Chile is one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies. According to the World Bank, approximately seven million Chileans lifted themselves out of poverty between 2004 and 2012 due largely to increases in gainful employment opportunities. Despite such socioeconomic improvement, Chile continues to underperform, relative to neighboring countries like Argentina, with regards to environmental protection.
Plastic pollution is of the utmost concern in Chile for two main reasons. First, Chile is the second largest plastic consumer in Latin America. Second, approximately 90 percent of the Chilean population does not recycle. Fishing industry waste, i.e. derelict fishnets discarded in the ocean, contributes significantly to Chile’s overall plastic pollution problem.
Ben Kneppers, a Northeastern University alumnus (College of Engineering ’07) and former sustainability consultant, has joined forces with two friends, David Stover and Kevin Ahearn, to tackle plastic pollution in Chile. Bureo Skateboards (“Bureo”) is a social business co-founded by Kneppers, Stover and Ahearn that manufactures skateboards made from “upcycled” plastic collected from Chilean coastline communities. Each skateboard is made from approximately 30 square feet of derelict fishnets that might otherwise be discarded in the ocean.
In addition to the obvious positive impact Bureo has on the environment, it also promotes socioeconomic development of the largely indigenous fishing villages from which it sources its plastic.
Bureo’s “Net Positiva” fishnet collection and recycling program, made possible through a partnership with the World Wildlife Foundation, allows Bureo to 1) collect derelict fishnets before they reach the ocean, 2) employ local fishermen to contribute to their environmental mission and 3) educate the Chilean population as to the harmful effects of plastic pollution in the ocean environment.
In 2013, Bureo was invited to participate in Start-Up Chile, a program developed by the Chilean government to attract early-stage entrepreneurs to develop their ventures in-country. Bureo has received from financial support from Start-Up Chile as well as from IDEA: Northeastern University’s Venture Accelerator.
Bureo launched a Kickstarter campaign in mid-April through which they have since raised more than US $44,000 to fund the first production run of their skateboards in Santiago, Chile’s capital. With two weeks remaining in their campaign, Bureo is likely to raise more than double its original goal of $25,000.
Bureo’s three co-founders have been traveling throughout the eastern United States promoting their Kickstarter campaign. On April 16, Kneppers visited his alma mater to speak to an audience of Northeastern University community members about the social business he co-founded.
Hosted by the Social Enterprise Institute (SEI) Student Association, the lecture largely concerned Bureo’s social mission. Students and alumni of Northeastern’s Social Enterprise Institute posed a number of questions related to Bureo’s operational sustainability, scalability, social impact measurement and more.
“It’s important to us to keep our production cycle in Chile,” said Stover, who joined Kneppers at the SEI Student Association event in Northeastern’s Visitor Center in West Village F. “Local production promotes job growth, a major aspect of our mission.”
After their Kickstarter campaign wraps in mid-May, Bureo will begin production of Minnows, i.e. their flagship skateboards. Production is expected to be completed in June, when the Minnows will begin to be shipped to Kickstarter backers in the United States. Early adopters interested in receiving Minnows are encouraged to visit Bureo’s Kickstarter campaign, available here until May 15.