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Merchandising for Plastic-Free Seas and Rivers: How Plastic Fischer cleans Ecosystems

April 19, 2024 in Brands Innovation Responsibility

Everyone uses it, but too few reduce it: plastic. Single-use plastic in particular has long since become an integral part of consumption and many products, packaging and materials can no longer be imagined without it. Despite widespread awareness, the reduction of single-use plastics remains a challenge. What cannot be recycled often ends up in nature, for example in bodies of water such as rivers, which carry the plastic directly to the ocean and pollute the oceans. But how can our oceans be protected?

From this realization, Plastic Fischer was born. The organization focuses on halting plastic pollution at its source – in rivers – before it reaches the ocean. Karsten Hirsch, CEO of Plastic Fischer, decided five years ago together with friends to do something to preserve our oceans and set up the first company to stop ocean plastic in the rivers. We spoke to him about how this works and how we at Spread Group are supporting him in this task.

Karsten shares the story of how it all began:

“I was on vacation in Vietnam with two friends and we saw how plastic flows down the Mekong. My co-founder Moritz and I were in Asia for the first time and didn’t know the situation on the ground beforehand and when we saw it, it really got to us. When we got home, we looked up which organizations were taking care of river plastic – and couldn’t find a single one worldwide. Then we thought about an idea of how to tackle the whole thing. The problem of river plastic can be imagined like an hourglass: The plastic ends up in the river, where it is concentrated before it then disperses back into the sea. We want to tackle this bottleneck and stop the plastic where it is still possible. ”

Reflecting on Plastic Fischer’s journey so far, we asked Karsten, “what successes are you particularly proud of?”

“Basically, I am very proud of the developments we have made as a team because we had no idea about the topic or the technology. We just threw ourselves into it and went for it with our idea. The awards from the World Economic Forum and the German Sustainability Award are great successes.

Nevertheless, the best thing is to create new jobs locally. We have been able to provide 90 people in India and Indonesia with jobs and security through permanent employment, health, and social insurance. We also give them planning security, respect, and recognition for what they do, namely clean these systems every day, manage the waste, and ultimately enjoy working for us. We have found the right people who treat the employees on-site well, which unfortunately is not always a matter of course in the waste management working environment, but works very well for us. That motivates me a lot and makes me proud.”

And where does Spread Group fit in?

The collaboration between Plastic Fischer and Spread Group marks a significant milestone for both parties. Initially, merchandising was a low priority for Plastic Fischer. However, recognizing its potential as a tool for raising awareness and generating support, they decided to leverage it. Karsten explains, “We told ourselves that nobody knew us yet. That’s why we did it as a one-off campaign for the first 3-4 years and sold about 50 T-shirts at the end of the year. Now we’re getting more attention, people like our logo and the work behind it. So, we wanted to offer it, but we couldn’t handle the fulfillment and didn’t have enough capacity. However, it is also important to us and the people who support us to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging and thus ensure completely plastic-free shipping.”

Therefore, Plastic Fischer decided to team up with Spreadshop – our business unit that offers customized merchandise solutions, using print-on-demand. Spreadshop’s service includes production, shipping, payment, and customer service. As Karsten provided insights into the evolution of merchandise within Plastic Fischer’s initiatives, we asked for a little throwback:

Would you share how the collaboration with Spreadshop came about?

“I met a colleague of yours at the NOAH conference in Zurich and told him what we were doing. He was so enthusiastic about it that he said he would take it with him and discuss with the team in Leipzig how we could come together. That’s how the idea came about that Spreadshop would become our partner and take care of fulfillment, offering good quality merch and giving people the opportunity to support us. Ultimately, it’s a multiplier for us: people wear our brand and message on the T-shirt, which is a great incentive for others to support us.

I’m delighted that we’ve also been able to initiate a process for you in which shipping is completely plastic-free for the first time. It was very good to have this flexibility. In addition, we are now using part of the margin to finance plastic-free fishing. For every product sold, we fish a certain amount of plastic. The merch is our means device of generating impact.”

Building on Karsten’s description of the collaboration’s genesis with Spreadshop, we wanted to know, “Looking ahead, what are your other wishes or aspirations for our partnership?”

“I hope that together we can find companies and influencers to help us sell merch and fund this positive impact. I think Spread Group has a lot of charisma and a great network of companies that can be inspired to cooperate, with co-branding or similar. I would like to work closely with you on what your partnerships have in store and how we can ensure that even more Plastic Fischer merch is sold so that we can really catch many more kilos of plastic.”

In conclusion, the partnership between Plastic Fischer and Spread Group exemplifies how businesses can collaborate to tackle environmental challenges effectively. As Plastic Fischer continues its mission to clean our rivers and oceans, the merchandising efforts serve as a powerful tool for raising awareness and mobilizing support for their cause. Together, we are making strides towards a plastic-free future.

Thank you, Karsten! #plasticfree


Mayra Koziollek

Mayra Koziollek

Senior PR Manager