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Thai firm is turning old fishing nets into COVID-19 protective equipment

  • A Thai design firm is paying local fisherman to collect discarded nets to turn them into COVID-19 personal protective equipment.
  • The firm, Qualy, has already converted 3 tons of discarded nets into face shields, disinfectant containers, and other equipment.
  • A recent study projects the annual flow of plastics into the world’s oceans could triple by the year 2040.
  • View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.

In fishing villages along Thailand’s eastern coast, old nets that once polluted the waters are being transformed into COVID-19 personal protective equipment.

The Thai design firm Qualy is hoping its community-based project can both combat the coronavirus and put money in the pockets of small-scale fishermen.

So far, Qualy has collected nearly 3 tons of discarded nets and enlisted 40 local fishing villages, and is galvanizing community action to clean the ocean.

The nets are salvaged, shredded into nylon granules that can be melted down, and transformed into products like plastic face shields and disinfectant bottles at Qualy’s recycling facility.

“Normally in a linear economy, we tend to take, produce, use, and then dispose the product,” Qualy marketing director Thosaphol Suppametheekulwat told Reuters. “But now, we don’t have to throw things away. We can take them back and recycle or upcycle them into new products.”

Fisherman like Anan Jaitang earn about $0.32 per net through the program.

“If no one bought my fishing nets, they would just pile up like a mountain,” Jaitang told Reuters. “You can’t go anywhere without the ghost nets [floating around] in the water, and then they get tangled up with our fishing nets, causing even more hassle.”

Old nets are a chronic problem along Thailand’s coast. Jaitang says he goes through about 100 nets a year, most of which are destroyed through everyday wear and tear.

“I’ve seen the products, and I’m proud of my materials [being part of them]. At least it helps society and saves the environment,” he said.

The project was started by the Environmental Justice Foundation, a UK-based nonprofit. 

“So usually, if there are no proper collection, nets are often neglected, left on the shores or some are burned, just to get rid of them,” Ingpat Pakchairatchaku said. “This is, like, a very dangerous action because these nets, if they are left on beaches, they could fall into the ocean and they could just drift for decades, entangling animals like dolphins, sea turtles, dugongs, or even coral reefs.”

A major study published in late July projected that if governments, industries, and communities around the world fail to act now, the annual amount of plastic flowing into the world’s oceans could nearly triple by 2040. The study started prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and does not account for the new flow of single-use plastic gloves and face masks washing up on shores, nor the new need for a range of plastic-based protective equipment.

Qualy is now producing seven different COVID-related products from fishing nets, including table shield clamps and stands. By the end of 2020, project coordinators expect fishermen from 22 coastal provinces will be participating.

“So many people are now contributing to collecting the waste,” Suppametheekulwat said. “And we’re here to fill in the gap, to transform the waste into practical products that people can use.”

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