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From ocean trash to high quality products: the environmental role of upcycling the oceans

By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans – this scary environmental future is being tackled tonnes of trash at a time by the ECOALF Foundation's Upcycling the Oceans initiative. Now, the Julius Baer Foundation is supporting the expansion of this vital work into the waters of France.




ECOALF: From ocean trash to high quality products

When Javier Goyeneche spent 12 hours at sea in 2015, the sheer amount of trash he saw in the waters of the Mediterranean catalysed him into action. Already running the ECOALF Recycled Fabrics brand since 2009, he launched the non-profit ECOALF Foundation to upcycle ocean waste in collaboration with the fishing sector and discourage the careless use of natural resources.

“Because there is no planet B” is the slogan underpinning Javier’s work. The ECOALF Foundation has become an advocate of this message and, importantly, provides an example of the circular economy in action: marine debris is collected through Upcycling the Oceans, turned into top-quality thread and then reintroduced as consumer goods through the ECOALF brand of fashion, footwear and accessories.

A need to act now
Just how devastating is marine plastic? ECOALF Foundation sees its impact on marine life as even more devastating than climate change, to which plastic is also a contributing factor. And the damage from marine plastic – which exists from the ocean’s waves to the deep seabed – extends far beyond our aquatic ecosystems. It also threatens food safety and quality, and therefore human health, as well as coastal tourism and the communities and economies that rely upon it.

While the organisation has collected 700 tonnes of marine waste from the bottom of the ocean since its launch in 2015, this is overshadowed by the amount of new plastic rubbish entering our waters each year. It is reported that eight million tonnes of trash ends-up in the oceans annually, with plastic accounting for 80 per cent of all marine debris. And, as if these figures weren’t worrying enough, if there’s no interruption to our planet’s current trash-producing ways, the rate at which plastic enters our oceans is set to increase.

Ambassadors for change
Javier knows Upcycling the Oceans can’t act alone to fulfil its aim of cleaning up the Mediterranean Sea. This is exactly why the Foundation engages in awareness raising activities to demonstrate the possibilities of recycling and break the cycle of litter entering our marine environments in the first place. It also collaborates with other projects and institutions in the fields of waste management, environmental awareness and research and development to explore possibilities to valorise recyclable waste.

“We strongly believe in education. It is really important and part of the ECOALF Foundation,” Javier says, adding how well school kids react to their visits. He emphasises the need to create future generations of ocean ambassadors: “Sometimes we spend too much time worrying about what kind of planet are we going to leave to our kids. And we should be much more worried about what kind of kids we are going to leave to our planet.”

Returning to his motto of “Because there is no planet B”, Javier believes we are obliged to leave this world at least how we found it for future generations. He advocates to stop the exploitation of natural resources and notes a trend towards mainstream acceptance of sustainable production and consumption.

“Today, I believe that what you do is not enough anymore. I think how you do it is more and more important,” he explains. “Many people are, right now, starting to understand that and they want to start supporting and consuming brands which represent certain values that they feel comfortable with”. And this is exactly where ECOALF plays to its strengths: the provision of desirable consumer goods that clean-up the environment in their production process.

From local to large-scale
What began as a pilot project in Valencia now involves 40 ports where over 550 boats and 2’600 fishermen remove over 180 tonnes of waste each year off the coasts of Spain. The initiative has been replicated in Thailand, Greece and Italy and now, with support of the Julius Baer Foundation, is being launched in France.

Despite being the fourth largest fishery producer in the European Union, France is the largest producer of plastic waste in the Mediterranean region, responsible for 4.5 million tonnes in 2016 alone. Of the estimated 80’000 tonnes of plastic waste France places in nature each year, more than an eighth ends up in the Mediterranean Sea.

Supported by Julius Baer, Upcycling the Oceans aims to make a dent in this mass of plastic and raise awareness about environmentally friendly consumer and recycling practices in France. The initiative aims to collaborate with up to 2’000 fishermen based in 30 ports in eight of the country’s coastal regions to remove plastic waste from its waters.

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