The Net-Hack Challenge - turning ghost gear into re-usable designs

Posted on 11 November 2016 by

Christina Dixon

in the Animals in the wild blog

What role can embroiderers, product designers, ceramics experts and jewellery makers have in solving the problem of ghost fishing gear?

I found out a couple of weeks ago when invited to participate in the University of Creative Arts’ first ‘Net-Hack Challenge’ hosted by Professor Martin Charter from the Centre for Sustainable Design as part of the Circular Ocean project.

Groups were invited to submit challenges for a group of students, creators and makers to wrestle with which focused on the re-use opportunities for old fishing gear. The participants were split into groups around the various challenges and given a day, along with a pile of old fishing nets, ropes and lines from MCB Seafoods, to hack together a concept and sales pitch for a product that could give this waste a second life.

A man and a woman discuss creative plans for fishing gear

When Martin suggested the project to me I was keen to submit some challenges from the perspective of an animal welfare campaigner and environmentalist, I believe finding re-use opportunities and creative, circular solutions to end of life fishing gear will divert the flow of old gear into landfill and the sea and, ultimately, protect animals from harm. Moreover, the scope of creating new products from fishing gear is an emerging market with companies like Bureo, Fourth Element and Interface all looking to help the environment and coastal communities while also turning a profit. It seems like a win win.

The challenges I submitted to the participants looked at some of the key issues I’ve encountered while working on our Sea Change campaign. I tasked them to look at how we could re-use old lobster pots once they can no longer be used for fishing. Pots are often made of mixed components making recycling tricky, and their weight means transportation to any centralised facility is prohibitive. I was also curious if they could find a way to re-use the small fragments of nets and lines found on beaches that are too small to collect up and recycle. These tiny pieces of fishing gear are a nightmare for wildlife like sea birds, who make nests using the colourful twine and end up injuring and dismembering themselves. Finally, my interest also lay with creating a product that could be created, sold and used in coastal communities from old fishing gear to generate revenue locally and tell a story about the oceans.

The arrival of the nets was like Christmas, as the participants started smelling them, stretching the fibres and snipping out sections. Rather than seeing the pile of nets as rubbish with no value, they saw it as an opportunity. At the end of the day the groups presented their outputs, which included lighting design concepts, football goals, benches made from lobster pots, outdoor cushions and much more. Not only that, but I was thrilled to see a group of people who weren’t familiar with the issue of ghost gear really connect to the cause and start to hash out solutions to some of the challenges we face when thinking about sustainable solutions.

A group of women taking old fishing gear out of a bag

I’m looking forward to spending more time on the Circular Ocean project and hope to see some of the concepts taking forward as it’s clear to me that harnessing innovation and sustainable thinking will be key to solving the problem of ghost gear.

*Please get in touch with me if you’d like to link up with any of the project groups to discuss their concepts.

A lighting design using fishing gear

Lighting design concept re-using ghost fishing gear

A keyring re-using fishing gear

Keyring re-using ghost fishing gear

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