End-of-life Boats

The question of how to deal with end-of-life boats has been an issue for many years. However, there are several projects now under way to find solutions to the problem, and the RYA is engaging with a range of groups both to push for sustainable solutions and to represent the interests of boaters.

Some of our key policy work in this area is undertaken through the European Boating Association (EBA) and the European Commission, and the Commission is taking an active interest in solutions. The RYA acts as the secretariat for the EBA so we have a seat at the table for this project.

Key issues:
Fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP), the material used in most boat hulls, has a long life, but is not readily recycled. FRP is widely used, so this is part of a wider composites industry problem. Recent estimates suggest that by 2025 only between 10 and 15% of the composites waste stream will be from marine industry sources. 

The biggest challenge for the boating sector is the legacy fleet, where design for recycling was not previously considered. New boats can be better designed for eventual recycling but given the longevity of vessels, 40-50 years for a new yacht, we need to find solutions for older vessels. 

The other issue that is particular to boating is the level of contamination – antifoul, oils, some gelcoats etc. Preparation for recycling / re-use is needed for our sector.

Current Routes for Disposal
Currently there are limited routes for disposal within the UK. Portsmouth Boat Breakers offers a recycling and disposal service. They will break up a boat, recover saleable and recyclable items, then shred and landfill the remaining material. A second scheme has recently been set up by Imperial Yacht Brokers. 

Overseas, the APER recycling project in France has now (June 2021) processed over 2,000 boats and they have 20+ registered disposal sites.

Most approaches either landfill the FRP, burn it in a waste to energy plant or use it to fire cement kilns, which makes use of the glass fibre in the product and the resin as a fuel source.

Non-FRP hulls, such as some small dinghies made from polypropylene, can be fully recycled. 

Research into Future Disposal Options
We ultimately need to find a solution that represents a true circular economy, recovering the materials for re-use rather than landfilling or burning the FRP. Some example projects and research activities are:

Conenor, a Finnish company, has a patented process for re-use of GRP as building materials.
Strathclyde University has developed a method to re-use the fibres once a thermal process has removed the resins. 
Delft University of Technology is using flaked waste GRP to re-make new products, i.e. without separating fibre and resin. 
We are aware of an up-coming project in the UK looking to recycle boat hulls into new boat interior fittings.

Who pays?
The last owner of the boat is the person least likely to be able to afford proper disposal, and  proposals for full boat registration schemes would not address that fundamental problem, or the legacy fleet. 

The RYA’s position, aligned with that of the EBA, is therefore for Extended Producer Responsibility. A levy on new boat sales would fund disposal. The APER system in France has taken this approach and is the focus of our work with the European Commission. One major advantage is that it doesn’t require a vessel registration scheme, as the levy is not tied to the particular vessel but provides an immediate source of funds for disposal of boats.

Finally, Judy Hilton, an MSc student at the University of Portsmouth, is currently running a survey of recreational boaters about their awareness of, and attitudes to, the disposal of end-of-life boats. Please complete the survey here.