Rhode Island Sea Grant and the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association have received a grant from 11th Hour Racing to continue efforts on a pilot project to recycle fiberglass vessels.

The recycling project will develop new and environmentally sound methods for disposing of vessels by dismantling and re-processing their fiberglass hulls into alternative fuel and raw material for cement production.

Photo John Supancic

Today, about 16 percent of all Rhode Island households own a registered recreational vessel. And while modern-day fiberglass hulls provide owners with durable reliability and unbridled safety, they also last about 40 years – far beyond the time horizon that many owners plan to use their boats. The tumultuous second-hand boat market, coupled with an ongoing trend of vessel abandonment, are products of the long-term and often unanticipated resilience of fiberglass in the marine environment.

In Rhode Island, the only legal form of vessel disposal is a pathway to the state’s Central Landfill. Not only is the practice an environmentally unfriendly waste of valuable composite materials, it will soon no longer be an option as the Central Landfill in Johnston nears its closing date in the next 20 years. This recycling project may offer a sustainable solution for the disposal of Rhode Island’s end-of-life boats to keep materials out of landfills.

“We’d like to help design a system that incorporates best practices for the responsible re-use of a significant source of solid waste,” says Dennis Nixon, director of Rhode Island Sea Grant. “The small size of Rhode Island makes us the perfect test site for a potential national solution.”

11th Hour Racing’s announcement comes after the Ocean Summit at the Newport stopover of the Volvo Ocean Race where Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, highlighted the pilot project as one of the state’s efforts to reduce not only plastic pollution but other potentially harmful marine debris.

“We’re all having the same issue [across New England] with fiberglass boats being discarded, abandoned, or simply no longer wanted and taking up valuable space in our landfills,” said Coit. “We’re working with Sea Grant through 11th Hour Racing with Rhode Island Marine Trades Association on a boat recycling program where the fiberglass boats will be ground up and sent to a cement kiln where they’ll become part of a new product making durable cement. We think this could be something that solves a really big problem across America.”

The project is modeled after successful approaches taken in Europe to reduce fiberglass waste and involves developing partnerships with local, state and federal agencies to ensure the recycling meets health and safety requirements. It will also require an economic analysis to determine long-term feasibility, investigation of legislation and regulations to support fiberglass hull recycling, and documentation of lessons learned.



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