Old fishing nets may be making their way into your pocket as machinery makers, recyclers, materials companies and consumer product firms are finding ways to reuse the plastics from those nets.
LifeProof, a brand by electronics accessory company OtterBox, unveiled a case for iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones on April 18, made using at least 85 percent recycled plastic from discarded fishing nets.
The Wake phone case is sourced from polyproylene coming from commercial fishing nets and other equipment that otherwise would likely have been cut loose and discarded in the ocean.
"We're not only creating products that help ensure a longer, repurposed life for plastics from the fishing industry, [but also] we're supporting water organizations that can make an even larger impact than we would be able to alone," LifeProof CEO Jim Parke said in a news release.
Recycling nets is a complicated process, as two companies involved in a project said at K2019 in Düsseldorf, Germany, where they were demonstrating their work.
The project was not specifically geared toward a phone case project, but it showed the work needed to make material available from commercial fishing equipment.
Lindner Recyclingtech GmbH made a Micromat 1500 shredder for plastics recycler Comberplast SA to use in Santiago, Chile.
Comberplast has gained attention with its efforts to capture and recycle used fishing nets and ropes polluting the shores of Patagonia.
Michel Compagnon, commercial manager for Comberplast, attended K to talk about his project and how his company hooked up with the recycling equipment maker.
Fishing nets, he explained, are difficult to recycle because they are designed not to break.
"You have to cut something that is never made to be cut," Compagnon said. "They are very hard to recycle — nets and ropes. There was a very smart engineer who decided they should never be broken. That's the idea."
A handful of companies have joined together to take the used fishing material processed by Lindner to make small boxes that were given out at the show. Erema extruded the plastics into pellets on its recycling equipment before the boxes were injection molded.
Fishing ropes and lines are made from both polypropylene and polyethylene, so the recycling process uses additives to allow the materials to be reused to make new products.
For its work in Santiago, Comberplast recycles the material and injection molds the resin into new sporting goods.
"We have taken from Patagonia 2,000 [metric] tons of ropes just from two years. And we are expecting next year 2,000 [tonnes] a year and continuing to grow at that scale," Compagnon said. "That's just ropes. We are doing nets; we are doing buoys and EPS," he said.
Not only is the company cleaning the materials from beaches, but now those in the fishing industry are diverting their worn-out materials directly to the company.
"If you really want to clean the ocean, you don't have to do the beaches; you have to go to the source," Campagnon said.
The Comberplast official stressed that his company's business model regarding the nets-and-rope cleanup is just that: a business.
"The important thing is this is not philanthropy; it's a business. It's a good business when you manage to collaborate with different people with knowledge to push a goal. It's circular economy. The second word is very important. For us, it's how do make a business model in the world of plastics, using plastics as a tool. That's what we do," Compagnon said.
Lindner Managing Director Michael Lackner said these kinds of efforts can prove to others that there is money to be made while doing some good.
"Here you see a real example. That's a positive thing. This is what we need to communicate, to encourage the industry," he said. "This is a case of how you can do something very good for the environment, and it's economically sustainable. That's the important thing: sustainability in both ways, ecologically and economically."
Midsize companies, Lackner said, are very important to the industry right now as they can help show the big firms and the little ones how to reconsider their place in the circular economy.
"They encourage other members of the industry to go in the same direction. That's so important for the plastics industry as a whole because we need to solve the problems which we have with marine pollution," Lackner said.
"Such lighthouse projects are important examples to demonstrate to other members it's possible," he said.
Pellets made by Erema are then used to make small storage boxes using an Engel injection molding machine fitted with Haidlmair GmbH tools.