Example of Boat Recycling Initiative
A range of initiatives have addressed the issue, given impetus by the growing tally of vessels that are abandoned on beaches, in marinas, in fields and at sea (sunken) by their final owners who, faced with major costs and lack of disposal infrastructure, feel there is little alternative or simply that they can just get away with it. Consistently, all signs that could help identify those owners – Hull ID numbers, registration details and the like – are removed before the boats are abandoned, so harbour and local authorities are having to pick up the bill.
In the past the European Union sponsored a project that addressed the end of life issue as part of an aim to reduce the environmental impact of the marine industry. The BOATCYCLE programme, implemented in Italy and Spain between 2010 and 2012 and so called because it attempted a ‘cradle-to-grave’ lifecycle analysis of vessels’ economic and environmental impacts, investigated disposal options for four types of vessel, a small yacht, a sizeable sailboat, a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) and a fully inflatable craft.
An aim was to establish the total costs of disposal, including transport, using well tried methods that are familiar to scrapyards worldwide. For logistical reasons, the sailboat was scrapped at a boatyard located in a Catalan (Spanish) port. The other craft were easier to transport by truck to a central location.
A Time-Consuming Process
In the case of the most intricate disposal/recycling challenge, the sailboat, the first step was to decontaminate the craft by removing waste oils and fuels, bilge water, batteries and other environmental contaminants. Next, all the metal items including spars, fittings, stanchions etc. – were removed. Once stripped down to the bare hull the craft was reduced with hammers, saws and a hydraulic grapple, to large pieces. At this stage wiring, foams, engines etc became separated and were removed.
Then different wastes were placed into containers for weighing and separate treatment. Fibreglass content, the highest proportion of the waste by weight, was sent as small fragments to landfill – the prevailing practice today. However, this practice has potential health and safety implications, uses scarce landfill capacity and incurs landfill taxes, which are steadily rising. Hence alternatives are urgently needed.
BOATCYCLE investigated and piloted a number of recycling pathways for the variety of craft in question. A key approach was to mix recovered fibreglass with certain thermoplastic matrices to produce new composites that can be used industrially. A similar pathway was piloted for neoprene, the basic material constituent of inflatable craft and RIBs.
The project succeeded in showing that fibreglass can be recovered as part of the EOL boat disposal process, that a useful proportion of the fibres’ original as-new properties are available in the recovered form, and that the fibres can have a second service life. Moreover, the resulting thermoplastic composites are, unlike thermosets, themselves recyclable since they can repeatedly be re-moulded under heat.
Who will pay for end of life boat Disposal?
BOATCYCLE’s ambitious mission to investigate impacts over the entire boat lifecycle was illuminating, particularly in showing that EOL disposal overall needs to be better managed and that there are better options available than those pertaining at present. The big questions that arise, however, are what costs are involved and who will pay them?
Researchers calculated that the average cost of conventionally dismantling a 23ft long boat, including logistics, is £800, rising to some £1500 for a 32m craft and £15,000 for a 50ft vessel. (The rise is related more to boat volume than to length, and to the greater complexity of larger vessels).
Some say that the costs should fall on the boat owner, but many of the owners who are in place at the ends of boats’ lives are unwilling or unable to afford such substantial sums, at least within a short time span. Unlike owners of metal boats, which have significant scrap value in their recyclable metals, those of reinforced plastic craft cannot rely on embodied scrap value to reduce disposal costs. Collecting the costs from owners, even those that can be traced, would be difficult.
Another objection to this approach is that it would require every boat to be registered so that ownership can be traced throughout its lifetime. This imposes the need for an additional bureaucracy which, itself, would have to be staffed, managed and funded. However, registration also allows the possibility of imposing on owners an annual boat tax, akin to car tax, the resulting fund being earmarked for EOL disposal. This levy would be less onerous for owners over the duration of ownership than an EOL lump sum payment. Alternatively, the cost could be shared between owners and the boatbuilding trade, the two principal stakeholders in boating, by using a combination of purchase levy with an annual ‘boat tax‘.
End of Life Boats: A business opportunity
Although End of life concerns have not yet instilled in most boatbuilders and their suppliers a high sense of urgency, they surely will. Law makers and landfill costs will see to that.
There are about 6 million recreational craft in Europe alone, and with boat lifespans of 30-45 years, some 140,000 of these boats per year can be expected to become due for scrapping. Most will be composite and the majority of those will be GRP.
Expand this picture to global scale and it seems clear that, in years to come, rational, affordable and environmentally acceptable means of processing the multitude of vessels out there after their service lives end is destined to become not only a big challenge but a major business opportunity too.