Recycle Fibreglass Boats

The biggest underlying issue for end of life boat disposal is how to recycle the waste fibreglass boat hull. In many ways fibreglass or fibre-reinforced plastic (commonly known as GRP or FRP) is the perfect material for building boats. It is cheap, strong, impact resistant, durable and easy to mould. However currently in the UK very little GRP from boats is recyclable. Most will be chipped up and sent to landfill.

There are people that claim to have solutions which offer to recycle the waste GRP. By grinding up the GRP and reforming it into new items that can be used. But in real terms the evidence is limited to whether this could be a long term solution for clearing large quantities of boats.

Recycling Fibreglass Boat Hulls

It seems that the process is there to recycle fibreglass objects like garage doors or mannequins. However to recycle a fibreglass boat hull would be a different ball game. On a typical boat there are engines, fuel, wood, metal, foam, upholstery, anti-foul, paints and more. All of these materials would need to  stripped from the boat hull before the fibreglass could be recycled. The process is labour intensive and costs soon outweigh any value of the product it produces.

French Recycling Options – Future Inspiration

In France there is a recycling network for end of life boats called APER. There are a number of disposal sites around the country that aim to clear 25,000 dead boats by the end of 2023. The program is aided by French tax payers to offset some of the disposal costs. It’s not clear how the APER program disposes of the waste GRP. However with a quick online search for recycling fibreglass there are four options:

Fiberglass Grinding

The first route for recycling Fibreglass is to grind it down into powders. These can then be used as fillers in different products. This is something that has been investigated in the US with the cement industry. The recycled fibreglass boat powder isn’t able to be used in new GRP projects.

Fiberglass Incineration

Incineration is an option but the process produces lots of ash which then has to be landfilled. This certainly isn’t a green option for recycling fibreglass boats. The heat generated is low and the ash content is high. Composites UK even outline how incineration is not recognised as a recycling option for fibreglass in the UK or the EU.

Fiberglass Pyrolysis

Finally there is Pyrolysis which is the process of chemical decomposition by heating at a high temperature in an oxygen-depleted environment. This route creates Pyro-Gas, Pyro Oil and a solid by-product. Pyro Gas can be used as replacement for a natural gas and can even be used to power the Pyrolysis machine. Making the whole recycling process self sustaining. The pyro oil is similar to heavy crude oil and can be mixed into asphalt. Pyrolysis doesn’t damage the glass fibres as much as shredding and they could then be reused in recycled GRP products.

how to recycle a fibreglass boat - fibreglass pyrolysis diagram

Image © They have written a fantastic article about Recycling Fibreglass.

Years Away From Greener Options

Even writing this article it’s easy to sit and wish we had this system set up in the UK. But the truth is at the moment we don’t and we’re probably years away from it being an option. Whilst the pyrolysis process sounds like a perfect solution to recycle fibreglass boats it is no doubt a costly operation. Currently the disposal bill for the recycling of an old GRP boat falls to the last owner. So any process that is too expensive will push people into abandoning boats.

Currently in the UK the final resting place for the boat’s GRP hull is landfill. Before it gets there all recyclable items and materials are removed. If parts can be resold and reused by other boat owners we always aim to do so. Once there are developments on how to recycle the fibreglass boat hulls in the UK almost all of the boat will re-useable in some way.

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If you have an old fibreglass boat that needs to be recycled then please use our Scrap Calculator. Our boat breaking team will work out the most cost effective way of recycling your boat.

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Also if you are interested in the issues around end of life boat disposal please get in contact. We are always happy to discuss the issues we face and we welcome guest blog articles on the subject.