For Spanish fishermen, sea's bounty includes plastic

December 3, 2015 by Laurence Boutreux
An employee sorts waste collected by fishermen at a plastic processing plant in Chiva, near Valencia in Spain
An employee sorts waste collected by fishermen at a plastic processing plant in Chiva, near Valencia in Spain

At sunrise in the fishing port of Villajoyosa in eastern Spain, a fleet of traditional fishing boats sets out on the Mediterranean to hunt for cuttlefish, prawns —and plastic bottles.

Since July, Spanish fishing boats have been picking up plastic waste in the Mediterranean that will be recycled into polyester fibres that will be used to make a high-end clothing line.

"We want to present the first fashion collection made with yarn and fabric that come from garbage found at the bottom of the sea in June in Florence," said Javier Goyeneche, 45, the president of Ecoalf, the Spanish company behind the venture.

Founded in 2010, the Madrid-based firm has already launched "a new generation" of clothes and accessories made from , old fishing nets and used tyres found on land.

The company, which employs 18 people and posted a turnover of 4.5 million euros ($4.8 million) this year, already sells its jackets and backpacks made from recycled waste in upscale shops such as Harrods in London and Bloomingdale's in New York.

Now Ecoalf says it will be the first company to make clothes from recycled plastic waste found at sea and it has signed on 200 fishing boats in the eastern region of Valencia to act as scavengers.

"Where others see garbage, I see raw material," said Goyeneche.

The collected two tonnes of plastic waste, and two tonnes of other garbage, in just two months, said the president of the federation of fisherman of the Valencia region, Jose Ignacio Llorca Ramis. The fishermen are not paid for their efforts.

"For ecologists, we are predators, but there is at least one thing which we have done well: pick up garbage," joked Jose Vicente Mayor, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all fishermen.

'Cleaned up area'

A container with plastic waste collected from the sea, in the Spanish harbour of Villajoyosa
A container with plastic waste collected from the sea, in the Spanish harbour of Villajoyosa

Mayor, who was worked as a fisherman for the past 19 years, said he has got used to filling up his Ecoalf container with waste.

"Fisherman used to say: 'This is not for me, I am throwing it back in the water'. Today we don't even throw out a paper!," he said as he cast his trawl 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the coast.

Standing on the bridges of their boat Mayor and two other fishermen carefully sort prawns and crabs which they pulled up from the dark and muddy bottom of the sea.

This time little plastic waste was collected—just a couple of hundred grams.

"This is because we have already cleaned up this area a lot," said Mayor.

A staggering eight million metric tones of are discharged into the oceans each year from the world's 192 coastal countries, according to an international study published in the journal Science in February, which was based on 2010 data.

The trash encompasses just about anything imaginable made of plastic including shopping bags, bottles, toys, food wrappers, fishing gear, cigarette filters, sunglasses, buckets and toilet seats.

In the Mediterranean Sea plastic garbage has been found in the stomachs of small fish, birds and sperm whales.

Compressed plastic waste collected by fishermen at a processing plant in Chiva, near Valencia in Spain
Compressed plastic waste collected by fishermen at a processing plant in Chiva, near Valencia in Spain

"Sea turtles especially can die from a bowel obstruction when they ingest plastic bags which they confuse with jellyfish,"said Xema Gil, a veterinarian with the Centre for the Preservation of Fauna, a unit of the regional government of Valencia.

'Social problem'

Four million plastic bottles are thrown away each year in Spain, according to Gabriel Buldu, commercial director of PET, one of the country's biggest recycling firms, lamenting a "social problem".

The company's plant in Chiva, a town near the eastern port of Valencia, will in December start transforming the plastic bottles collected by the fishermen into synthetic fibres.

Spools of yarn made from plastic waste at a processing plant in Angles, northeastern Spain
Spools of yarn made from plastic waste at a processing plant in Angles, northeastern Spain

They will be shaken, flattened and boiled and then automatically sorted by machines or by hand as they move along a conveyer belt before finally being shredded in giant mixers into tiny flakes.

In January these flakes will be transformed into fibres by Spanish firm Antex in Girona in northeastern Spain that will be used by Ecoalf to make its clothes.

Stacks of plastic waste collected at sea at a processing plant in Chiva, near Valencia in Spain
Stacks of plastic waste collected at sea at a processing plant in Chiva, near Valencia in Spain

The fibres used in the first clothing collection will me made from plastic collected both at sea and on land but the goal is to make fibres entirely from sea waste.

"It's a way to make people conscious of what is happening at the bottom of the Mediterranean," said Goyeneche.

Clothes made from recycled waste in a shop in Madrid
Clothes made from recycled waste in a shop in Madrid

Explore further: Beached whale in Spain dies from ingesting plastic waste

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