The question of what to do with end of life of boats has been an issue for many years. The issue is becoming pressing due to the rapid increase in the manufacture of fibreglass boats in the 1970s and 1980s, which are now reaching the end of their useful lives.
WHAT IS THE ISSUE?
Abandoned boats create a host of environmental problems. Apart from the aesthetic impact, fuels and oils leak into the water, the hull slowly breaks down and sheds glass fibres that have recently been identified in shellfish, and plastic components such as ropes and fittings release microplastics into the environment.
If you have spotted an abandoned End of Life boat on your travels, you can report it to us here:
The Wider Problem
Fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP), the material used in most boat hulls, has a long life, but is not readily recycled. FRP is widely used, so this is part of a wider composites industry problem. Recent estimates suggest that by 2025 only between 10 and 15% of the composites waste stream will be from marine industry sources. Many other industries use fibre reinforced materials, so solutions are being researched to meet the needs of all these industries.
The Legacy Fleet
The biggest challenge for the boating sector is the legacy fleet, where design for recycling was not previously considered. New boats can be better designed for eventual recycling but given the longevity of vessels, 40-50 years for a new yacht, we also need to find solutions for older vessels.
Contamination of hulls by antifoul and oils, along with the mix of different materials in the layup, makes preparation for recycling or re-use more challenging for our sector.
Current Disposal Routes
Most approaches either landfill the FRP, burn it in a waste to energy plant or use it to fire cement kilns, which makes use of the glass fibre in the product and the resin as a fuel source. We need to find a solution that represents a true circular economy, rather than burning old hulls for energy recovery or cement manufacture.
Currently there are limited routes for disposal within the UK. We have provided two disposal companies below within the advice for boaters section.
Overseas, the APER recycling project in France (June 2021) has now processed over 2,000 boats and they have 20+ registered disposal sites.
Non-FRP hulls, such as some small dinghies made from polypropylene, can be fully recycled.
ADVICE FOR BOATERS
The best solution is to extend the life of your boat! However if your boat is genuinely reaching the end of its life, you need to think carefully about how to dispose of it responsibly, and to set aside a budget to do so.
There are a small but increasing number of companies which currently specialise in boat disposal within the UK, including:
- Portsmouth Boat Breakers – salvage or collect your boat or dinghy, or you can deliver it to them yourself, to have parts recycled where possible with the remainder broken down and disposed of responsibly.
- Marine Recycling GRP Ltd – collect or accept end-of-life and decommissioned sailing yachts, motorboats and dinghies from your property, to rehome where possible, or remove all reusable bits then recycle the rest.
- Topper Love to Dream Programme – as part of this programme The International Topper Class Association (ITCA) are accepting unwanted Toppers from owners, clubs and centres to revitalise the hulls, add new rigging and send to sailing schools and clubs in Emerging Developed Nations.
- Sustainable Sailing – working with industry and academic collaborators, Sustainable Sailing has developed technologies to recycle end of life sails. Recycling is currently available only to select partner organisations: if you are interested in becoming a partner, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.
FUTURE DISPOSAL OPTIONS
We ultimately need to find a solution that represents a true circular economy, recovering the materials for re-use rather than landfilling or burning the FRP. Some example projects and research activities are:
- Conenor, a Finnish company, has a patented process for re-use of GRP as building materials.
- Strathclyde University has developed a method to re-use the fibres once a thermal process has removed the resins.
- Delft University of Technology is using flaked waste GRP to re-make new products, i.e. without separating fibre and resin.
- We are aware of an up-coming project in the UK looking to recycle boat hulls into new boat interior fittings.
The last owner of the boat is the person least likely to be able to afford proper disposal, and according to the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) proposals for full boat registration schemes would not address that fundamental problem, or the legacy fleet.
The RYA’s position, aligned with that of the European Boating Association (EBA), is for Extended Producer Responsibility. Where a levy on new boat sales would fund disposal. The APER system in France has taken this approach and is the focus of the RYA’s work with the European Commission. One major advantage seen by the RYA is that it doesn’t require a vessel registration scheme, as the levy is not tied to the particular vessel but provides an immediate source of funds for disposal of boats.