Socks from the sea

Socks from the sea

Humanity faces many thorny environmental challenges, but one of the most difficult is how to clean up the seas, which have long been used as a dumping ground for waste. A pioneering initiative involving organisations in the Netherlands, Italy and Slovenia is showing how one type of waste – abandoned fishing nets – can be recovered from the oceans and turned into useful consumer products.

The Healthy Seas Initiative started as a collaboration between the Tilburg, Netherlands-based European Centre for Nature Conservation (ECNC) and two companies, Italy's Aquafil and Dutch sock wholesaler Star Sock. The initiative sends divers into the seas to recover old nets and other fishing gear, which, if left in the seas, trap and kill marine creatures - a problem known as “ghost fishing”.

A number of initiatives are involved in cleaning up waste from the oceans, but Healthy Seas goes further. The recovered nets are cleaned and the fibres from them are recycled into yarn at an Aquafil facility in Slovenia, using the ECONYL® process, which has been commercialised by Aquafil. The yarn will be used to make socks and carpet tiles. Samples of these products have been produced, and Healthy Seas is gearing up for full production. In addition, a new partner, Koru Swimwear, which is based in Florida, USA, has recently joined the initiative, and will use the yarn to make swimming costumes.

Hanneke Wijnja of ECNC says that the Healthy Seas Initiative encompasses the “whole cycle” of waste recovery and reintegration of waste into the production system. “A lot of fishing gear is in the ocean,” she says. In addition, fishermen,  and groups that work to clean the marine environment have piled up “thousands of tonnes” of old nets, which they want to find a use for. Healthy Seas is attempting to connect with these groups so that they can use the nets as a raw material.

Healthy Seas is currently talking to retailers, such as Albert Heijn and HEMA, which could sell its socks and swimwear. Full production will start once retail agreements are in place.

Wijnja says that ultimately there needs to be an economic case, as well as an environmental case, for the Healthy Seas products. The organisation is still working on the economic case - “we don't want to make the socks very expensive,” she says. But Healthy Seas believes that with “the right partners and the right set up, and a responsible business approach,” the initiative can work.

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