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FISH FOR PLASTIC AND SAVE THE OCEAN WITH GRAVITY WAVE

As we read news about marine pollution every day, some people are struggling to reverse this situation. Amaia Rodríguez, co-founder and CEO of the Spanish environmental startup Gravity Wave, talks about collaborations between young entrepreneurs, plastic fishing, and the importance of having a purpose. 

Words By José M. Sainz-Maza del Olmo

06/08/2021

We often hear that traveling opens your eyes and can change your life. Undoubtedly, Spanish entrepreneur Amaia Rodríguez could say a lot about this. Founder along with her brother Julen of the environmental startup Gravity Wave, she has found a hole in her busy schedule to speak with Staiy Edit. She welcomes me with a smile from the company’s headquarters in the Spanish town of Calpe, on the shores of the Mediterranean.

“It was my trip to Southeast Asia that made me understand the scope of plastic pollution in the ocean,” Amaia reveals. “Just like everyone else, I had heard that the seas were being polluted and there was a problem of garbage accumulation, but this was something that I perceived in a somewhat abstract way, as if it were something that did not affect me directly. However, while living in China between 2014 and 2016, I was able to travel across the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia… And it was there that I understood the real dimension of the issue. Even on the most remote beaches on sparsely inhabited islands, you could find pieces of plastic washing up on the sand or floating in the water.”

Amaia describes how she changed her habits as a result of that trip, living in a much more environmentally responsible way upon her return to Europe. However, it was not until two years later that she decided to take the step and leave her job as a marketing manager in her hometown of Pamplona to start a project of her own. “My little brother Julen was pursuing a degree in LEINN (Leadership, Entrepreneurship & Innovation) at university and had started an online business selling smartphone cases. I made him see that this was only contributing to people using more plastic and convinced him to rethink the idea and come up with a business model that promoted better values and contributed to creating a better society,” Amaia explains. 

“It was then that Julen met by chance Greek entrepreneur Lefteris Arapakis, and everything suddenly fell into place.”

Lefteris is the director and co-founder of Enaleia, a startup aiming to make the marine ecosystem sustainable by teaching young locals sustainable fishing techniques while empowering and motivating new and old fishermen to collect plastic from the sea. “We thought we could make phone cases with all that plastic recovered from the sea in the eastern Mediterranean, so we discussed the idea with Lefteris and, after reaching an agreement, we got down to work. In December 2019, we launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds,” Amaia tells. 

Despite all the enthusiasm for the project, beginnings are rarely easy. After the failure of the Kickstarter campaign due to not reaching the minimum goal set, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the two siblings from finding the support of business angels before the summer of 2021. As Amaia indicates: “We took advantage of those first months to refine the business model and restructure everything in order to obtain investment more easily once possible.”

In July 2020, they were ready to start producing phone cases, but soon realized that they needed to be more ambitious to generate a greater positive impact. So, after raising 100,000 in a successful funding round, Amaia and Julen turned to the B2B market and began to develop the concept of “plastic footprint”, comparable to that of “carbon footprint”. The idea is simple yet revolutionary: companies can finance the collection of an amount of plastic equivalent to what they use over the course of a year. Reale Seguros and the producer of sustainable dental supplies Vidu have already accepted the challenge to be “plastic neutral”.

“Currently, our financing comes in two ways: on the one hand, there are the companies that pay us to offset their plastic footprint and be more sustainable, and on the other, there are the products that we manufacture here in Valencia with the plastic collected in all over the Mediterranean and that we then sell in our online store,” Amaia proudly shares. “Since we started collaborating with Enaleia, we have gone from 80,000 kg of plastic collected from the sea to more than 200,000, and the number of fishermen participating in the project has increased from 50 to 900, working in several ports in Greece, Italy and Spain.”

Gravity Wave currently has 5 full-time employees and carries out part of its functions thanks to strategic alliances with other companies. Thus, it continues to collaborate with Enaleia to obtain the plastic collected at sea, and entrusts the manufacture of the products to CMplastik, a local factory specialized in sustainable plastic processing. The core team under Amaia’s direction is in charge of paying the fishermen for the plastic they collect, establishing and maintaining partnerships with companies, developing the business and coordinating R&D efforts.

Asked about the short and medium-term plans, the young CEO smiles and responds with confidence: “At the moment, our main objective is to reuse 100% of the waste (currently we just reuse 70% of it), as well as to reach 500,000 kg of plastic extracted from the sea by the end of 2022. We intend to be a benchmark company in plastic footprint compensation in Spain and position ourselves in this market also abroad. Looking ahead, what we would like is to be able to extend our activity to other regions outside the Mediterranean, where we can have a greater level of social impact, such as Southeast Asia. It would be a perfect way to close the cycle,” Amaia exclaims before saying goodbye.