Net Your Problem 

Guest post by Nicole Baker Loke, founder of Net Your Problem 

Hello to the Happy Eco News community! It’s nice to meet you all and to be a new member of this community celebrating solutions and “nuggets of positivity” as Grant says on his “about” page. I first met Grant when we were both accepted into the Maritime Blue Accelerator program run by the Port of Seattle and WeWork in January of 2020 for our work in increasing sustainability in the marine sector. I’m really happy to share with you the story of my business, how I believe we contribute to the positive news feed Grant is trying to create and to provide you with ways to get involved and help support our solution.

My journey to sustainable business owner started back in 2015 when I was working on fishing vessels in Alaska. I had graduated from university with a masters degree in marine biology and was working as a scientist collecting data about what types of fish fishermen were catching, what the size, age, and sex of those fish were, and providing that data to the National Marine Fisheries Service in the US to help them determine how much fish could be caught sustainably. This work results in consumers knowing that there are well-managed, sustainable fisheries and that they can feel good about supporting these fisheries when buying fish at the market. I spent five years doing that job and spent time in various fishing ports in Alaska like Dutch Harbor (where the TV show Deadliest Catch is located), Akutan, and Kodiak. In each of these ports, I observed many piles of nets that were obviously not being used anymore, some even had trees growing in them!  

I had identified a problem, and in business, finding an unsolved problem is usually how you get started.  I built my business, Net Your Problem LLC, around offering a solution to this problem. Before we came around, commercial fishermen had no really good options when it came to disposing of their gear when they were done using it. Common ways were taking it to the landfill, indefinitely storing them, either on their own property or some land that they were leasing or in some cases, burning them. Fishing gear is made of plastic, mostly polyethylene, polypropylene, or nylon, so burning it is a really terrible way of getting rid of it, but storing it in a landfill or a storage yard takes up space that could otherwise be used for something productive. 

We started by offering recycling services to one port in the summer of 2017, and now we have operations in six ports throughout Alaska, as well as in Washington, Maine, and California.  In the past four years, we have been able to collect 971,000 pounds of fishing gear and we have high hopes that this summer we are going to break the one million pounds mark! Over the course of building our business, we have realized that we can’t just focus on collecting the gear. The whole recycling system, at least a working and efficient one, depends on there being a market for the processed plastic after it has been collected – companies producing goods that could be made from recycled plastic, thus providing a value to the recycled nets. These products are then made from something that is an alternative to virgin plastic. Virgin plastic is brand new plastic that comes straight from oil and is made specifically for use in the plastic industry. There are many environmental benefits of using recycled plastic (less electricity, less oil, less CO2 emissions) but if a market for this plastic doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t make sense for anyone to try to collect it.

So as nimble entrepreneurs with a small team (we are currently three women), we have decided to focus some of our effort and attention to encourage manufacturing using the fishing gear we (or others) have collected and to help promote the final product. In fact, there is a really good example of this on our website – we have a partnership with Waterhaul to promote their sunglasses made from fishing gear plastic, and we make a couple of bucks every time someone buys the glasses using this link. That is one way you can support what we do, and we can use all the help we can get.  If you follow us on social media (Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook) most of what you see there are our successes because that’s how social media and newsletters work, but starting a new business and a new industry is not always an awesome Instagram post – it can sometimes be a grind.  We are working on building a brand new way of dealing with a specialized class of waste, and most of our customers are the types of people that do things the same way their dad and grandpa did. Just like a baseball player that wears the same socks every game for good luck, commercial fishermen can also be superstitious about changing things. Getting them to do something new can sometimes be tough, especially if it costs more.  Not everyone is motivated solely by the great feeling you get from “doing the right thing” – which is why competitions like the Rare Solution Search are so awesome.  This competition, which is currently underway, is rewarding solutions to plastic pollution that rely on behavior change, and Net Your Problem is a finalist!  There are a few prizes being awarded, one of which is a Voters Choice prize for $25,000, and we could really use your support!  You can click this link once a day from now until June 11th and vote for our solution.  The one with the most votes wins!

We love the title of this competition because we sometimes refer to the employees of Net Your Problem (Nicole, Sara, and Erin) as the Solutions Team. We don’t focus on the problem, we focus on building positive relationships to solve problems. And that’s what most businesses do – they solve problems for other people.  We see our business as a force for good – we don’t believe that doing the right thing for the planet and people is something that only non-profits can do. If a solution is going to stick around for a while, it needs to be thoughtfully designed, co-created with those that will use it, and ultimately be able to stand on its own two feet without outside funding. And that is what we are working really hard to do at Net Your Problem. We are trying to build new, financially sustainable waste management programs for fishing gear. Although it’s not as attention-grabbing as a machine that drives around a river and collects the plastic, for us, it is the most cost-effective and easiest way to deal with ocean pollution – by preventing it from ever getting into the environment in the first place. 

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to vote for our solution!  -Nicole- 

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