Performance + sustainability: From fishing nets to high-performance materials
Plastic circularity will play a key role in reducing the quantity of plastics in the world’s oceans. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), more than 8 million tonnes of plastics end up in our oceans each year, damaging marine ecosystems, including wildlife, fisheries and tourism. Abandoned fishing nets represent roughly 640,000 tonnes – or nearly 10% – of all plastic waste in the sea.
When Starboard approached us about using Akulon® RePurposed for fins, fin boxes, SUP pumps, and other structural surfboard parts, they made it clear that they needed a high-performance material that contributed to a circular economy. Founded in 1994, Starboard has been a leading windsurfing and paddle boarding brand for more than two decades. The brand’s vision sets its sights on being not only the best in the world, but also the best for the world. Their application needed a material that would be lightweight, tough and durable. It would have high exposure to water, salt water, sand, and sun. And it would need to be made from feedstocks consisting of post-consumer materials.
Akulon RePurposed is made from upcycled fishing nets. To ensure our RePurposed material grades are of the highest quality, we worked very closely with our supplier to ensure quality assurance, safety, and a best practices approach at each step of the process. Nets are collected in coastal areas, and inspected to ensure they meet our feedstock requirements. While the program is regional to India, it currently sees more than 125 truckloads of fishing nets transferred to the production location each month. The nets are then decontaminated, and cut into small pieces for cleaning. The material is shredded further into small threads, washed at high pressure, and dried – all using the processes we developed together with the supplier over several years of collaboration.
After extrusion to pelletize the material, it undergoes a quality inspection at the supplier’s in-house lab to ensure it meets agreed quality standards before being transferred to DSM. Once the material is back in our facilities, we create compounded grades that meet the material requirements.
The Akulon RePurposed grades used in Starboard’s Net Positive fins perform nearly on par with virgin materials while being a fully recycled product fit for several applications. The program currently sees us upcycling more than 250 metric tonnes of fishing nets each month, or more than 3,000 metric tonnes each year. With a feedstock that relies on collecting abandoned fishing nets from beaches and coastal areas, the material is assured to retain a 100% sustainable supply, and the program currently employs more than 300 people across the entire process, from sourcing, segregation and washing to extrusion, quality inspection, packing and shipping.
Partnering with a dedicated supplier to source the equipment and build the circular process, ensured we would not compromise on the material’s performance while delivering on its sustainability profile.