Along the Keel is taking it international this week, sitting down with Benny Mandos, co-founder of GOT Bag, and Matthias Paisdzior, the head of GOT Bag North America, to talk about how their German brand is creating the world’s first backpack made from recycled ocean plastics. Utilizing a network of fishermen in Indonesia to collect plastic as bycatch, the company has created a supply chain that puts sustainability at the forefront of their mission while closing the loop on plastic pollution.
Igniting the Spark
With every major endeavor, there is a moment or experience that pushes us to make a change. While growing up sailing the coast, Benny and his partner Roman each developed a sincere love for the ocean. Eventually, as Benny describes, this love inspired them to create the world’s first backpack made of recycled ocean plastic.
“GOT Bag was originally founded in 2016 by Roman, who was an old friend from school, and myself. We both have been tied to the ocean since our childhood. Roman grew up in Tel Aviv. He grew up surfing, starting at a really young age, and my father took me sailing three years old and I have been sailing ever since. So there was a great connection to the ocean and to this environment, from early on.”
While Benny’s childhood sentiment stayed constant into his adult years, the fuel for the fire would come later on. After graduating from college he traveled the world as a cameraman, filming documentaries, videography for corporations, and even events like the Olympic Games and World Cup. After traveling around the world and seeing the impacts of plastic pollution, Benny felt the strong desire to create change, not simply document it.
“Several times during the Olympic games in Brazil, we were taking a boat to one of our shooting locations and the boat had to stop every five minutes because the propeller was just completely filled with plastic.”
Ocean plastics don’t just harm marine life, the harm done to ocean ecosystems reaches far beyond the shoreline. Dense plastic pollution can have long-term negative effects on marine ecosystems, economic impacts, and even marine traffic.
Collaboration is Key
Inspiring institutional change is the next step in the fight against plastic pollution, and GOT Bag is leading the in places like Bali and Indonesia. GOT adopts a boots on the ground approach, working with the people out on the water every day. Developing a relationship with fishermen in Indonesia has given them a steady stream of plastic to make backpacks, while simultaneously empowering local fishermen and prompting local governments to focus on efforts to clean up the aquatic ecosystem that is home to the fish targeted for their fishery.
“If the mangroves, or if the corals get infected by plastic, the fish don't have any habitat. With that in mind, the fishermen are basically directly impacted by that.”
Although GOT Bag brought monumental change to the fight on plastic pollution there is still lots of work to be done.
“We are trying to do our part as we face this problem. The problem of plastic pollution is completely underrated, I think that the awareness is there but there is still so much that needed to be done. It's super important that people starting to realize how dependent we are all on the ocean, 70% of all the oxygen we breathe is produced by our oceans. It is why we choose to do something and to tackle the biggest threat to our oceans at the moment.”
There is no question as to what the threat to plastic pollution has on our ocean and waterways. It is important to realize that all the issues facing our oceans whether it is ocean acidification, sea-level rise, and higher sea temps have a compounding effect that radiates throughout all marine ecosystems. As a consumer, aligning yourself with brands that see eye to eye on these issues will help perpetuate the movement towards a future with healthier oceans. If you are going to vote, do it with your wallet!
Given the circumstances that our ocean is facing and the ever increased strain we are putting on it, it’s important to give back and do your part to keep our oceans clean. The “vote with your wallet” mentality is one that aligns well with the GOT Bag mission, setting out to change the way we as consumers interact with the market. They are at the forefront of a movement that is ever-expanding and one that will continue to expand as awareness for the issues facing our oceans continues to gain the acknowledgment it needs. All it takes is some social change and a bit of German engineering to get us to a future where we have more fish in our ocean than plastic.