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Waste Not
Irish Marine Pilot Project Upcycles Abandoned Fishing Nets

A pilot project to manufacture commercially viable products from recycled polyethylene fishing nets has been completed successfully in a collaboration between Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM - the Irish Sea Fisheries Board) and Liverpool-based plastics recycler Centriforce Products, according to Centriforce’s website.

Polyethylene can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. BIM is striving to find ways of preventing hundreds of tones of gillnets and other fishing gear from going to landfill or being illegally dumped, which can result in ‘ghost fishing,’ in which lost or abandoned nets can continue to catch fish in large numbers. This can threaten fish stocks, kill other species such as dolphins and damage the marine environment.

Having successfully proven a process for recycling nylon gear, BIM, in partnership with Green Marine Recycling and Geoline Ltd, joined forces with Centriforce to develop a pilot project for recycling polyethylene nets and related items such as rope and twine. Hundreds of tonnes of recycled nets and other gear are collected by BIM from ports around Ireland and stored to avoid sending the waste to landfill.

BIM had searched for a manufacturer that could take the recycled polyethylene pellets and convert them into a useful product, but several manufacturers had expressed an unwillingness to work with it. However, Centriforce expressed an interest and committed to develop the recycled fishing net pellet into a marketable product.

Myles Mulligan, Gear Technologist for BIM explains: “BIM had already established a process for cleaning and transporting the polyethylene netting to be extruded into pellets suitable for product manufacture, but realised that to further the research and development of this particular material, it was necessary to find a specialist manufacturer who was prepared to assess, test and attempt to make a useable product from it."

The result is a polyethylene sheeting incorporating up to 75% of the recycled fishing gear along with 25% other recyclables. When Geoline's Niall Troy approached BIM following the acquisition of a contract with Electrolux Ireland to provide and install an insulation liner at their plant on the outskirts of Dublin, they believed it was the ideal opportunity to showcase the possibilities of Centriforce’s new sheeting.

“Centriforce were able to show they had a robust extrusion process that could produce a 12mm plastic sheet which we have called CM Board — “Comhshaol Muiri” or “Marine Environment” Board. We are hoping that the board can be marketed for other similar commercial applications in future,” Troy said following the successful installation of the sheeting.

Simon Carroll, Managing Director of Centriforce Products, said: “Working together with BIM, we have successfully demonstrated a means of ‘closing the loop’ on a serious issue for the marine environment. We are continuing to examine ways of taking the project further and looking at other potential products that can be manufactured from the recycled material.”

The Irish project is the latest to find innovative ways to upcycle discarded fishing nets. Earlier this year, Interface announced its new Net-Works initiative, in which the company collects discarded fishing nets throughout the Philipines and recycles them into fibers incorporated into its carpet tiles, providing both conservation and socioeconomic benefits to some of the world's poorest coastal communities.