Jackie Thompson

The ships used for cleaning up some of the 14 million tons of plastic that reach the ocean every year could eventually become self-sustaining by converting the plastic they collect into fuel. Although this would be a laudable achievement, several studies have found that the shipping, fishing and recreational boating industries are responsible for generating much of this plastic waste in the first place. While the rules for shipping a country’s plastic waste for recycling purposes have been upgraded recently, the introduction of recycling schemes and zero-waste ships will help to ensure that waste at sea produced by the shipping and boating industries is minimized.

Recycling Fibreglass Boats

As the number of Americans taking up boating for recreational purposes continues to rise, sales of new and secondhand boats are reaching record highs. Many buyers are taking to the water for the first time, so buying a pre-owned boat is a good way for them to experience the benefits of boating without investing more than they can afford. As well as being more economical for a first-time boat buyer, choosing a pre-owned boat is a more sustainable way to enjoy the ocean. Small boats are commonly made of fibreglass which can be difficult to recycle, and this results in them being abandoned if they are no longer required or they reach the end of their useful life. To avoid boats becoming marine debris, a number of schemes around the country have been introduced to collect vessels, dismantle them, and reuse or recycle their materials.

Reducing Plastic Waste from Ships

According to a report by Greenpeace, the majority of plastic waste in the sea is formed of abandoned fishing gear, while another study found that the plastic bottles that litter the shorelines around the South Atlantic most likely originate from merchant marine vessels. Some of the worst offenders for creating waste are cruise ships which, despite only representing a small percentage of the number of ships at sea, have been estimated to be responsible for around 24% of all waste at sea. The bulk of the garbage generated on board is dumped in the ocean, some of it illegally.  Cruise lines have responded by designing zero-landfill ships that can process their own waste on board, while others have eliminated single-use plastics from their vessels.

Powering Clean Ups With Plastic

While plans to clean up the ocean are complex and will require further evaluation, collecting plastics for use as fuel may be able to help mitigate their impact on the environment. Instead of gathering debris and transporting it long distances to be processed in port, ships can use a procedure known as hydrothermal liquefaction to break down plastics in order to create ‘blue diesel’. In this way, ships will have the potential to power themselves through cleaning up the oceans.

While ships successfully remove plastic debris from the sea, much of the waste they pick up was dumped by other ocean-faring vessels in the first place. By reusing and recycling fibreglass boats, and reducing the amount of plastic used on ocean liners, the amount of marine debris could be significantly reduced.

Photo by Geo Days on Unsplash