A milestone for fiberglass hull recycling

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The Rhode Island Marine Trades Association and Rhode Island Sea Grant have launched a pilot program wherein fiberglass hull recyclate materials are processed for use with cement industry partners in South Carolina.

Much has been written about the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association’s work on developing a fiberglass recycling pilot that promises to have nationwide impact. Last month, it reached a milestone with the announcement that an organized network of local partners finished the first delivery of fiberglass hull recyclate materials processed and prepared for use with cement industry partners in South Carolina.

Specifically, this marked the first organized co-processing of fiberglass hull material in the nation. According to RIMTA's Evan Ridley, project manager, every year there’s an increasing number of fiberglass boats hitting the end of their lives without a sustainable option for disposal. Some will be crushed and buried in landfills; others are simply abandoned on land, often in boatyards or dealer service yards, or left as derelicts along waterways, where they can harm the environment.

It has been an enduring problem for our industry, as well as state and local governments. Launched by Rhode Island Sea Grant and RIMTA, this first-of-its-kind program — officially named the Rhode Island Fiberglass Vessel Recycling Pilot Project — has one goal: to find solutions for the sustainable disposal of these boats by dismantling and reprocessing the fiberglass into cement.

RIMTA’s leadership deserves the industrywide recognition it’s getting, highlighted by this most recent accomplishment. And, pausing to mark this occasion, Ridley reflects on some of the accomplishments, noting continuing needs going forward.

  1. With the completion of this large-scale cement kiln trial, RIMTA has demonstrated the viability of hull recyclate to serve as an environmentally sustainable alternative resource in the production of cement. It must be noted that application of the recyclate is dependent on the technical capability of specific production facilities and the associated regulatory guidelines that determine their use of alternatives.
  2. The project has established a network of partners to meet the requirements of a big cement supplier. While research continues to fine-tune and improve things from an environmental standpoint, it’s now proven that coordinated regional networks can satisfy and prepare this material for use.
  3. RIMTA has demonstrated leadership in addressing a problem that the boating industry (and others) face. Efforts are now being expanded to explore the economic, geographic and logistic variables that could influence the potential expansion of the RIFVR network model.
  4. The work isn’t done. Continued education and funding are needed. The next phase will be to engage key influencers and regulatory agencies at the state and regional levels, as well as national organizations and corporate sponsors from our industry, to discuss goals and identify future challenges.
  5. Through multilevel discussions with government agencies (for example, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management), along with representatives from within the marine and composites industries, there is consensus that this is a potential solution. The groundwork is set for expansion and testing with other partners around the country.

This pilot is a collaboration among local, regional and national partners who are working toward the material-collection phase of the pilot. Among them: the BoatUS Foundation, Brunswick Corp., 11th Hour Racing, the Association of Marina Industries and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, among others.

“We’re obviously excited for the future of fiberglass recycling,” Ridley says. “This problem will not go away on its own.”

Learn more about the project through this background sheet, or contact Ridley at evan@rimta.org or (401) 396-9619.

Check out this video overview here.

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