas and the solutions that are available and what they can do instead of discarding it into the marine environment. That’s the project we have going there. In Chile, we have a range of NGOs that we work with locally. The biggest is with a local NGO in the most prevalent fishing area of the country in the BioBio region is Fundación El Arbol, and they’ve done a whole variety of projects for the last six years with us, from community composting centers to environmental education programs for primary schools to overhauls of waste management infrastructure. We did a program to phase out the single-use plastics in all the local restaurants of a fishing village, and now we’re actually doing a solar PV project with a local homeless shelter. It’s pretty dynamic what we end up doing. Then in Peru, we’re working mainly with World Wildlife Fund Peru, which was our partner from the start that helped us get set up in Peru in the first place. The work there so far has really been about just workshopping and finding the needs of the community and getting the net collection set up first and foremost, but from there is where we look to do more of these renewable energy project waste management infrastructure improvements and environmental education.
[43:25] Benn Marine That’s great. I’m curious, is there anything that, knowing that you get to share the word about this with some frequency, is there ever anything that you’re just like, oh my gosh, I just want the world to know about this thing, but it never really comes up in interviews like this, or a question you’ve always wanted to be asked, but that just never seems to come to surface?
[43:47] Ben Kneppers There’s so many different things. I think one big thing we talk a lot about is the fact that a lot of people, and even within the industry, don’t realize how different types of, not all recycling is created equal. We actually did a big post on this when COVID hit. The fact that there’s a big difference between post-industrial and post-consumer recycling that needs to be better educated because it’s really difficult for us to compete in that space and it’s affecting our work. Post-consumer is what we’re doing. It’s when you have the end-of-use material that has been used by consumers, in this case fishermen, and is no longer usable. It takes a lot more effort and it’s a lot more vulnerable to become a pollution, whereas post-industrial never leaves the factory. It’s from the shop room floor that, yes, it’s reclaimed and recycled because it’s scrapped from a production process, but that stuff typically can get branded the same as our material. That can cause a lot of difficulties for us in the industry to justify our price point because those guys can just scoop it up and put it back into a recycling machine and now say that’s 100% recycled. Where we have to ethically pay all the workers in the communities, incentivize the fishermen, invest in the infrastructure needed, all the operations throughout every country we operate in to make this great length of an effort to go to these vast assortment of communities. We’ve sourced nets from over 50 sources across three countries now, four count in California that we’re already working in. That is not apples to apples. There’s a lot of different things that are subtle to the recycling movement that can make it really challenging for people that are really being authentic. What I would recommend in our space is focus on transparency and traceability. Another one is people like to blend in a portion of recycled plastic into a product, but then really hone in on that story even though it could be as little as 10%. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. It’s a heck of a lot better than 0%, but it just changes the game for people that are really trying to do the wholehearted effort. It’s great to see there is actually in fact a movement happening, but I think it’s something you do struggle with when you’re trying to be differentiating yourself and making it clear like this extra effort we’re going through is actually worth it because if we’re not treated that way in the market, we can’t actually sustain our business. That’s a big important point for us. Then like what I always said from the start of when I started Vareo is the novel idea I always had peace with was that like what if someone steals our idea? The answer was always for me was, well if someone already had a solution and go out to fishing communities and create this positive solution, we’re already one. It is kind of cool to see that, but you just want to make sure that everyone goes to that standard. It’s a bit of the Wild Wild West right now when there’s all these loose turns of ocean plastic and recycled from this source and that source. I do think there is a need to kind of tighten that up a bit. The other thing that I would definitely recommend checking out anyone that’s interested in getting involved in any solutions when it comes to lost discarded fishing gear, which is commonly coined the phrase ghost gear. I’m also an active member of an umbrella organization called the Global Ghost Gear Initiative that’s run through the Ocean Conservancy. This is really a platform for policy. If you have a business working in this space, they have a best practice framework to incorporate. If you are in a community where you want to take action, we have a solutions group that is driven for people that want to take action and don’t know how. We’re here to have you come to our platform and learn how. We can even help align you with funding available to create that solution. That’s probably a worthwhile note to leave people on is that there are solutions available for that. There’s a whole lot of other networks available, Classic Collusion, Coalition, Five Gyres, all these other great groups, Surf Rider Foundation. If you want to do something locally, there are people. You’d be surprised, even inland, you don’t have to be in a coastal environment of people actively working on this cause right now. You’d be surprised how many people that you feel like you’re alone with your thoughts are actually thinking the same thing and want to fight right alongside you. If you’re interested, I would highly recommend getting involved and checking those groups out.
[48:57] Benn Marine Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. I’ll make sure all those groups I link to in the show notes. I want to back up though because I want to make sure I’m understanding and that listeners are understanding too the difference between the different types of recycling. Tell me if this is right. What I’m picturing in my mind when you say industrial recycling is, let’s say somebody’s making a t-shirt and it’s just a square piece of fabric and they cut the shape of the t-shirt out. The stuff that you’d pull away and push onto the floor, they’re scooping up and creating maybe
[49:25] Ben Kneppers a patch with or another shirt with and they’re calling that recycling? Correct. That’s post-industrial recycled material. To me, it sounds like that’s not really recycling. That’s more just using all of the entirety of a product. That’s what I’m saying. Yeah, that’s my point. Those guys can suddenly fall in because people only just hear the word recycled, 100% recycled, let alone recyclable. Recyclable is an even worse term. That just means that this product, although it’s made from virgin material, it can have the opportunity to be recycled in the future. People are overselling that claim too. Most people don’t even know the difference between, let alone post-consumer and post-industrial, the difference between recyclable and recycled. Recyclable is completely virgin material. It’s just able to be recycled at its end of life, which honestly everything should be. It’s like saying, hey, we don’t have child labor and we don’t have slaves making this. This is slave-free chocolate, guys. It’s like, yeah, that should be inherent with what we’re making here.
[50:33] Benn Marine Is there an effort around that recycle language? Most of us are familiar with greenwashing and are pretty keen to reading between the lines. I guess for myself, I hear something’s recycled and I take it at face value. I’m like, oh, sweet, this was something else before. But it sounds like in the case of industrial recycling, that’s not necessarily true. It’s just that they’re actually
[50:57] Ben Kneppers using all of the material. Yeah, look, we’re still trying to get people not to use a classic water bottle for 30 seconds and then throw it away on the ground. Why I’m bringing this up now is because it’s usually the things that we don’t talk about because there’s so many more urgent matters to discuss. Really, anything is better than nothing is usually the attitude. But if you really want to dig in, yeah, these are the things that in the inner sanctum of the recycling movement are challenges, let alone, but this is the kind of stuff that is why recycling businesses don’t make it and material is hard to sustain and
[51:41] Benn Marine justify. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much, Ben. This has been great. This is so good. Is there anything else there that you want to add or throw in there that you make sure folks hear or know
[51:50] Ben Kneppers about? I mean, stay tuned with us. We’ll make all of our announcements. You can check us out at Borreo.co and at Borreo through Instagram. Whenever we make launches and everything, it goes through those channels. So feel free to follow us there on all the exciting happenings that we have coming in the near future. And yeah, if you’re looking to do something, now more than ever, there’s so much support out there if you’re looking to take action just jump on the internet. You guys will provide the links here, some great outlets to read into and get involved with. You can take action right now and we need it.
[52:42] Benn Marine Thank you so much for joining us today. To find links to learn more about Borreo, stop by the show notes at responsibly different.com. You may have noticed in this interview, I had some questions from listeners, drop us a note at responsibly different.com. Let us know what you like about the show, what you want more or less of. And I’ll reach out to you when I’m interviewing someone that I think you’d enjoy so you can submit some of your very own questions. Our listener question this week is from Tess Hockes in Portland, Maine. Thanks Tess for your question. And of course, for tuning into responsibly different. Now for a quick update on our own B Corp certification. We’re super close. We’re working with the students of the UNHB Impact Clinic and it’s been tremendously helpful as they help us navigate the best way to go about approaching these questions. Currently, we’re at 80.5 points and those of you that have been following along, we started this journey at a mere 30. So that’s really exciting for us. And those of you familiar with the B Impact Assessment or BIA for short, know that technically 80 points is enough to certify. In an abundance of caution, our goal is to have over 95 points when we hit that beautiful submit button on our assessment to actually start the certification process. Something we’ve been looking into are different ways that we can reduce our carbon footprint and really dig in on that environmental piece. And this is a tip that I wanted to share with all of you because while it’s something that we’re looking into, it might be something that you could for your business as well. I know a lot of times when we think about solar, it feels like there’s so many barriers to that, right? Like having to put solar panels on the building and finding space. And for us, we don’t own our building. We lease. You know, there’s a lot of complications there. Well, we got this really cool flyer from a community solar project where there’s a community solar farm that you can essentially choose as a utility. So rather than buying your electricity from XYZ company, you can instead buy it from your community solar farm company. So that’s something that we’re looking into. I’m going to make sure that I include that in the show notes, the links to that particular one. So if you are in the greater Portland area, that might be a great option for you. It’s something that we’re only ankle deep into exploring. Well, I want to thank you again for tuning in today. If you’re enjoying this content, subscribe and leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts. We’re all in this together. Till next time, be responsibly different.