Fishing and port activities generate significant amounts of solid waste, which is often dumped directly into the marine environment. Where treated, this is often using inadequate generic treatments along with domestic waste. Three of the most environmentally damaging inorganic solid wastes are fishing nets, expanded polystyrene, and batteries/lighting devices. Abandoned and mismanaged nets negatively impact marine ecosystems and kill fish - ghost fishing - and other wildlife through suffocation or strangulation. Waste equipment can trap and poison marine life, especially if composed of plastics that last between 50 and 450 years (and even longer for expanded polystyrene). Batteries, which are increasingly used on boats, are all-too-often dumped at sea causing chemical pollution and poisoning marine organisms, and can remain a pollutant for very long periods of time.
The overall objective of the 3R-FISH project was to minimise the environmental impact of the most significant fishing industry solid wastes (i.e. fishing nets, polystyrene, and batteries/lighting devices) on water and seabed quality, and to promote the sustainable development of fishing and port activities. The project aimed to reduce the quantity of solid waste discharged into the marine environment and landfilled or incinerated as urban waste, by supporting the proper use and recycling of equipment used in the fishing industry and by developing and implementing a sustainable system of management, treatment, disposal and recycling.
The 3R-FISH project firstly analysed the targeted solid wastes produced in Spain and Portugal, and then implemented pilot experiments in specific Galician and Portuguese ports. In these autonomous ports (Marin, Vigo and Coruña) and ports managed directly by the public agency Portos de Galicia, participants committed to undertake project actions for each type of waste targeted: a) fishing nets and fishing gear, b) expanded polystyrene packaging (EPS), and c) batteries and fishing lights. These actions were developed between July 2009 and September 2011 and covered every phase of the process, from collection at ports to the final processing and management by recycling and management companies. CETMAR conducted an extensive information and awareness raising campaign, which helped gain a general acceptance of the project’s objectives by most of the relevant stakeholders.
Considerable quantities of waste were collected and managed throughout the project’s duration: about 747 tonnes of fishing nets, more than 130 tonnes of EPS, and around 33 tonnes of batteries. The project’s pilot experiments enabled complete data and information to be collected about these types of waste and their recycling value. For fishing nets and EPS, the recycling methods and processes were technically analysed and validated by specialised laboratories. This served to implement and define suitable systems of management, disposal and recycling. The project team studied several models of fishing lights and made proposals for improving their design and use. The project developed a system of management, transport and re-use of the targeted wastes produced at ports, in collaboration with port entities, fishermen, waste managers and recycling companies. Best practices were defined and implemented at port and in fishing boats for a more sustainable management of the targeted wastes.
The project generated comprehensive technical and scientific information about the types and quantities of waste produced, and their processing and recycling requirements. Information from the pilot actions was used to draw up an “integral management model” for the targeted waste types. From this, recommendations were made for a waste management methodology applicable to Spanish and European ports generally. The project produced several technical and dissemination documents, including the White Book - New opportunities for fishing and port-generated waste, which will be valuable for replicating the project’s methodology.
Overall, the project demonstrated the technical and economic viability of the waste management system tested in Galician and Portuguese ports. At the end of the project, logistics for the collection, separation and transport of the targeted waste, and its re-use, were well-established in the participating ports. An indirect outcome is the integration of the project’s waste management system by the ports of Marin, Vigo and Coruña (important fishing and commercial ports), and also by the public agency Portos de Galicia, responsible for the management of 122 regional ports.
The “cost-benefit ratio” linked to each management option at the ports was calculated and, even given initial investment in training and equipment, the overall economic balance in most cases is positive. An advantage of this management model is that no large investments are required to obtain economic and environmental benefits. Nevertheless, the industrial process leaves a low commercial margin, both for port managers and cleaning companies. Therefore, large waste quantities are necessary and it is crucial for this to be optimised for the system to be profitable. The system could be improved by setting up, for example, a network between ports to provide larger waste quantities to recycling companies. According to project staff, this is the way forward for improving cost-effectiveness and ensuring economic benefits for ports and linked stakeholders.
The project helps implement European policies linked to waste management and protection of the marine environment, in particular the Waste Directive (2008/98/CE) by reducing the amount of waste reaching landfills. The project brought to light the environmental problems of batteries used on fishing boats, which were either thrown into the sea or treated as urban waste. The project therefore has helped in the implementation of the MARPOL Convention, which obliges vessels to bring waste back to ports. An indirect effect of the project has been the extension of the battery collection activities of ECOPILAS in Spanish fishing ports.
The project’s information campaign marked a growing acceptance at all levels for the need to recycle or re-use waste. For example, fishing boats were soon bringing many more tonnes of batteries back to ports. It also resulted in plastic recycling companies becoming aware of new market opportunities, for example, using discarded fishing nets.