The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has awarded a 26 year old European entrepreneur with a “Young Champion of the Earth 2020” award to recognize his innovative ideas to address the problem of marine plastic pollution in the Mediterranean sea.

Every year, 570 000 tons of plastic end up in the Mediterranean waters, while fish stocks have decreased by 30% over the last 30 years with fisherman pulling up plastic in their nets instead. In 2016, a young entrepreneur from Greece named Lefteris Arapakis founded a non-profit organization called Enaleia – the first fishing school to combat youth unemployment. Faced with the evidence that plastic was the most common bycatch, Enaleia set out to clean the ocean, protect marine ecosystems, empower local fishing communities, and integrate the collected marine plastic into the circular economy. Today the NGO operates in several ports in Greece and Italy, collaborating with hundreds of fishermen who collect and separate 12 tons of plastic each month.

The organization will train, empower and incentivise fishermen to collect plastic from the sea – allowing both fish stocks and the ecosystem to recover, while providing a source of income from plastic brought to shore. The focus is not only in ocean waste cleanups, but in ocean waste management as well (recycling & upcycling), collaborating with companies to create high quality products such as t-shirts and socks from ocean waste, while at the same time reducing the carbon dioxide emissions that would otherwise be emitted to create these products from raw materials. In this way, the non-profit has created a large-scale, effective, and efficient plastic clean-up operation, currently removing more than 1.5 tonnes of marine plastic weekly, and 10 tonnes of discarded fishing gear per year, while making it scalable through working with fishing communities around the globe. This concept impacts fishing communities in multiple ways. It can:

  • Reduce poverty by providing an alternative income for small-scale fishermen through the stipend they receive for the plastic they haul;
  • Enhance the water quality in the Mediterranean sea;
  • Restore the ecosystem, leading to an increase of fish stocks over the long term and therefore contributing to a sustainable increase in income for fishermen.


UNEP Young Champions of the Earth

Discover more about Enaleia and its director Lefteris Arapakis, named European Young Champion of the Earth 2020 by the United Nations Environment Programme

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