Making skateboards out of discarded fishing nets


Three entrepreneurs have come up with an innovative way to decrease the environmental hazards caused by fishing nets abandoned off the coast of Chile and on its beaches. Their company, Bureo, collects discarded nets and gives them a surprising second life.

Each year, about 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets are abandoned or thrown into the sea. These nets make up 10 percent of marine litter, according to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. These discarded nets can damage the sea floor and hurt wildlife as they continue to trap animals [a problem called 'ghost fishing']. They can also cause accidents or damage boats.

The issue caught the attention of three Americans surfers, Ben Kneppers, Kevin Ahearn and David Stover, who came up with an innovative plan for collecting and recycling these nets. The three Americans founded Bureo, a company that makes skateboards from recycled net material.

"We wanted to work with fishing communities in Chile"

David is the co-founder of Bureo.

Ben, Kevin and I came up with the idea for this initiative after taking a series of trips together. All three of us are huge fans of water sports and we’d check out the ocean in the places we went. Through our travels, we started to truly understand the damage caused by water litter, especially plastics.

Nets are collected by Chilean fishermen. Photo courtesy of Bureo.

We knew we wanted to set up a project to recycle marine litter. We decided to focus on recycling fish nets because it is a serious source of waste in the water. We were also excited about working in partnership with fishing communities to raise awareness about this problem.

In 2013, we moved to Chile to work on this project. We decided to name it 'Bureo', which means 'wave' in Mapuche [Editor’s note: a native language spoken in Chile and Argentina].

Bureo's skateboard. Photo courtesy of Bureo.

We chose to set up our business in Chile for two reasons. First of all, the Chilean coast is extremely polluted. Secondly, the Chilean government really wants to address this problem and they offered us financial support. We also raised $64,554 [59,047 euros] through a crowdfunding initiative that we launched in 2014.

“Our goal was to recycle the nets and turn them into something fun and positive”

All three of us are engineers. So we figured out a way to recycle these nets and turn them into plastic pellets which, in turn, can be used to make another object.

We wanted to make something useful, fun and positive—so a skateboard seemed pretty perfect! A few months ago, we also started to make sunglasses out of recycled plastic. Our products are sold in skate shops all over the world. You can also buy the products online.

Sunglasses made from recycled plastic. Photo courtesy of Bureo.

“We collected 15 tonnes of nets in 2014”

At first, the Chilean fishers who we were working with didn’t really understand what we were doing. But when they saw the result, they got excited about our initiative!

We set up a collection programme called “Net Positiva” and set up collection points in 17 different ports across Chile. We pay fisherman by the day to go collect nets, then we also buy the nets from them by the kilo. That way, we support fishing communities and offer them another source of revenue.

Children with Bureo skateboards in Chile. Photo courtesy of Bureo.

We then transfer the nets to a factory in Santiago. For one skateboard, we need about 2 metres squared of netting. We collected about 10 tonnes of abandoned fish nets in Chile in 2013 and 15 tonnes in 2014. According to our estimations, a skateboard made out of recycled plastic produces about 70% less greenhouse gases than a skateboard made out of new plastic.