Steveston Harbour Net Recycling Initiative

The problem

The fishing industry accumulates many old nets that often lie as a discarded pile in fishing harbours globally. The question is always what to do with them? The options are generally to take them to landfill or to incinerate them; both of which are costly and have environmental impacts. Steveston Harbour is one such harbour with this problem and in the past resorted to burying old nets in landfill. What if there was a sustainable alternative, a way to recycle these nets into a useful product? Steveston Harbour, in partnership with global synthetic fibre manufacturer Aquafil Group and global carpet tile manufacturer Interface Inc., is working towards a solution. In 2013, Interface contacted Steveston Harbour Authority to initiate conversations with Aquafil about the possibility of setting up a net recycling programme for the multitude of fishing nets and rope that are regularly accumulated and stored in Steveston Harbour.

What if there was a sustainable alternative, a way to recycle these nets into a useful product?

The solution

Interface and Aquafil started their collaboration with the very successful Net-Works™ project, where fishing communities in the Danajon Bank in the Philippines recover discarded fishing nets. The nets are then shipped to Aquafil's ECONYL® plant in Slovenia to be regenerated into nylon 6 fibre, which is then used by Interface in their carpet tiles. The project has been extremely successful with hugely positive impacts including providing an alternative income for local fishing communities in the Danajon Bank who sell nets to Aquafil and preventing waste nets from polluting the marine environment.

With Interface and Aquafil seeking to expand their operations to include more markets, Steveston Harbour participated in an 18 month pilot project to establish a similar project on the west coast of British Columbia.

The outcomes

During the pilot project 18 tonnes of old nylon fishing net were collected and shipped to Aquafil to be recycled into ECONYL® nylon yarn. While this has been a great start, much more nylon 6 fishing net is required to sustain the momentum. Steveston Harbour continues to collect nets in preparation for a second shipment to Slovenia and work is underway to expand the project into other harbours in British Columbia.

The lessons

The pilot project has provided good insight into the logistical and financial challenges associated with collecting, preparing and shipping nets, and how to streamline the process to make it efficient and sustainable for everyone. It is now understood how much nylon 6 can be recovered from a full seine net; how much labour is required to strip the net from its other parts (cork line, bunt, lead line); and how to efficiently load a container to maximise the amount of net that can be sent to Aquafil’s regeneration plant in Slovenia in a single trip. All of this information has helped to adapt the regeneration model started with Net-Works™ to fit Steveston Harbour.

One limitation is that the current technology allows for only nylon 6 to be used, meaning other parts of the net, such as the polyethylene based border web and the polypropylene ropes, cannot be recycled as a part of the project. Work is underway to find recycling options for polyethylene and polypropylene as well.

Key contacts 

Jim Jones

Steveston Harbour Operations Manager

Participant Projectpb+j