Shore Buddies inspires change by turning plastic waste into plush toys

Malte Niebelschuetz, founder and CEO of Shore Buddies, makes stuffed animals from recycled plastic bottles to help keep plastic waste out of our oceans.

When Malte Niebelschuetz left his native Germany in 2010 to come to sunny San Diego, he embraced beach life. Coming from his landlocked hometown of Kassel, Germany, he didn’t grow up around the ocean, but his parents loved to vacation by the sea every summer in Croatia or southern France. Those summers instilled a fondness in Malte for the sea, and as he says “the ocean was always kind of a dream location for me.”

The ocean convinced Malte to make California his new home, and it also inspired his entrepreneurship journey. One day, while eating at an oceanside restaurant at Pacific Beach in San Diego, Malte saw a group of people combing the beach, picking up stuff.

“I was wondering what [they] were doing,” Malte says. “The waiter explained to me that it was a beach cleanup.”

A beach cleanup is when a group of citizens volunteer to clean up the beach by picking up plastic and trash. Malte didn’t expect all the litter on the beach when he made his move to San Diego, and at the time he knew little about how plastic pollution was endangering marine life.

Having an inquisitive and socially conscious mind, Malte immediately began researching the environmental impact of plastic pollution on the beaches. What he learned moved him to act.

“Every year, more than one million marine animals die [due] to plastic pollution,” Malte says. “They die in the most painful way, with their bellies full of plastic.”

Shore Buddies Plushes

Shore Buddies creates stuffed animals from plastic bottles, including “Shelly the Sea Turtle” and “Stephen Seagull.”

Plastic to plush

During his research, Malte read an article about a sports apparel company that was making clothing out of recycled plastic. That got Malte wondering: what else could be made from recycled plastic? Given his love for the ocean, keeping plastic waste out of the ocean became a priority for him, along with creating a socially conscious business. That’s when the idea of making stuffed animals out of recycled plastic bottles came to him.

Shore Buddies are made by turning plastic bottles into pellets, which are then melted and spun into fluffy fabric.

Shore Buddies are made by turning plastic bottles into pellets, which are then melted and spun into fluffy fabric.

Malte believes real change can happen if we start teaching our kids at an early age about the need for reducing plastic waste. So, he set out to create a product that not only reuses plastic but also educates kids through play.

His first challenge was to create a prototype of his innovative idea. So, Malte turned to the internet to research how stuffed animals are designed and what it takes to create them out of recycled plastic.

“I have no background in toy or stuffed animal design,” he says. “After finding a designer, the next step really was finding the right manufacturing partners who were open to that idea to use new concepts; to use recycled material to create a toy.”

Malte launched his brand Shore Buddies in 2014. The recycling process starts by turning plastic bottles into pellets, which are then melted and spun into fabric that “looks a little bit like cotton-candy,” as Malte says. Then, that fabric gets turned into yarn and is made into a cloth to create the stuffed animals.

“It takes six plastic bottles to make one Shore Buddies,” Malte says.

I am a big believer that we can only turn the tide around if we have a generational change.
Malte Niebelschuetz
CEO and Founder, Shore Buddies

Shore Buddies - Giving back cover image
Shore Buddies gives back
In an effort to further their mission for reducing plastic waste, Shore Buddies works with non-profit organizations. They give $1 from every purchase to support non-profits and partner with community projects on educating kids about the dangers of plastic pollution in our oceans.

Turning the tide

One of the most pivotal moments for Shore Buddies—and when Malte knew he was really onto something—was when he saw kids get excited about the stuffed animals.

“I am a big believer that we can only turn the tide around if we have a generational change,” Malte says.

Shore Buddies began selling in the Amazon store in 2020, and Malte says it’s helped with brand recognition and credibility. It also created repeat customers for Shore Buddies.

“Customers who found us in retail stores are buying Shore Buddies from Amazon; and [sometimes ordering] additional Shore Buddies after they got their first one,” Malte says.

In 2021, Shore Buddies was selected as one of the finalists for the Toy of the Year award by the US Toy Association. Later that year, Shore Buddies was also selected to receive the Amazon Launchpad Innovation Grant.

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Like many small business owners, Malte’s entrepreneurial journey has been filled with big moments. Here, Malte shares three things that helped him overcome challenges while launching Shore Buddies.

1. One step at a time

Malte learned early on not to expect big results right away.

“There are always many challenges,” Malte says. “I learned once you see a big mountain in front of you, don’t focus on the top.”

Instead, focus on the first step and tackle the journey one step at a time.

2. Develop a resilience muscle

When your product is innovative, there will be many people along the way that question your ideas. You have to be able to demonstrate the merits of your idea and not give up.

“When everyone says, ‘No, that’s not going to work,’ you have to be the one to keep on going,” Malte says.

3. Execute on ideas

It’s not enough to just think of new ideas. It’s important to follow through and do the hard work to turn your idea into a product, especially if it’s innovative.

“When you have an idea, you have to execute,” he says. “You owe it to the people, it benefits people. It’s your job as a founder, as an entrepreneur, as a business owner to get recognized in this world.”

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Laila Kazmi
Laila Kazmi
Laila Kazmi is a Senior Content Manager and Producer at Amazon’s Selling Partner Communities & Satisfaction, where she writes, produces, and directs video and short documentary projects highlighting stories of Amazon sellers. She is a two-time regional Emmy® Award winner and six-time nominee.