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Sailor’s yarn

Author: Alexandra Alferi |
Photo: Christoph Kienzle/Shutterstock
Taking responsibility, protecting the environment – lots of people want this. With a product from Haniel’s BekaertDeslee business unit, customers can now do good while they sleep. Can this work?

A fisherman steers his boat through the waves off the coast of Spain. He pulls his nets on board, pulls out some fish and sells them to the local restaurant. What the restaurant guests rarely think of is that there were not only fish in the net, but also a lot of rubbish. It is not worth it for the fishermen to collect empty bottles, rusted metal parts or plastic bags on board. “That’s why they usually throw the trash back into the water,” says Michel Chtepa, Managing Director of the Spain-based initiative Seaqual. Until now, that is.

Taking out the trash, at sea

Seaqual is a cooperation of the Spanish textile companies Santanderina and Antex. With this start-up, founded three years ago, they want to counteract littering in the oceans. Around eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans every year. It decomposes extremely slowly and becomes a death trap for many sea creatures. In addition, microplastics get into fish and thus into the human body – with still-unknown effects on our health. “Many people are already aware of this,” says Chtepa, “but as long as cleaning the oceans does not bring any economic profit, nothing will get done.” That’s why, in Seaqual, Santanderina and Antex have developed a unique business model that is ecologically and economically worthwhile.

To pay the fishermen directly for their garbage by-catch would be against the law. Seaqual therefore supports fishermen in other ways – for example, with repairs, or financing new nets. “But the fishermen also have a strong economic interest in the idea,” says Chtepa. After all, the trash in the sea is a threat to the fish. “The stock is declining, and the fishermen’s livelihood is in danger,” explains Chtepa. Seaqual gives the fishermen a voice and also raises with the government the issue of rubbish in the oceans. However, Seaqual is not waiting for new laws, but rather is resolutely tackling the issue: Every day, the approximately 400 cutters on this stretch of Spain’s coast remove about a tonne of rubbish from the Mediterranean. Plastic, glass, metals – each material then goes into its own recycling chain. The plastic PET, known to every consumer in bottle form, ends up in a spinning mill – a long-standing BekaertDeslee supplier – located in Girona, Spain.

 

 

Since March 2019, the Haniel business unit has been producing mattress-cover fabrics from the recycled ocean plastic that has been processed into yarns. An absolute novelty – although the use of synthetic fibres has been common for a long time. “The sleeping environment is usually relatively damp,” explains Philip Ghekiere, Marketing and Design Director at BekaertDeslee. “That’s why we use polyester that doesn’t absorb sweat – as is the case with cotton, for example – but instead evaporates sweat effectively. This keeps the sleeping environment dry.” Oil is used to produce polyester. Since this is not particularly sustainable, BekaertDeslee has also, for several years now, been using yarns made from recycled PET bottles.


SEAQUAL

intends to expand its commitment and to find solutions to avoid trash in other regions as well. Tailor-made projects, for example in Asia and Africa, where there are still hardly any functioning recycling systems, are in progress. The cleaning up of the Mediterranean Sea and co-operation with the textile industry are just the beginning. Other industries are to be included in future in order to sustainably reduce the amount of trash in the oceans and on beaches. SEAQUAL™ co-operates with the Futureway Foundation based in Barcelona. Through the joint project Together for a Clean Ocean, companies that cannot use ocean plastics in their products can also support the initiative.


With Seaqual, the business unit now goes one step further: at least 20 per cent of the yarns used for the Seaqual mattress cover were once plastic waste floating in the sea. The rest comes from other recycled PET bottles or renewable raw materials such as Lyocell, which is obtained from sustainably managed eucalyptus forests. “The minimum value gives us a certain leeway for the individual markets. Environmental awareness is more pronounced in certain regions than in others. This means that the willingness to pay more for Seaqual is higher in some countries than in others,” says Ghekiere. Initial market analyses and consumer surveys show that Seaqual, for example, has high potential in Germany. “Our plan is to spread the additional costs resulting from the enormous effort, without losses, among all those involved in the supply chain. And it’s a plan that can definitely work,” says Ghekiere. “At the end of the day, this is a win-win situation that brings both economic and ecological benefits.

An idea makes waves

BekaertDeslee is the second company to go public with Seaqual. “But in recent months we have started partnerships with nearly 400 companies,” explains Chtepa. For BekaertDeslee, the goal is not reached with the Seaqual mattress cover alone – they want to do more. For example, BekaertDeslee has been participating in the Eneco Beach Clean Up Cup event for several years now. “We have called on our employees to pick up trash on the Belgian coast,” says Ghekiere. Colleagues in Australia and the USA did the same. Ghekiere sums up: “We want to help preserve our planet in ecological balance for future generations. That’s what we call ‘enkelfähig’.”