Growing threat from boats past ‘sail by date’

We need to reduce costs for dealing with end of life boats, warns boat recycling expert Luke Edney, before it’s too late.

End of use boats are a challenging issue for the UK. The end of life disposal process has two main costs that Boatbreakers is actively trying to reduce. These are the waste disposal for the hull material and the transport cost.

Transport costs

Currently, from our base in Gosport, we organise for boats from across the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe to be disposed of. Often this means getting the boat back to us to scrap. Boat transport companies don’t care whether a boat is pristine and popped straight out of the mould, or end of use. They still charge the same price.

Boatbreakers must pass this cost on to the boat’s last owner so we can collect and dispose of the boat. We recognise that this cost could be reduced if a network of breakers yards could be established. Rather than sitting back and waiting for it to happen, we are taking the bull by the horns to try and grow it ourselves.

With yards dotted around the country ready to accept boats, we can get boats collected for a lot less, which means owners may be more inclined to pay for responsible disposal.

It will no doubt be 2030 before the government realises that huge waves of the 660,000 registered boats (according to the British Marine) in the UK are beyond their sail by date.

Waste disposal

The trickier problem to solve is the cost of waste disposal as there is currently no market for second-hand fibreglass. Even if people did try and melt down Fibre-Reinforced Plastic boats (FRP) to re-use, with new rolls of it being so cheap why would the industry choose the old?

At Boatbreakers we try and support, or at least talk to, anyone who has ideas on recycling FRP from old boats.

Decorative interior tiles made from waste FRP

Students experiment using the waste FRP in their studies. Two students studying in London, one in Architecture the other in Design, investigated using our waste FRP to make tiles. The decorative interior tiles are being shown at a design show in Milan this year.

We’d like to try and replicate what is happening with RIMTA (Rhode Island Marine Trades Association) in the United States. It’s trying to get the cement industry to use the waste product to stop it ending up in landfill. The biggest hurdle so far seems to be making the logistics work. The study is based in Rhode Island and the closest cement firm willing to take part is well inland. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue here in the UK.

FRP could be burnt in incinerators as a fuel. But there’d have to be a steady stream of hulls being fed in to make it workable. Right now there just isn’t that network in place to provide (or pay for) them.

Some companies like to have sections of boat mounted on their walls and we’ve heard that there is a company using sections of boats to create furniture.

People often say that sinking a boat to become an artificial reef is a viable solution. However, in the UN’s report by AQASS it’s made clear that sunken boats are still affected by tides and can become destructive to the ecosystem. In tropical waters they can break corals and here in the UK vital areas of sea grass could be destroyed. Plus, after some time under, they break down and release harmful micro-plastics. Scuppering a FRP boat isn’t a green solution.

With the possible solutions for the waste FRP beginning to develop, and if our network continues to grow in the UK, transport costs will drop dramatically. The cost of boat disposal in the UK could be in the hundreds of pounds instead of thousands. Which in turn would hopefully lead to far less abandonment of vessels and less of an eyesore across the UK.

Tomorrow, in our final part, Luke, Communications Manager at Boatbreakers, discusses who’s passing the problem on.

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