THE BOAT BOOM ERA CATCHING UP WITH US
LANDFILLS & LEACHING
Scrapped boats contain toxic substances such as paints, resins, antifouling, asbestos and mercury based products. Over time they leach into the soil and groundwater creating an environmental hazard. Polluted groundwater runs into waterways and can have negative impacts on rivers, oceans and the species that live in them. Fibreglass hulls that end up in landfill will remain there for hundreds of years leaving the problem for future generations to deal with.
THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY
Fibreglass boats that are left to naturally decay in the sea and estuaries release toxins and microplastics into the environment (Ciocan, 2020). Microplastic have been widely discussed over recent years, but rarely in connection with yachts. We understand the harm that they can cause; from bioaccumulating up the food chain to damaging the oceans valuable ecosystem such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass.
However, it is not only plastics which cause damage. As with landfills, other dangerous toxins from the boats end up entering the environment and having a direct effect on the habitats and its species. Peeling paints release harmful chemicals into the water. High levels of lead, zinc and copper have been found in small marine organisms and sediment in areas with abandoned boats (Reese et al., 2014).
Long term, neither landfill or abandonment are sustainable methods of disposal for fibreglass boats. Moving forwards, alternative methods of disposal need to be identified and worked on. On the other hand, a move towards using different materials could be a solution. Either way, an essential starting point is getting industry leaders and innovators to understand and address the issue.
Fibreglass boats can be disposed of in a more sustainable way and some countries are already leading the way and doing it well. Currently, the most feasible technology for recycling fiberglass involves shredding the material into small pieces and combining it with other materials or resins to create a new composite for use in a new product.
France is one country that seems to have found a good solution. According to new rules introduced in 2019, owners are required to pay an ‘eco tax’ when they register their boats- which is obligatory- and the funds generated are used to recycle old ones. Sweden has also come up with a solution. Boat owners there have to transport the end of life boat to an approved recycling centre and the rest will be taken care of for them.
Similarly, the use of biodegradable composites and bio-based resins, from renewable sources, is receiving attention. Natural fibres such as hemp, bamboo and flax are being used with positive outcomes. They present a strong and realistic alternative to common fibreglass.
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Making change is difficult. We have to rethink our entire way of being as a species and our place as the custodians of this beautiful pale blue dot. Not all the technologies and knowledge is in place, or even exists, but we can still help our beloved Earth.
This article was written by Natasha Posnett.