Fiberglass Disposal 2: Vanishing Acts

Fiberglass Disposal Courtesy APER

Fiberglass Disposal from derelict boats (here, in France) are a plight and an environmental problem that requires sustainable and scalable solutions.

Acknowledging the difficulty of old-fiberglass-boat disposal is essential to developing a complete life-cycle plan for the industry. Ideas from a number of countries suggest practical next steps in making sure derelict boats disappear.

As we discussed in Part 1 of this series  (“The Old-Boats Dilemma,” Profes­sional BoatBuilder No. 189), the problem of getting rid of old fiberglass boats has been thoroughly studied from many angles. Solutions have been outlined and developed, but so far none has been implemented across the board or even across borders, mostly for lack of funding and regulatory or economic incentives. Yet, people, companies, and governments around the globe are eager to improve on the status quo: leaving derelict boats to litter the environment or turning them into landfill, often burdening taxpayers with the cost.

Let’s take a look at how different countries address the challenge by sharing responsibility, recasting old boats in new roles, finding creative uses for regrind, scaling the separation of resin and fibers, and building boats from natural fibers that are easier to recycle at the end of a vessel’s useful life.

New Life for Old Fibers

Founded in 2015 in Stavanger, Norway, Ecofiber Recycling AS is a waste-processing facility for fiberglass and composite materials from leisure boats, construction, aquaculture, agriculture, and other industries. The company claims that 20% of the approximately 1 million boats in Norway are candidates for disposal.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Ecofiber A/S

A subgrade regrind from hulls with different-colored resins

“Some of the environmental toxins that end up along the coast come from leisure boats that are just left on land, sunk in the sea, burned, or delivered to landfill,” explained Martin Severin Løklingholm, the firm’s operations and development manager. Ecofiber can process craft of up to 50 (15.24m), but most of them are between 12 and 20 (3.65m and 6.10m). The number of processed boats, according to Løklingholm, is close to 7,000 at an average weight of approximately 248 kg (547 lbs) per unit. While the company mainly grinds up fiberglass hulls, it also receives plastic waste including pipes and tanks from other industries. The old boats are dismantled and cut into pieces, which are milled into flakes called Ecofibers.

“We generally produce two grades,” Løklingholm explained, “the first grade from composite GRP from boats and industry products, and a second/subgrade, which is a mix of composites from boats, but [with] trace(s) of paint, rubber, plastics and wood fibers. We [also] can produce from specific sources on demand or a requested fiber size.” Core materials are milled with a set separator of 4mm (0.16), but Ecofiber also has the capacity to screen specifically sized particles if desired. Value components (e.g., engines) are recovered for resale, while metals, plastics like polypropylene, and hazardous items and fluids are collected and sent “downstream” for further processing or proper disposal. Wood and other wastes find use as fuel in a cement factory.

“We are also looking into the reuse of combined materials such as recycled plastic, wood fibers, and milled composite flake, extruded as a profile but not for structural use,” Løklingholm said. He doesn’t consider these materials suitable for boatbuilding. “There will be a form of downcycling with use of such a product, and therefore a problem with certification and quality assurance. There is, in my opinion, only a theoretical use as nonstructural decking or interior.” Currently the material is used to make tabletops, playground structures, and rest-stop furniture along a highway in the mountains.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Ecofiber A/S

Extruded profiles that contain 45% Ecofibers from leisure boats, 45%
recycled HDPE-plastics, 5% wood fibers, and 5% color and binding or
surface agents.

“This being Norway, the government pays for this as a part of a green initiative,” Løklingholm said. “A private person will get approximately $100 for turning in an end-of-life leisure craft. [The government] also funds the recycling companies for dismantling the boats; however, this is more or less at break-even cost. The logic is to get as many wrecks or old boats out of the environment as possible. For leisure boats below a certain size there is no compulsory registry in Norway. However, there is talk of implementing it, which would fund end-of-life treatment. But this being legislation, it is a long process.”

In the U.S., Eco-Wolf in Edgewater, Florida, a company started by Wolfgang Unger in the 1960s under the name Seawolf, specializes in recycling systems (grinders and pneumatic macerators) plus thermoforming ovens and mold-making materials. It also harvests structural fibers that find use in spray-up, hand layup, or bulk molding compounds. “When using [these fibers], products are stronger and a bit lighter, saving virgin composites, lessening landfill cost, and increasing profits greatly,” said company president Sabine Corinna Unger. Eco-Wolf also produces a putty from harvested fiber called Seacast, which is used to “replace core in boats, stringers, decks, and more,” according to Unger. (See also, “One Method for Replacing a Rotten Transom,” PBB No. 69).

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Eco-Wolf

Eco-Wolf in Edgewater, Florida, offers fiberglass grinders and macerators, while also harvesting fibers for spray-up and hand-layup applications. In this image, the company illustrates some of the different grinds possible.

Fiberglass Disposal Funding in France

Successful disposal of derelict boats requires input from everyone involved, not just the last owner or the taxpayer at large, who’s left holding the bag. Take a look at France, where in 2009 the Federation of Nautical Industries (FIN) created the nonprofit Association for Eco-Responsible Pleasure (APER), to develop solutions for the voluntary disposal of end-of-life pleasure boats and address the ecological and economical aspects. “At first it was just a matter of connecting owners to facilities that could take old boats off their hands,” said APER’s development manager, Lucas Debievre. Approximately 2,500 boats were dismantled, with owners bearing most of the associated costs, unless they had insurance, Debievre added. It was a good start but, given the magnitude of the problem, not enough.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy APER

Certified by the French Ministry of Environment, the nonprofit APER tackles the disposal problem of end-of-life fiberglass boats on a grand scale. Financed by industry sources and taxpayers, APER cooperates with 26 dismantling centers in France.

A decade later, French waste-manage­ment laws expanded producer responsibility for old products to include sport and leisure boats, transforming the mission and makeup of APER. Now any person or company bringing recreational craft to market in France is required to deal with recycling and treatment of waste from those products. That means either establishing and running their own approved disposal system or entrusting a French Ministry of Environment–certified organization such as APER with the job, which requires membership and financial support based on the number of products sold.

APER members are builders, importers, and sellers of leisure boats in France. There are 13 active members on the board of directors, each elected to three-year terms by the general assembly. Currently, the organization is chaired by Jean-Paul Chapeleau, managing director of Jeanneau and vice president of FIN. According to official numbers, APER’s members represent a combined share of more than 80% of the French leisure boat market. Since January 1, 2019, they have contributed to the financing through an “eco-contribution” levied on every new boat sold in France.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy APER

At this time, 23 dismantlers work with APER in France including in the French overseas department of Martinique, but that number could soon grow to 35 or more.

APER’s goal is dismantling and processing end-of-life boats free of cost to their owners. However, owners are on the hook for transporting their boats to the processing facility and must go through a 10-step process beforehand. It starts with registering and filing a deconstruction request and ends with the issue of a certificate by APER to confirm that the boat was dismantled and deregistered. There are several takeaways:

  • With cooperation between government and industry, France became the first European country with an official, nationally organized recycling and dismantling network for boats. The program is monitored by independent and state auditors and applies to registered leisure boats and jet skis from 2.5m to 24m (82 to 789) in overall length. It does not include human-powered personal watercraft such as kayaks and surfboards.
  • Estimates by APER and the Ministry of Environment suggest anywhere from 25,000 to 140,000 units will need to be dismantled in the coming years. “Initial appraisals that called for 227,000 boats to be dismantled in five years proved to be unrealistic,” Debievre said, “due to a sticky administrative process and owners’ reluctance to let go of a product that still has sentimental value.”
  • The cost of this program is covered by the so-called eco-contribution on the sales of new boats (domestic and imported) and an annual DAFN tax to benefit coastal conservation, paid by owners of French-flagged pleasure or sport vessels used in maritime waters.
  • Presently, 23 dismantlers in mainland France and one in Martinique participate, but the number is projected to grow to 35 or 40. The metals and wood they recover are easy to recycle, but the composites end up in energy recovery from solid fuels (CSR) destined for cement kilns, which charge the dismantlers for taking the waste. Raw-material recovery for new products and finding a second life for these materials are future goals.
  • For now, APER concedes, “technical solutions exist but are not economically profitable” due to lack of volume. “Composite recycling solutions have to be studied with other sectors,” meaning aerospace, transport, construction, and wind energy—the big users.

Bathô’s Case for Land Cruisers

Before old boats are chopped to bits, there might be another act for them on terra firma. Bathô, a small and decidedly nontraditional yard in Nantes, France, was founded in 2018 by two passionate sailors, Didier Toque and Romain Grenon. Bathô buys derelict and abandoned sailboats from 6m to 15m (197 to 492) overall length for the symbolic sum of 1€ and turns them into small land-based structures, such as guest houses, bars, playground structures, or entire resorts. Hence the name, which is a clever amalgam of bateau (boat) and hôtel.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Bathô

Bathô, a small nontraditional boatyard in Nantes, France, buys old fiberglass boats for 1€ each and refurbishes them as tiny homes, outdoor bars, playground structures, or vacation rentals.

“Our business model is built on the principles of the circular economy and the economy of functionality, selling a use rather than a property,” Toque said. “In France, one million pleasure boats are registered; 80% of them were manufactured before the year 2000. The average age of the fleet is more than 40 years, and the average age of the owners is more than 65.” While giving old boats new purpose does not immediately solve the fiberglass problem, it delays their trip to a landfill or incinerator possibly for decades, during which better methods for final disposal may be developed. It’s going quite well: More than 30 old boats have found new homes in the past two years, Toque said.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Bathô (both)

In the shop, one of Bathô’s project boats undergoes comprehensive cleanup, structural changes, and cosmetic updates.

The yard also trained more than 40 people in marine professions. “We put around 450 hours of work to rebuild a boat almost like new.” Toque explained the six-step process. “The fittings are dismantled and renovated before they are put back on the boat. The portholes are new; hulls and decks are completely renovated, as is the interior.” But before that, there’s a lot of grunt work—cleaning the vessel, removing engine and hazardous substances, chopping off the keel and cutting back the rig, rehabbing the hull, filling holes, spackling, sanding, priming, painting. Head, galley, furniture, plumbing, and, sometimes, bulkheads have to go.

Bathô says it reuses wooden parts and fittings as much as possible but also fashions copies, if required. The firm also developed a proprietary acoustic and thermal insulation material called Soliege, made of dry cork granules and other natural substances for a VOC-free environment. Interior arrangements, fit and finish, electrical, and color are customizable to buyers’ tastes before the boat is shipped to its landlocked destination.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Bathô

On a landlocked “Immobile Cruiser,” the saloon provides spartan modern accommodations.

“We are also a social enterprise which welcomes young people and people experiencing unemployment, to educate them in the trades of carpentry, composite(s), metalwork, and fitting,” Toque said. Then, tongue in cheek, he added: “In two years, we have proven the concept of ‘Immobile Cruising’ for those who like boats but get seasick [on the water].”

Fiberglass Disposal is Fueling Incinerators

Germany is one of the EU countries that early on outlawed landfilling fiberglass waste and introduced laws such as the Circular Economy Act (KrGW), which took effect in 1996. It promotes conservation of natural resources and environmentally friendly waste management. As early as 1997, the Federal Association of Secondary Raw Materials and Disposal studied whether a recycling program for dismantled boats was feasible if it was coupled to a redemption mandate for manufacturers or a comprehensive registry of old boats. Researchers concluded it wasn’t worth it; proceeds from recoverable materials don’t cover the cost of disassembly and sale. Old GRP hulls, unlike those of steel or aluminum, have no material value, so there is no economic incentive to recycle them.

That position is corroborated by the German Boat and Shipbuilders Association (DBSV). “That’s a difficult subject,” said executive director Claus-Ehlert Meyer, who had joined the working group for reinforced plastics (AvK) and was a member of the recycling team. “I’m not aware of any coherent concept, neither from public nor private entities, for the disposal of GRP. It quickly became apparent that boats in particular could not be economically recycled, because the firm bond of diverse materials simply was too expensive to separate,” he explained. “Taken together, all cold-curing plastics [GRP] were uneconomical because the recyclate was not marketable.”

So the focus shifted to mechanical processing. In 2014, the German magazine Yacht interviewed the material-flow manager at Zajons Logistics, a company that helped Holcim AG and Geocycle develop the cement-kiln coprocessing solution for discarded wind-turbine-rotor blades. Zajons had machinery to break down fiberglass sandwich wind turbine blades to less than 50mm (2), including small metal parts a separator would extract. Old fiberglass boats could be processed the same way, but a fee of about 100€ per meter ($37 per 1) of boat length deterred owners, who also had to deliver their vessels to the plant.

Germans tried to find applications for recovered fibers, but as Meyer pointed out, the effort was expensive and the result difficult to integrate with new materials and products. Attempts to bind recovered fibers on a matrix for recycling led to worker complaints about skin problems from glass dust. Processing recycled fibers into putty proved impractical, because continuous hardening posed problems for storability. And adding recovered fibers to concrete made no economic sense, because virgin fibers were cheaper. Working with thermoplastics such as sheet and bulk molding compounds (SMC, BMC) yielded better results, because the recyclate could be added to new products and, in some cases, even improve physical properties such as impact resistance.

Alexandr Zykov via Creative Commons

At the German cement plant in Lägerdorf, Schleswig-Holstein, fiberglass waste from decommissioned wind-turbine-rotor blades is used in coprocessing.

Because Germany’s Circular Economy Act forced the automotive industry to use recycled plastics, this approach looked promising for bulk and sheet molding. That law also embraced thermal recycling, which opened the door to coprocessing fiberglass waste in cement kilns, something the composite industry and wind-energy producers are actively pursuing. (See also, “The Old-Boats Dilemma,” PBB No. 189.)

“Small boats are still sawn up and gradually thrown into the household waste,” Meyer said. It is a last resort if boats can’t be sold to hobby restorers, shipped to Eastern Europe, or given to vocational schools for teaching purposes. But strange as this might sound, it’s not the worst-case scenario.

“A process by which glass fibers can be extracted cannot be economical at all,” said Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jens Ridzewski in Yacht. The passionate sailor and composites expert teaches plastics-recycling classes at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg. While GRP might not lend itself readily to recycling, it could be used as fuel for waste incineration, according to Ridzewski. “Since we separate packaging material from other household waste, garbage is hardly combustible,” he said. “The incineration process can often only be sustained by adding fuel…. The only issue that needs to be resolved, from my point of view, is recycling the slag from burning glass fibers. But that is a safe substance.”

Recycling Old Fiberglass

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” isn’t just a famous quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson but the mission statement of Korec. The Italian tech startup, headquartered near Pisa, wants to industrialize a proprietary process to recover fibers and resin from fiberglass composites, thus boosting the chance of making the procedure economically viable. As a thermosetting polymer, fiberglass has a favorable strength-to-weight ratio, which is why it is used in boatbuilding. But once cured, the many crosslinks that constrain the motion of polymer chains can’t simply be melted and remodeled, as is the case in thermoplastics.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Korec

Korec’s two-step process includes depolymerization to separate the organic portion as a liquid from the fibers, which undergo calcination for the removal of coke and the separation of inorganic fillers.

To meet this challenge, Korec was cofounded by Laura Saviano, a chemical and environmental consultant with expertise in waste management and project management for environmental engineering projects, and Antonello Dimiccoli, also an environmental consultant, with a specific focus on chemical processes and plants.

After favorable preliminary trials at the University of Naples, they set up an experimental preindustrial plant in 2017 to test various types of fiberglass and to ready the process for industrial-scale production. Korec also filed for domestic and international patents in Europe, India, Brazil and the U.S., with the goal of building their technology into industrial plants that could then process their own manufacturing waste on-site.

“The great innovation of the Korec process lies in the recovery not only of the fibers but also of the organic part [resin]…and this is precisely what makes it sustainable and profitable, as the recovered liquid fraction [the organic portion] can be blended with virgin prepolymer-resins and take part in polymerization reactions that produce new thermosetting composites,” Saviano explained while also citing disclosure limits due to confidentiality agreements.

“Currently there are no efficient large-scale operational solutions for various problems [of fiberglass recycling], such as the low yield and quality of the products, the high process cost, and the economic unsustainability of the processes,” Saviano continued. “Take nitrogen pyrolysis, widely used experimentally for fiberglass. It is not profitable…because it can only recover the fibers but not the polymer matrix.” Nitrogen pyrolysis produces gas and a small quantity of tar oil, which can be suitable as fuel. The recovery of low-value fibers barely creates enough economic upside to offset energy costs, according to Saviano. She considers nitrogen pyrolysis better suited for higher-value carbon-fiber composites.

Mechanical recycling of glass fibers, she said, requires high-energy expenditure and only “generates a powder of low commercial value, used as a filler in cementitious materials or in a mixture with virgin resins for thermoforming or molding processes. Chemical treatments such as glycolysis, methanolysis, or hydrolysis, she contended, are not highly promising due to environmental problems and process costs.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Korec

The purified Korec liquid is clear and can be added to virgin isophthalic, orthophthalic, and vinylester resins.

During a METS Trade seminar moderated by Professional BoatBuilder last fall, Saviano and Dimiccoli walked the audience through Korec’s proprietary two-step process: First, depolymerization takes place at high temperature without chemical reagents. The defragmentation of organic parts produces some vapors and, after purification, the Korec liquid. A share of 10%–20% of that liquid can be mixed with virgin resins (orthophthalic, isoph­thalic, and vinylester) to take part in new polymerization, thus creating a smoother blend for better wettability of fibers and less resin consumption. Side products are uncondensed gases and residue that, in part, cover the energy demands of the process. Second, the separated fibers go through calcination for the removal of the coke and the separation of inorganic fillers.

The Korec executives said that they did not notice degradation in the mechanical properties (i.e., hardness, tensile and bending resistance) of the parts made from recovered fibers and resins containing 10%–20% of the recovered organic liquid. “Experimental checks conducted on our pilot plant and laboratory tests have shown remarkable results in terms of the quality of the recycled product. In all cases tested with different types of fiberglass, the recovered organic liquid, in fact, mixed with virgin resin polymerized completely,” Saviano added.

Possible applications for the recovered glass fibers include thermoplastic compounds, organic matrices (such as asphalt), and the production of new fiberglass chopped mat or insulation material for high temperatures of 550°C (1,020°F). Looking at the environmental impact, she said, “The Korec process does not generate water discharges and produces only 2–3% of waste to be disposed of, compared to 100% of [landfilled] fiberglass. The atmospheric emissions generated are reduced with the best available technologies and fully respect the concentration limits imposed by European law.”

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy Korec

Recovered fibers find application in thermoplastics, organic matrices, and fiberglass chopped mat or insulation materials.

Ultimately all projections and prognostications are moot if the process does not deliver on its promise in an industrial setting. To that end, Korec is going all in with an industrial prototype at a company that produces fiberglass laminates in Bergamo near Milan, scheduled to come online in spring 2021.

Watch the METS TechTalk about fiberglass recycling, moderated by ProBoat editor Aaron Porter with Laura Saviano (Founder of Korec), Antonello Dimiccoli (Technical Supervisor at Korec) and Andrea Paduano (Chief Technical Officer at Northern Light Composites).

Flax Forward

The most obvious and inconvenient truth of consumption-based economies is the double whammy that applies to all the stuff we make, use, and discard. It uses energy and creates waste. Lots and lots of it. Boats, alas, are not (yet) exempt from unsustainable take-make-waste linearity, but the days are not far off when they can and, hopefully, will be. That at least is the pitch of Fabio Bignolini and Andrea Paduano, the two principals of Northern Light Composites (NLC) in Monfalcone, Italy, who spoke at the same 2021 METS Trade seminar about fiberglass recycling. They introduced the ecoPrimus, a small dinghy built from renewable and recyclable flax fiber, earning them a spot on the short list of finalists for the 2020 World Sailing 11th Hour Racing Sustainability Award. They offer this 2.42m (8) boat designed in 2016 by Hungarian David Bereczki as a sustainable alternative to the fiberglass Optimist pram—a youth trainer that offers similar weight and strength but does not have to be chopped up and landfilled for disposal.

Flax Fiber DinghyCourtesy Northern Light Composites

Northern Light Composites’ ecoPrimus youth dinghies are built from flax fibers. These boats’ strength-to-weight ratio is said to approximate that of fiberglass builds.

Bignolini: “We chose flax fibers, because among the natural fibers, they perform best, so we can obtain a composite material that is equivalent to fiberglass.” Because flax fibers are weaker but lighter weight than glass fibers, NLC added more layers to achieve the required strength. Another difference from standard fiberglass construction is the need to protect the natural fibers from UV light and salt water, which NLC solved with vinyl wrap. It’s not as quick to apply as paint or gelcoat but has other upsides: it’s easy to repair and replace, and can be recycled with other vinyl film when the boat reaches the end of its useful life. Asked if penetrations of the hull surface require special closeouts, Paduano said, “Water soaking could be an important problem, but the resin impregnates the fibers very well. However, the rough edges have to be closed to avoid small and localized delamination. To do that, we simply paint the edges with new resin; it is sufficient.”

Eco Racer with Flax FibersCourtesy Northern Light Composites

A longitudinal cut through the hull of the Eco Racer 769, a design by Mateo Polli, reveals where the builders employ flax fibers and recycled core.

Also under way is the Eco­Racer 769 (252), a modern design by Mateo Polli with a preliminary ORC rating of 615. “We will use only flax fibers, in form of unidirectional 180 gr/m² [5.31 oz/sq yd] and biaxial fabrics of 280 gr/m² [8.26 oz/sq yd] by EcoTechnilin and Bcomp, respectively,” Bignolini said. The outer skin will be recycled carbon, “only for aesthetic reasons.” Bignolini explained that, “to optimize the fiber/resin weight ratio, we use vacuum infusion technology so we can obtain good results [with] around 55% of fibers.” Other materials he mentioned include PET foams (both recycled or recyclable) and Arkema’s thermoplastic Elium resin at room temperature, which has low viscosity and a long gel time for thorough fiber impregnation and positive mech­anical properties. “Our structural engineer, Alessandro Pera, has expertise with natural fibers, [so] we can [achieve] great weight without carbon fiber. Of course, for bigger boats, it will be more difficult to [build] only [with] natural fibers, but the use of thermoplastic resins can guarantee full recycling of the materials.”

It’s difficult to predict the service life of flax-composite boats until more data become available, but at this time NLC conservatively assumes at least five years without composite degradation, and they have plans for in-depth studies with the help from a university in Trieste. Pending further tests to sound out the limits of stress the flax composite can withstand, the material showed less tendency to crack than do traditional fiberglass composites, but more elongation before breaking because of the thermoplastic nature of the resin, according to Bignolini.

A video that has been deleted showed of a technician trying to dis­assemble a common thermo­set fiberglass part and one of NLC’s ther­mo­plastic flax composite parts after soaking them in a solvent for 24 hours, the difference is striking. With the thermoplastic piece the layers of fiber can be readily separated, while in the fiberglass piece they stubbornly stick to each other. Paduano declined to provide specifics about the type of solvent, saying, “We are working on several solvents right now to find the best compromise between [strength] and ease of use.”

Flax Fiber ConstructionCourtesy Northern Light Composites

Flax is lighter but not as strong as fiberglass, so NLC added more layers of flax fibers.

Whether NLC chooses this chemical method of fiber separation or a more traditional physical process using heat to change the shape of the piece depends on the application. Bignolini said NLC’s vision for a circular waste economy from its own products includes reuse of recovered fibers from end-of-life flax-composite boats to build nonstructural parts for cruising boats or small dinghies and to reuse the thermoplastic polymer to make commonly used plastic parts. “We [also] have a project to reuse the core, thanks to the collaboration with a new partner,” he said. “The [recovered] resin can be useful as a diluted solution for small repair jobs, but we are studying a new formulation for a protective paint made from it.”

While these examples and the cement kiln coprocessing discussed in Part 1 describe some practical approaches to alleviate the problem of fiberglass boat disposal, we hope they constitute only the tip of the iceberg. We invite readers to contact us with ideas, initiatives, technologies, and solutions that might look somewhat similar to those we’ve explored as well as those that are totally different, by virtue of their defining geographic, economic, regulatory, and technical circumstances.


APER, 10, Quai d’Austerlitz, 75013 Paris, France, tel. (+33) 1 44 37 01 44.

Bathô, 24 rue de l’Abbé Grégoire, 44400 Rezé, tel. (+33) 02 40 40 20 12.

Ecofiber Recycling AS, Jåttåflåten 11, Bygg 12, 4020 Stavanger, Norway, tel. (+47) 974 36 206.

Eco-Wolf, 33 West Marion Ave., Suite 15, Edgewater, FL 32132 USA, tel. 386–428–4722.

Korec, Via Marco Polo, 81 / T – 56031 Bientina, Pisa, Italy, tel. (+39) 0587 75 55 96.

Northern Light Composites, Viale San Marco 13/B, Monfalcone, Italy, tel. (+39) 346 494417.


Queensland’s War on Wrecks

Eric SponbergPrivate

Retired naval architect, circumnavigator, and PBB contributor Eric Sponberg checks in from Townsville, Queensland, Australia,

It has been 22 years since now-retired naval architect Eric W. Sponberg wrote “Recycling Dead Boats” for this publication (PBB No. 60) and a follow-up story on, “Thoughts on Recycling Dead Boats” in 2016. From a circumnavigation with his wife, Arliss Ryan, on his first design, the 35′ wood/epoxy sloop Corroboree, Sponberg filed the following report while on an extended stopover in Townsville, Queensland, Australia, where the disposal of derelict boats has the government’s attention.

Soon after we arrived in Towns­ville, we learned about the sad fate of Defender, a 120-year-old 118.11 (36m) topsail ketch. On January 4, 2016, Defender sank at her berth in Ross Creek, roughly a hundred yards (91m) from Corroboree’s slip. Suspected vandalism was never proven. Defender’s owner in Tasmania said he could not afford to raise her. Within two months he apparently sold her as is, where is, for AUS$1 (about 70 cents US) to a salvage specialist.

But the start of Defender’s recovery dragged on for nearly 12 months as the tides washed through her hull. A three-way legal battle had ensued between the prior owner, the presumed new owner, and Marine Safety Queensland (MSQ), the government agency tasked with removing wrecks from Queensland’s waterways. Who really owned Defender, and who was responsible for clearing her away? Eventually, MSQ exercised its prerogative to raise and remove the wreck to a nearby slipway at a cost of AUS$800,000 (about US$560,000). There, marine surveys revealed Defender’s wooden hull was riddled with Teredo navalis (shipworms), and MSQ concluded that the boat was “beyond repair.” The vessel was dismantled, destroyed, and carted away. The multimillion-dollar legal case continues.

Derelict VesselJohn Skewes via Creative Commons

The 2016 sinking of the neglected 120-year-old topsail ketch Defender turned into a multimillion-dollar legal nightmare.

Defender’s situation highlights one primary cause of derelict and abandoned vessels. Over time as boats age and are sold from one owner to another, their value and selling price diminish to a point when owners either cannot afford or simply refuse to take care of them. Faced with an unseaworthy and unsellable vessel, not enough money for maintenance, and no place else to take her, the owner abandons the boat in a remote waterway. With recovery cost exceeding the boat’s value, the dangerous task of removing the wreck lands in the government’s lap.

That is one of the findings by Queensland’s War on Wrecks Taskforce, formed in 2018. Armed with AUS$20 million (US$14 million), it began removing hundreds of wrecks (722 to date) from Queensland’s 4,333-mile (6,973-km) coastline, and simultaneously conducted a comprehensive study to discover why boats become abandoned. Its March 2019 interim report, which included input from numerous public hearings, shows there is plenty of blame to go around—from owners to government to boat manufacturing and sales to insurance companies. The 49-page report makes 11 broad recommendations to address abandoned wrecks. Best-option solutions and how to pay for them are not stipulated; that, apparently, is for another day. But at least the report lays out where to start.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy MSQ

Hundreds of deteriorating wrecks dotting Queensland’s 4,300+ miles (6,920+ km) of coastline in northeast Australia were or will be removed by Maritime Safety Queensland.

The taskforce recognizes that boat owners and the boating industry need to change their behavior when building, selling, operating, and maintaining boats. I personally think any third-grader would understand that: You don’t dump boats in remote creeks. (Don’t litter. Clean up your own mess.) You don’t buy a boat you cannot afford. (Do you have enough money to buy that toy?) And, owners should be smart enough to address any maintenance issues with owning a boat. It’s not that different from owning a car.

But the taskforce found that boat buyers often are not fully informed of potential serious problems with the boat at hand. This to me is surprising since Queensland government websites stress the need for fully assessing the quality and integrity of the boat before you buy, what safety equipment is required, and how to drive it responsibly. Free government boating-safety literature is readily available at boat chandleries. Boating safety courses are easy to find. Boat registration and operator licensing requirements are clearly described (though not always followed or enforced). There really is no excuse for not knowing how to care for and operate a boat. So, what is the disconnect?

The taskforce speculates that if boats had regular condition reports, maybe owners would be better informed about the condition of the boats they are buying and therefore be less likely to discard them inappropriately. But its suggestions for the types of surveys it could require are onerous, to say the least: structural and mechanical surveys; electrical and gas safety reports; structural maintenance required and expected cost at 1-, 3-, and 5-year intervals; mechanical replacement schedule for engines, winches, sails, rigging, etc.; expected fuel consumption; and storage requirements and limitations. Whoa! The list makes my head spin. Who is going to organize, standardize, and write such reports? That’s not stated.

I think the taskforce is missing the forest for the trees. All boats will reach the end of their lives sometime. No matter how well boat sales are regulated, how many reams of survey reports are generated, or how good the licensing, registration, and education systems are, owners will keep dumping boats in remote waterways if there is no other place to take them. Dedicated boat-recycling centers are an absolute must; you cannot expect to recycle anything until you create them.

Fiberglass DisposalCourtesy MSQ

Inconsideration, incompetence, or insufficient means can result in improperly and illegally discarded boats, like this one on Fraser Island, that are costly to remove.

Queensland should build a few boat-recycling centers to take in and dismantle boats with funding from industry, owner fees, and taxes. When an owner decides to discard a boat, perhaps encouraged by buy-back fees or tax deductions, the best option is taking the boat to the nearest recycling center instead of dumping it at a distant estuary. Hazards to navigation and the environment, dangerous and costly removal—these derelict-boat problems would disappear.

From the recycling center, the other disposal streams for waste and hazardous materials will fall into place. Metals recycling is well established in Australia, and fully two-thirds of Queensland’s registered boats are less than 16 (5m) long, made of aluminum, and called “tinnies.” Likewise, electronics recycling is well established and easily available. Fiberglass is another matter—about a third of Queensland’s boats are made of it, and Australia’s only option for disposing of fiberglass is sending it to a landfill.

Fortunately, the taskforce is aware of recycling developments around the world. Indeed, numerous studies and international conferences have defined most of the problems of boat recycling, particularly regarding the limited options with fiberglass. Scientists and engineers in Europe and America are working diligently on viable recycling solutions encompassing all composites sectors—windmill blades, car bodies, wall and roof panels, spa pools, and boats.

APER in France, as we have seen, is not just an idea but an effective organization financed by tax money and contributions from industry to handle proper disposal of fiberglass boats. Currently, APER uses two-dozen dismantlers in France and Martinique and has plans to add more. Australia, America, and the rest of the world should take note.

Millions of recreational boats around the world today are the end-of-life boats of tomorrow. Dedicated recycling centers, funded by government, industry, and owners alike, will prevent boats from landing in remote creeks, rivers, and marshes. They completely eliminate the need for retrieval—the most expensive, difficult, and dangerous part of the entire boat-recycling equation. The time to start building these centers is now.

—Eric Sponberg