Podcast 77, ECOALF'S ACTION MAN, JAVIER GOYENECHE
EPISODE 77 FEATURES JAVIER GOYENECHE
Who’s up for stopping our wasteful ways and reimagining trash as a resource? This week’s guest is proving fashion can be made from entirely from recycled materials.
He is Javier Goyaneche, president and founder of Ecoalf, the Spanish clothing company that pioneers high-tech new materials made from waste.
If you’re a sustainability nerd, you’ve no doubt heard of Ecoalf. It was Spain’s first B-corp and Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan - a few years back she did a collab with them for Goop.
They’ve developed recycled fabrics from used coffee grounds, cotton waste from the cutting room floor, old fishing nets and car tyres and ocean plastic, and they’ve created a powerful brand in the process, focused on timeless sporty pieces for men and women.
We’ve all heard of recycled poly made from discarded PET bottles, some even collected from our shorelines and beaches. But Javier set his sights on cleaning up the open ocean. The Ecoalf Foundation has partnered with thousands of fishermen in Spain and Thailand to fish for the ocean plastic that’s turned into Ecoalf’s Upcyling the Oceans yarn. “We’re not a story-telling company, we’re a story-doing company,” says Javier.
This inspiring episode is about what it takes to succeed, and how to harness big ideas. And it’s a call to action: As the Ecoalf shirts say, “There is no Planet B.”
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT…
TOURISM Could it help the environmental movement? Javier points out that it’s in the interests of much-vacationed-in countries like Spain and Australia to maintain their drawcard coastlines and ensure they’re not swamped with plastic trash. But how do we balance that with increased numbers? “Sustainable development is:
… development which meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
George Monbiot argued that, over the years, sustainable development has morphed into sustained growth. The essence of his argument is that little resolve exists to go beyond rhetoric. This is because environmental crises require we limit the demands we place on it, but our economies require endless growth.
“WE’RE NOT A STORY-TELLING COMPANY, WE’RE A STORY DOING COMPANY.” - JAVIER GOYENECHE
ARAL SEA ‘In the 1960s, the Soviet Union undertook a major water diversion project on the arid plains of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. The region’s two major rivers, fed by snowmelt and precipitation in faraway mountains, were used to transform the desert into farms for cotton and other crops. Before the project, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya rivers flowed down from the mountains, cut northwest through the Kyzylkum Desert, and finally pooled together in the lowest part of the basin. The lake they made, the Aral Sea, was once the fourth largest in the world. Although irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea.’ Via Wikipedia
UPCYCLING THE OCEANS “The fishermen are literally catching trash,” says Javier. He started working with 3 fishermen in Spain, and now works with 3000. Then after speaking at a conference in Istanbul, Javier met an official from the Thai government who persuaded him to come to Bangkok and share his learnings. In 2017 Ecoalf rolled out Upcycling the Oceans program in Thailand. Ecoalf’s new swim collection is made from plastic waste from the bottom of the oceans by Phuket.
Here’s a snippet from an interview Javier did with Dezeen: ‘The fishermen take rubbish caught in their nets to their local port for Ecoalf to collect and process. "Once we have the waste, it is classified by category," Ecoalf explained. "We keep the plastic bottles, and the rest goes to a recycling facility. For the plastic, we do a quality control check, because a bottle at the bottom of the ocean is very different to one floating along the coast." Once it has been thoroughly cleaned, the plastic is broken down into smaller parts and reduced to polymer. Ecoalf uses this raw material to create yarn for a range of different fabrics.’
LOCAL SUPPLY CHAINS. “We don’t want to move the waste around,” Javier tells Clare. “It we recycle the coffee waste from Taiwan, we want to make the fabric in Taiwan.".. we recycle the used tyres in Spain, we make the final flipflop in Spain.”
HOW MUCH MARINE DEBRIS COMES FROM FISHING BOATS? According to a study into plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, published by the Scientific Reports journal in 2018, there’s way more plastic there than first thought, and also way more of it is from the fishing industry. “Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. “ Read more here.
MICROFIBRES We’ve covered this issue from a few different angles on this podcast. For a deep dive on ocean plastic, try Episode 1 with Laura Wells, then Episode 47 with Tim Silverwood. For Ecoalf, the most relevant thing was the polar fleece, which gets its texture from broken polyester filaments and has emerged as one of the worse clothing shedders.
Fleece jackets were big sellers for Ecoalf. What to do? “In the same way we that we decided we weren’t going to use leather - when we realised it was impossible to be sure of the traceabilty of the chrome; the factories would tell us they don’t use it, but they did, so we stopped - we took that hard decision and stopped selling fleece.”
FISHING FOR LITTER is a successful project that takes trash out of the oceans around Britain.
PARLEY FOR THE OCEANS is an environmental organisation that fights ocean plastic. They’ve worked with brands including G-Star and Adidas to raise awareness and produce products using collected ocean trash.
Ecoalf has harvested the ALGAE that grows in excess in lakes and rivers to create a flexible foam that can be used to make the outersoles of shoes and that permits easy movement, as well as benefiting the environment. HOW CLEVER IS THAT? Then there’s their flipflops made from repurposed old tyre rubber.
The process of making fabric out of COFFEE GROUNDS “is similar to that used to turn bamboo into a viscose-like material. The resultant fabric is soft, light, flexible and breathable and can also be used to produce an outer shell that is water resistant.” Via the Guardian. Used coffee grounds also make fabulous compost - releasing nitrogen as they degrade. So why do we keep throwing them away?
Ecoalf was the first Spanish B-CORP. For more on the B-Corp movement, check out Episode 46 with Lily Cole.
“I think we need a new generation of companies, that show things can be done in a different way. I don’t think what you do is enough anymore, it’s how you do it that is important.” - Javier Goyeneche
A NOTE ON OUR MUSIC: IT IS BY OUR FRIEND MONTAIGNE, WHO SANG A SPECIAL ACOUSTIC VERSION OF "BECAUSE I LOVE YOU" JUST FOR US. IT'S FROM HER ALBUM GLORIOUS HEIGHTS.
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