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Fishing nets and reverse logistics: a circular economy success story

Did your carpet start life as a fishing net? We chat with Robb Donzé, Managing Director of INZIDE Commercial, to find out more about the circular economy in action.

INZIDE Commercial specialises in sustainable interiors for commercial buildings. It’s at the head of its game when it comes to circular economy design principles, both in terms of how it makes its flooring products, and what happens with the product at the end of life.

Robb Donzé, Managing Director at INZIDE Commercial, accredits the company’s success in large measure to its attempts to follow nature’s constraints and using circular economy closed-loop design systems in the manufacturing of a special type of carpet.

“Closed-loop manufacturing is about turning that line into a loop. Whatever you take out of the ground and turn into a product needs to be turned into another product, rather than discarded,” says Robb.

INZIDE distributes carpet tiles made by Interface, which applies principles of closed-loop manufacturing to its carpet tile production. Interface has set ambitious targets, with the aim of raw materials being 100% recycled or bio-based by 2020.  One of the innovations that will help it achieve this is the Net-Works initiative, which was created to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities.

‘Net Effect’ is a carpet tile collection that references the ocean, in its look and also in the material it is made of, due to a partnership called Net-Works, between Interface and conservation charity the Zoological Society of London.

Under the Net-Works initiative, discarded fishing nets are collected and sold to yarn supplier Aquafil, which repurposes the fishing nets into yarn. This yarn is used in Interface’s Net Effect recycled-content nylon carpet tiles.

By establishing a community-based supply chain for discarded nets, Net-Works improves the livelihood of local fishers, while providing Interface with an innovative source of recycled materials for its carpet tiles.

“Our products are admired because of the story behind them. By establishing connections with others, we can create a closed loop system where everyone benefits,” Robb says.

One of the reasons why INZIDE got involved with SBN’s circular economy work is to start making these sorts of collaborative connections.

“SBN’s circular economy work is good because it helps us to see the process documented:  we’re developing written specifications and blueprints that can be replicated and scaled,” Robb says.

“We feel like we are not making enough inroads trying to go it alone – we need to get other businesses involved, so that we are not just trying to push it ourselves. We want to have relationships with businesses who we haven’t had relationships with in the past,” he says.

A further initiative Robb is keen to develop involves using ‘reverse logistics,’ a concept which is part of the circular economy.

“The current logistics system has been developed to get products where they need to go as quickly as possible. However, right now it costs more to get our carpet tiles back to Auckland at the end of their life than it does to send them to the States for recycling,” says Robb.

“Here in NZ, freight and courier systems are set up to get products to the point of sale ASAP without any incentive to get them to the recyclers afterwards.”

Robb is keen to make connections with other people who need to get their product back at the end of life. He would like to develop the infrastructure required for ‘reverse logistics’, so that everything is set up to get products back to the manufacturer/producer as quickly as possible.

“It makes sense to ship things back in full containers, so if there are other people with a product they need to get back to the manufacturer, it would be neat if we could share those logistics,” he says.  

“We’re not asking people to spend more money, we’re asking them to spend it differently,” he says.

Want to hear more about the circular economy and how you can apply these principles to your business? You can hear Robb speak more about the circular economy at Project NZ, held at AUT Business School in Auckland from 17-18 September. Click here to find out more.

INZIDE Commercial is one of the project partners for SBN’s Circular Economy work stream. To find out more about how SBN is facilitating a shift from waste management to material optimisation, click here.

Update: 2 October 2014:

Interface is expanding its fishing net recycling programme. So far it has worked in coastal areas of the Philippines, and it is now expanding to Cameroon, with another 2 hubs planned over the next 3 years.

Since the project launched in 2012, Net-Works hubs have collected more than 38,000 kilograms of discarded fishing nets, helping 4,500 villagers in communities in the Philippines to earn supplemental income equal to 84,000 additional meals.

Click here to read the full story.