Recycled Mississippi

Plastic pollution keeps coming up in almost every conversation we've been having lately while traveling around the Globe. We keep discussing the challenging recycling programs of many areas in the planet, some unfortunate plastic encounters while enjoying our nature or the latest news about beautiful marine life dying due to plastic ingestion or entanglement.

At Belber we strive to make conscious, responsible choices by reducing the amount of plastic that goes into our products and our daily operations as well as adjusting our own habits as professionals and world travelers.

So when we came across an international group of friends, intent on raising awareness of plastic pollution in our waters in a fun, unusual way, it was only natural for us to jump in and offer support. Imagine what it would be like to sail down the Mississippi river all the way from Minneapolis to the Gulf of Mexico on a boat made of reclaimed materials and 797 recycled plastic bottles!

Dan Cullum, Gary Benchegib, Livio Knoeri, Sebastian Engelhart, Hannes Stauffer and Zander Hartung put their knowledge and creativity to good use and built “ioco”, a boat that literally floats on plastic. From mid June and for almost 2 months, the team met people and communities along the river, having fun, touching the hearts of many as well as contributing to plastic pollution research.

An exciting documentary will follow this awesome adventure in hope of inspiring others to take action and make responsible choices when it comes to disposable plastic consumption and giving this material a second life before it ends up in our waters.

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Our canvas overnight bags were lucky to join this expedition and we were thrilled to see how they performed in extreme conditions. Because fighting for a good cause should never go out of style!

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Belber asked the members of the expedition about their motivations, the journey and the next steps ahead...

BELBER - What was your main motivation, what pushed you to embark on this adventure?

RECYCLED MISSISSIPPI - "Every year 8 million tons of plastics end up in our oceans. Landfill waste and single-use plastics are a design flaw born of an economic system that prioritizes efficiency over environmental protection. What if we could show that these single-use plastics could have a second life and in turn be used for complete other uses. We came together to embark on an adventure to travel down one of our world's longest rivers on a boat made from plastic bottles and other recycled materials, to portray the physical journey of plastics from its source upriver into our ocean."

B - Where did you build “ioco” (the boat)?

RM - " 'ioco' was built just north of New York City, where we had the generous support of friends to donate a barn in which to build. Our two Swiss masterminds, Livio and Hannes are responsible for the overall design, woodwork and mechanical componentry of the vessel"

B - What has been the most rewarding moment so far in this expedition?

RM - "To reach New Orleans and to have our message resonate with the City Council's legislation of plastics. We could not be prouder to support initiatives to ban or put fees on plastic usage. Any plastic legislations is a step closer to a sustainable world and New Orleans would be an immense example for other cities in the region."

B - And the most frightening?

RM - "Being hit by the recent Louisiana Storm 80 miles away from the Gulf. Within seconds our visibility turned from very clear to just being able to see 5 meters in the distance, the big ocean freighters who we could clearly see ahead of us were lost in the mist. For our safety we decided to anchor on a mud bank, only to find out we would be stuck for almost three days stationary."

B - How would you describe the Mississippi river in a few words?

RM - "Where big river predominates over wild beauty, the Mississippi River can be peaceful as much as monstrous. With more than 400 years of history, there has never been more consciousness around protecting it than now."

B - You must have met some very special people along the river, who were the most inspirational and why?

RM - "We have been overwhelmed with the generosity of the people along the river. There's something that must be said about our River Angels, from pulling up in the middle of nowhere to give us food to those opening their homes for us. People have been very special all throughout.

Some of the most inspiring in their own ways, which make up our four main characters for our film, include Dale Sanders, the oldest man to paddle down the Mississippi at 80 years old to John Ruskey, a canoer who devoted his life to the river after almost dying in it thirty years back, to Chad Pregracke, who has devoted the last 15 years to clean up almost 7 million tones of trash from the river, to John Sullivan, an ex-biologist who has been monitoring the Mississippi water quality for almost 40 years."

B - Top lesson you learnt during the trip and how will it change you from now on?

RM - "In an attempt to make this expedition while producing as little waste as possible, we were faced with all sorts of challenges when fueling on food. For all of us this was the first time effortlessly saying no to all plastics on a daily basis. We definitely learnt to be creative with the ways in which we avoid plastics. After almost 2 months of very minimal plastic, all of us will go back to our own communities and be very consciousness of the waste we produce, but more importantly where it ends up."

B - What advice can you give to regular citizens on how to reduce their daily plastic waste?

RM - "Think twice about using a plastic bag, plastic wrapper or plastic bottle. Is there another more appropriate option than plastics that is available to you at the moment of purchasing it, sometimes it takes some creativity to find a better solution."

B - How did the Belber bags perform in such harsh conditions (heat, humidity, rain)?

RM - "The Belber bags have been extremely useful throughout our expedition providing the perfect amount of space for us to carry camera, microphones and hard drives when going on land for interviews or for a pit stop in allowing us to edit remotely. They have kept up to the conditions. It was an honor for us to have them travel down with us!"

B - What is the next step for the team?

RM - "Each member of the team dedicated 5-2 months from the building and producing phase to the actual expeditions. For Dan and I this is only the beginning of a big adventure to edit and best deliver the film. We cannot wait to share it!"

B - How can fashion brands make a change (from your point of view as a user) with regard to protecting our planet and reducing waste?

RM - "The Fashion industry is the third biggest polluting industry in the world, it is now up to fashion brands to start making a change with the waste they produce, whether that is being more conscious with the fabrics and materials they use or use more sustainable packaging. The possibilities are endless but everyone should take the small steps, the time is now!"

For more information on the Recycled Mississippi project, check recycledmississippi.org.

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