26. River Barriers with Marcos from Pangea

Stop the flow of plastics in rivers.

Pristine Ocean 

Rivers. They are nature’s conveyor belts powered by the pull of the moon. They run tirelessly day and night pumping not only water but also trash into the ocean. They are thought to be the source of 80% of marine plastic pollution. 

Even up to 2018, it was thought that just ten rivers in the world were responsible for that. These were large rivers connecting cities to the oceans. 

More recently, it has been found that this model seriously underestimates the influence of smaller rivers. 

Nowadays the science is reporting about 1000 rivers, bringing 80% of plastic to the ocean. 

This leakage needs to be plugged to stop ocean plastic litter, but how? 

One tool that is showing promise is something called river barriers. 

The one’s that I’ve seen are made by hanging a grid on a series of floaters and stringing them across a flowing waterway. 

They are passive devices that use the power of the water to concentrate the waste 24/7. 

Volunteers or contractors come and clean them out regularly. 

But how will these structures be financed? What financial models will pay for scaling up and catching all this trash? 

Pangea is a startup which not only plans to scale up river barriers, but they also have the know how to generate the necessary funding. 

I had the pleasure of talking to the founder of Pangia, Marcos Bulacio. 

His story is both inspiring and heartwarming. I hope you enjoy it. I certainly did. 

Marcos Bulacio, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. 

Marcos from Pangea 

It’s my pleasure. Thank you for the invitation, Peter. 

Pristine Ocean 

Marcos, I’m really interested in hearing about what you and the team are doing. 

But where are you based? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Before this I was in Bali for a couple of years and our team is based there in the Pangea House of Creativity. 

Pristine Ocean 

The Pangea House of Creativity sounds interesting. How would you describe it? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Yeah, so the Pangea House of Creativity is this beautiful villa in the jungle. 10 minutes away from the beach. 

Yeah, that means away from town, so it’s a perfect space that combines the productivity of an office with the spirituality of a meditation space with the creativity of a painting room and a music room with instruments. 

We also have a beautiful swimming pool. We have a chef that cooks for us. 

And yeah, we have our team there. There’s 20 people that go and work and four of our core team members also live there, so it’s the it’s like our house. 

But at the same time, it’s our office. It’s our base. It’s our headquarters or heart quarters. We also have a cinema. 

The projector where we watch movies. We watch documentaries, different things to raise awareness among the team as well. 

And we even have a PlayStation to have fun and yeah, and just enjoy life as well as work. 

And we also have a bunch of surfboards, so sometimes we go surfing together as well. And yeah, trying to create the ideal work balance.

Pristine Ocean 

That sounds fantastic. I see that you’re hiring. Where can I sign up? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Yeah, I’ll send you a link later. 

Pristine Ocean 

OK, great. 

On your profile, you say that you’re a passionate entrepreneur on a mission to save our oceans through innovative business, circular business models and blockchain. So there’s a lot there to unpack. So you’re a passionate entrepreneur. Where does your passion come from? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Yeah, I think it just flows naturally. My mind is always creating things and it’s always thinking ahead and just visualising a different, better future and planning strategies to get there. 

Pristine Ocean 

Can you tell us a little bit about your first entrepreneurial project? 

Marcos from Pangea 

I started with my first venture when I was 15 years old. I was very passionate about smartphones and at that time he was, you know, whatever like 14 years ago smartphones were the new thing and I was just really amazed about the technology. 

And I remember I saw these amazing smartphones in China that they had a lot of really cool features and they were selling them at $80.00 on a website. 

Something like Alibaba back then. And then I checked on the Argentinian Amazon which is called MercadoLibre and I saw cell phones. They were not as good. They were selling them at $300.00. So for me it was super clear.

I can buy this cell phone, ship it to Argentina, pay with my credit card and then just post it on this website and make $200 out of it. 

And then so I just went to my father. I showed him and I said, can I borrow your credit card and he said yeah go ahead. 

And I did that and it worked. I sold them and then I repeated that. I think I made $1000 in a couple of months being 15, which was quite amazing. 

That’s where I realised the power of E commerce. 

Pristine Ocean 

OK, so you’re a 15 year old and you’ve made your first buck on the Internet. Who were your heroes back then? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Well my father definitely allowed me enabled me to do that, but back then a hero that I had was Steve Jobs. 

Actually, I just loved his passion when he was communicating in the iPhone and how he was pushing humankind to into the future through innovation. 

Pristine Ocean 

Got it, you grew up in Argentina. Did you have a connexion to the ocean when you were growing up? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Yeah, definitely. The first time I went surfing was when I was 12 and I just loved surfing very much. That was in Brazil. I was on a vacation trip with my with my family. 

And yeah, my love of surfing started back then. 

Pristine Ocean 

And then you studied sociology and business. 

Marcos from Pangea 

That’s correct. 

Pristine Ocean 

I guess when you finished those courses, you had a lot of dreams and ideas. 

What kind of visions did you have then? 

Marcos from Pangea 

When I was 18 years old. I really, really loved Marxism and communism. 

And I remember I wrote a thesis when I finished high school that said that it said something like consumerism and how the capitalistic system changes human mind and puts people to consume in an every irreflexive way that that harms the environment. 

I was really against consumerism and the negative impact on our planet. 

And I was also very much into Marxism and socialism and distributing wealth and inequality. 

And all these ideas that were little extremist at that at that time. 

And how we can actually use business as a force for doing good instead of as a force of harming? And how can we also create a workspace that? 

Give people purpose and provide them an income that is also fair. 

And where people can also get happiness through work and a purpose in their life. So then I think all these extremist ideas came to a very good balance point, mixing socialism, sociology, environmentalism, together with capitalism and positive capitalism and business and creativity.

All these things started to come up together. 

Pristine Ocean 

When did you have your first interaction with marine plastic litter? 

Marcos from Pangea 

I love travelling. I explored the whole planet being in 255 countries in the five continents, mostly by myself and backpacking.

Throughout all my travels around the world I just saw trash everywhere, especially in underdeveloped countries that don’t have the proper waste management systems.

Just feeling a lot of sadness because nature, the planet is what I love the most and seeing our beautiful planet which is our mother right? So dirty.  

So mistreated it just it just really impacted me and triggered a response to change that. 

Pristine Ocean 

And what kind of what kind of ideas were you getting? I mean, you’d had all these concepts and your passion for justice, social justice. 

Marcos from Pangea 

I wanted to create an incubator that would launch brands and products to sell online around the world

with a team of passionate travellers that would work together with their computers while travelling around the world. So it was the idea of having a team of nomads that would be working online, travelling around the world and being able to relocate to different places and having the income coming from the computer. 

Pristine Ocean 

Let’s get to Pangea. When did it all start? 

Marcos from Pangea 

So this this idea that this this project of the E-commerce incubator started in 2018.

I started testing a few things on Amazon, learning a lot. 

Buying things from China again and then shipping them to Amazon USA and getting some sales there. All these evolved into the idea of Pangea as a brand for people like us, for nomads, for explorers or adventurers who love the planet and who need adventure gear for their for their trips around the world. For their outdoor adventures. And then we, we launched, you know, our first Kickstarter campaign, and it did very  well.

Pristine Ocean 

Your started with a beach towel and a Kickstarter campaign. 

Marcos from Pangea 

Actually not a beach towel but it was quite a unique concept. 

We created a bamboo travel towel that would be perfect for travelling around the world, right? 

This was before COVID. We started ideating this one on the second half of 2019.

Something that I realised out of five years backpacking, the world is that the only alternative to bulky heavy cotton towels are microfiber towels. The biggest problem of microfiber towels was that they suck, no one likes them, right? They don’t absorb. They smell bad. 

Pristine Ocean 

I don’t own a microfiber towel, and I will never buy one after that, so what’s the alternative? 

Marcos from Pangea 

So the alternative we found was a bamboo towel. It’s a towel made out of bamboo, which is a renewable and sustainable source because when bamboo is cut properly, the gain grows back. It’s also biodegradable. 

It is also super lightweight. 

It is much more absorbent than microfibers, and it also doesn’t smell and he also was super compact and breathable 

Pristine Ocean 

Yes, sounds great. You did a Kickstarter campaign. What do you take taken away from that experience? What’s the? What’s the big learning? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Yeah, so we learned a load on how to create a successful Kickstarter campaign. Did a lot of research, figured out the process. 

And we did very well. 

We had a very small amount of money. I was living in a hostel in Bali at the time in a place called Draper Startup House and I was just working on the computer or my laptop while sleeping in a bunk bed. I had about 3 or 4 thousand dollars in my bank account. 

After a few months of hard work together with my co-founder William, we released this campaign and we ended up raising $150,000. 

And we said that for every $10 we raised, we would clean 1 pound of trash from the world. 

And suddenly, you know, we never expected we would raise so much, maybe 30K. 

Suddenly one month later we had $150,000 in our bank account and we had to figure out how to fulfil  to three and a half thousand people in 80 countries around the world. And then, how to collect 2000 pounds of trash which is 7 tonnes of trash around the world through cleanups. 

Which is amazing because then it gave us the power and the motivation to just start a global ecological movement, which was my vision from the beginning. 

Pristine Ocean 

OK, at this stage you probably could have turned into a beach cleanup organisation, but you went in a different direction. Why was that? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Pangea is a brand and an ecological movement, so we have both things. We still do the cleanups around the world and we will keep doing them. 

Right now we already had 12 countries with more than one and a half thousand volunteers, but cleanups don’t don’t provide any

 income, so we need to power those cleanups by creating new products so we can keep launching on Kickstarter to to feed the Pangea brand and also launching them on wholesale and through other channels. 

To keep making sales of these ecologically friendly products that we’re going to keep launching to keep feeding the ecology movement to clean the world. 

And then we also found a way of preventing pollution which is by placing river barriers in the 1000 multiple rivers in the world. 

Pristine Ocean 

OK, so can you just say briefly what river barriers are and how they work? 

Marcos from Pangea 

These barriers are a like just floating barriers and they have a metal grid and they are just tied to the edges of the river and they basically stop all the floating trash before it goes through and enters the oceans. So the trash accumulates and then there are cleaners that go in and clean and remove the trash daily or whenever it’s needed. 

The barriers are open sourced by the designer who is Plastic Fisher. So we just started building them ourselves. We started now employing our first set of barriers in the island of Sumatra in a city called Pandang where there are three of the most polluting of the 1000 rivers.

We placed our first two barriers there and they are doing amazing impact. Collecting an average of 60 kilogrammes of trash per day. 

And in the next month and a half, we’re going to place 16 barriers in a collaboration with the local government and the local waste bank. You know, if each barrier collects out 60 kilogrammes of trash per day, that’s about two tonnes on average per month per barrier multiplied by 16 barriers. We might be able to collect 20 tonnes of trash per month that would otherwise end up in the ocean. 

Pristine Ocean 

Yeah, when I look at the videos, the first thing I think is fantastic. Second thing, I think perfect really makes sense because it concentrates the plastic on one spot where you can just pull it out. 

And the third thing that occurred to me was that when you see this concentration, you think, wow,  what are people doing. 

Marcos from Pangea 

Yeah, exactly. Then comes the long term change, right? So this is a method to stop immediately a trash that would otherwise enter the ocean. 

But then there’s also something else that we’re doing and is start tracking the data that we collect in order to create a trash report. 

And that identifies which companies are producing the waste in the in the 1st place, right? Where is this waste coming from? 

Who are these producers? And then the other thing is we will also come with educational programmes to teach the local communities where we place real barriers to stop using rivers as trash cans. 

Pristine Ocean 

Yeah, this is this was my question was that as you as you see this stuff downstream you want to solve the problems that begin upstream, but do those you know those educational and the bins and everything? But do they belong to your mission statement? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Yeah, so we are planning to employ those as well further down the line. 

The thing is, the immediate solution, the immediate problem is trash entering the oceans. 

And that can be stopped by placing river barriers, and that’s what we want to target first and expand that. 

And as we expand that, also expand as well the educational, the trash the trash data gathering and also implementing some improvements in the in the waste management systems. 

Pristine Ocean 

I grew up next to a river. My family’s house was flooded twice. What happens during flooding? And if you’re in Southeast Asia, this must be an issue. 

Marcos from Pangea 

So yeah, in the monsoon season we are just going to expect two things. One is that the amount of trash is going to maybe triple because it just brings in way more trash and the 2nd is that there will have to be some constant maintenance in the barriers when the floodings are too big and they’re going to break. 

Pristine Ocean 

So this is your focus now. Expanding the network of river barriers in Sumatra and possibly in other rivers as well. How are you funding this expansion? 

Marcos from Pangea 

That also came with the idea in April of launching a cryptocurrency. The Pangea Ocean cleanup coin, in order to fund the placement of these river barriers. So we realised crypto’s booming and we said, OK, let’s test this experiment. Let’s create a coin. 

And see if investors are interested in in purchasing a cryptocurrency that would fund river barriers. So we did really, really well. 

The volume was huge. It got a lot of traction and yeah, and that that gave us also the funds to start placing these barriers. We were very manufacturing our own river barriers and placing them in the city of Sumatra. 

Pristine Ocean 

This fantastic story. I just love it. Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Marcos from Pangea 

Yeah, so I see I see a network of hopefully a few thousands of barriers placed in 30 countries around the world with some very efficient waste management. 

I see also some IoT implementations where the barriers also can measure data and several other things. 

I see I see a map, an interactive map in our website where all the barriers are. Are there and people can click on them to see exactly how much trash they are collecting and I see a blockchain solution to track all the trash from all the barriers that’s being collected. So seeing all the amount of trash that is being collected. 

In that interactive map per barrier being verified by blockchain as well. 

Yeah, and another thing that I see is more and more organisations trusting the movement, trusting the solution to ocean pollution as we call it and also wanting to be part of that and supporting the mission and also getting the content that that that they need because there’s more and more consumers wanting environmental impact from companies. 

So I see the barriers as something that has a lot of potential to solve ocean pollution. 

And to create a new line of revenue out of recycling those material. 

Sales and also offering opportunity to companies to improve their environmental impact and CSR efforts. 

Pristine Ocean 

Marcos, thank you so much that’s I’m feeling great just hearing this story, it’s really positive and inspiring and really wish you all the success for the project and keep going, man. 

Marcos from Pangea 

Thank you so much Peter. Thank you so much for your time and hope to talk with you again in one year and see what’s the impact in one year from here. 

Pristine Ocean 

That’ll be great. 

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