In 2018, the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association started a pilot program to look at the potential for recycling retired fiberglass boats to use the materials in other industries. The Rhode Island Fiberglass Vessel Recycling Pilot Project explores solutions for the sustainable disposal of fiberglass boats by dismantling and re-processing fiberglass hulls.
“We’re getting toward the end of our trial process,” Evan Ridley, a project manager with RIMTA, told Trade Only Today. “We’re going to hopefully have results that indicate that there is a possibility to collect fiberglass as a raw-material alternative and an alternative fuel source.”
In the recycling program, the fiberglass is introduced into a large kiln and the process provides thermal energy to help power the machine and produces materials like silica and aluminum oxide that become substitutes for some of the ingredients used in cement.
“With the right consistencies, there’s the potential to offset the raw materials you put into the process,” said Ridley, explaining that a cement manufacturer might need to mine less sand and lime. “We’re hoping that boats become a foot in the door for composite materials and other end-of-life products,” he said. He added that recycling fiberglass is a healthier alternative to traditional fuel sources, such as coal and fossil fuels.
After the research initiative was proposed by the Rhode Island Sea Grant in 2015, RIMTA studied similar programs in Europe where cement companies were recycling composite wind-turbine blades and re-purposing the raw materials.
According to RIMTA, between 2003 and 2012, an estimated 1.5 million recreational boats were retired in the United States. The association says the rate of disposal is not expected to slow because many first-generation fiberglass boats have started to reach their end-of-life status.
Of course, a program like RIFVR doesn’t happen without funding. Ridley said its sponsors 11 Hour Racing, BoatUS, Brunswick Marine Division, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation and the Association of Marina Industries, helped get the program off the ground.