Landfill Is Rubbish – The Future Is In Creating Value From Waste

Article by Amy Kenworthy, CEO and Research Officer at GhostNetWork

If fishing gear can be a never-ending death trap for marine life and seabirds, could we not find a way for it to live on forever, but in a beneficial way? Our two previous articles touched on what can be done to prevent abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) and how ghost gear can be recovered. At GhostNetWork, we are working with stakeholders who are developing and implementing solutions to help the fishing industry move towards a circular economy, that results in minimal waste. We specifically focus on solutions that extend the life of fishing gear and find viable ways to reuse or recycle end of life fishing gear.

Ensuring there is an efficient, affordable and convenient waste management system at ports is essential to prevent the inappropriate disposal of fishing gear. Since 2019, the new EU Directive (EU/2019/883) on Port Reception Facilities requires ports to provide adequate waste facilities, such as separate collection and waste reception. Now, top-down implemented rules and regulations are all well and good – but who is enforcing them? In response to a 2017/18 survey, 40% of respondents said there is no sorting of waste at ports, which even back then was mandated by the Port Reception Facility Directive!

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We have to remember, not all fishers are part of the multi-billion-dollar, large-scale commercial fishing industry. Many of them struggle to make ends meet and the depletion of fish stocks due to unsustainable fishing practices has made it even harder for them to make a living. Every penny counts, so the cost of discarding their fishing gear can push fishers to find alternative ways of getting rid of their end-of-life fishing gear. To incentivise fishers to make the effort to bring back their fishing gear for recycling it has to be affordable to them. Dreaming bigger, we can provide a financial incentive to encourage them to also return ghost nets and other marine litter they come across whilst fishing.

In Korea, fishers are paid for returning any ghost gear and marine litter they come across and it has proven to have many benefits. Before the buy-back scheme, when fishers came across ghost gear, they would have often left it behind. It wasn’t worth the effort of taking it back. Now they collect this ghost gear in bags provided to them and they receive money from the government when they return it to the harbour. The buyback scheme in Korea has proven to be more cost-effective than if the government had to collect the litter themselves. It’s a win – win situation!

I grew up in Germany where most bottles and cans have a deposit on them which you get back when you return the bottle or can to one of the many deposit machines located at supermarkets. That money can really add up at around 15ct – 25ct a bottle! It also encourages others to pick up bottles or cans if they find them. After festivals, there are always groups of festival goers collecting empty beer cans that are left scattered on the floor. You also often see homeless people collecting bottles. To make this a little safer and easier for those collecting bottles, some public bins now have special bottle holders. The deposit makes the “rubbish” valuable to people and encourages recycling. After all, one persons trash is another persons treasure – it’s a valuable resource that could be recycled into a new product.

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Just like cans and bottles, most fishing nets are also made out of recyclable materials. Many nets are made out of Polyethylene, Nylon, Polypropylene or Polyester. HDPE (high-density polyethylene) is the material used for products like shampoo bottles, chopping boards and plastic pipes. Nylon is used for items such as sleeping bags, backpacks, ropes, carpets and clothing to name a few. Both HDPE and Nylon are easily recyclable but the benefit of nylon fishing gear is that it is very durable and is nylon is recyclable infinantly (and beyond!). Recycling fishing nets is a fantastic alternative to putting them in landfill or incinerating them and more and more companies are choosing recycled fishing nets for their products – from skateboards to sunglasses, bags and swimsuits as well as lots more. However, there’s a catch, and it’s not just the marine life stuck in ghost nets.

Recycling plants require large quantities of nets for recycling to be cost efficient and have to be cleaned and sorted which can be laborious and therefore more expensive. When Nylon is recycled it needs to be especially well cleaned as it is melted down at a lower temperature which doesn’t get rid of all the microbes or bacteria. Some ghost nets have so much debris entangled in them such as seaweed, bones, marine animals, shells or other nets that they become too hard to recycle; another reason why we should prevent the loss of fishing nets and ensure they are disposed of properly right away, before they become too contaminated.

Although recycling fishing nets can be challenging it’s far from impossible and more and more companies and organisations around the world are finding cost-efficient ways to do it.

A fantastic net recycling scheme by Odyssey Innovation Ltd offering free net recycling solutions of polyethylene trawl and nylon gill nets is starting to spread across the UK. Containers are placed in the harbours where fishers can deposit their nets. Alternatively, small fishing harbours which don’t have enough space to store large amounts of nets can take them to a number of drop off points in the South West of England. The nets then get collected and sent to the recycling partners that turn them into a material that can be used to make new products.

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In Chile, Bureo‘s Net Positiva net collection and recycling scheme has been a great success. For every kilogram of material collected, they make a donation aimed at sustainable development in the communities they are working in. Plus, their material is used to make skateboards, sunglasses, games and is even used in some of Patagonia’s products. Over in North America, Net Your Problem works with fishing communities, recyclers and sustainable brands to find economically viable pathways of recycling end-of-life fishing gear and turn it into new products. And that’s not all! We’re seeing more and more net recycling schemes pop up around the world, all of which are invited to join our NetWorking platform so that we can share knowledge of best practices and collaborate to have an even greater impact! Let us know in the comments if you know of any fishing net collection and recycling schemes you think should join our NetWork!

By sharing knowledge on best practices, innovations and viable business models for fishing gear recycling, we can create a future where end-of-life nets are a valuable resource and a cleaner, safer ocean for us all.


  • Cover: Odyssey Innovation’s harbour collection scheme
  • Fishing Gear piling up – Image by Nick Kane
  • Deposit bottle ring (dpa / picture alliance / Uli Deck)
  • Bureo Net Positiva

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