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How to recycle marine plastics

Water quality Technology & equipment Waste processing +3 more

A research project has recently been launched to investigate how plastics from the aquaculture and fisheries sectors can be recycled and made into new products.

Fishing gear and nets often end up as marine litter

© Fjellfrosk Media, Dsolve

The new project, called Shift-Plastics, is a joint effort between SINTEF and the Western Norway Research Institute (WNRI/Vestlandsforskning) and aims to investigate the technical challenges and opportunities linked to this recycling issue.

According to Christina Benjaminsen, writing in Norwegian SciTech News, a key aspect of the project is to identify a best practice for the recovery and circular use of plastic waste. A diverse team of research scientists has been assembled to investigate the chemical composition of plastic waste, possible approaches to waste collection and sorting, and to find out which among all these components can be converted into high-quality products by means of recycling.

Another key task will be to find out whether biodegradable plastics can be used in what is termed problematic fishing gear, defined as gear that may result in the continuation of fishing (ghost fishing) for periods long after it has been removed.

“With the exception of fishing nets and crab pots made of biodegradable materials, no research of this type has been carried out on fisheries and aquaculture gear before,” said SINTEF’s Christian Karl, who is heading the part of the project dealing with materials analysis and the evaluation of recycling opportunities.

“This is quite an ambitious project that aims to identify new holistic solutions that can contribute towards introducing the circular use of products used in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors,” said Hans Jacob Walnum, who is a project manager at WNRI.

“This includes everything from new technologies to recommendations for life cycle analyses, policy design and, not least, how new industries might be established as a result,” he added.

A total of seven research partners are involved in the project, offering expertise in technology, politics and circular value chains, as well as 20 industrial partners and public sector agencies. The project was launched early in 2021 and will continue until the middle of 2025, operating with a budget of NOK 16.2 million (£1.34 million).

A collaborative approach

The Shift-Plastics project will be working closely with three other projects. One of these is Nova Sea, which is currently developing effective and locally sourced value chains that are designed to boost the recycling of plastic waste generated by the aquaculture sector.

Another is POCO-plast (Paths to sustainable post-consumer plastics in the aquaculture sector), which is looking into the opportunities and barriers associated with improved recycling of hard plastics generated by the aquaculture sector.

The third project, called Dsolve (Biodegradable plastics for marine applications), is based around a Centre for Research-based Innovation (SFI) and was launched in 2020. The aim of the centre is to replace traditional plastics used in specific equipment applications with innovative biodegradable materials.