Project to develop large-scale fishing net recycling in the UK

Environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) has teamed up with plastic processing experts Milspeed on a project to develop the large-scale recycling of fishing nets in the UK.

Each year, it’s estimated that 640,000 tonnes of fishing nets end up as plastic waste in our oceans, according to Keep Britain Tidy. The charity says that in addition to being “hazardous for boats”, these nets can continue to “ghost fish” for up to 600 years, with countless fish, dolphins and seals killed after getting trapped in them.

It is hoped that installing a free UK recycling service at harboursides will encourage the recycling of both nets and ropes.

Since March 2020, Keep Britain Tidy and Milspeed have been working together to develop the project and, to date, more than 40 tonnes of trawl net has been turned into recycled plastic pellets that can be resold to the market.

KBT says there are huge environmental and economic benefits to having a UK recycling scheme and it is hoped that, over time, it can be rolled out to more harbours around the country. The scheme joins that of Odyssey Innovation Ltd which also recycles trawl nets and ropes through its nationwide net recycling scheme within the UK.

This is an important step to reducing nets in our oceans by working with industry and lowering the carbon miles of transported recycled materials

Keep Britain Tidy’s Ocean Recovery Project enables communities and volunteers to play their part in reducing the amount of marine plastic polluting our environment.

Brixham Harbour, managed by Torbay Harbour Authority, is home to one of the UK’s largest fishing fleets. The harbour has contributed most nets to the Ocean Recovery Project to date at around 30 tonnes. The nets then only had to travel 154 miles from the harbour to be recycled.

Working with partners, the scheme is now being rolled out to Scarborough and Whitby in the North-East and has removed tonnes of material from Dunbar in Scotland this year.

Neil Hembrow, of Keep Britain Tidy’s Ocean Recovery Project, said: “It’s fantastic that so many partners have supported the development of new recycling techniques here in the UK.

“We want to support multiple organisations, fishermen, harbour authorities and beach cleaners by giving them an opportunity to recycle fishing nets and rope in the UK. This is an important step to reducing nets in our oceans by working with industry and lowering the carbon miles of transported recycled materials.”

James Milhench, Business Development manager at Milspeed, based in the Cotswolds, said: “We are thrilled to be involved in this revolutionary net reprocessing scheme where we are able to utilise our 20+ years of reprocessing expertise creating high-performing pellets from ‘tricky to re-use’ polymers.

“We have been incorporating ocean waste into our footwear products for four years now but we look forward to using this scheme to upscale and encourage the use of ocean waste in a variety of industries. I believe it is localised synergies like this which will prove vital in creating a more sustainable future.”

The scheme has been made possible thanks to funding from Scottish Power Foundation and the Squire Charitable Trust to set up systems at zero cost to local authorities, fishing companies or other organisations working with the fishing industry.

This story was updated 13 October to reflect that KBT’s recycling scheme is not the UK’s first. 

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