A Norwegian company, Nofir AS, has established a new operation on Malta, collecting and recycling discarded fishing nets. The company, which also has recycling operations elsewhere in Europe, makes mostly textile products from the plastic in the fishing nets.
Fishing is still a substantial industry in Malta, but disposal of old fishing nets has long been problematic. Landfill owners often simply refuse to accept large quantities of fishing nets. Storage would be prohibitively expensive in a country where real estate is quite expensive.
So what becomes of discarded fishing nets?
For these reasons, fishermen have long stored old nets in less-than-ideal ways, bundled up in harbors, strewn across beaches, or in other makeshift seaside locations. From here, they can easily blow or wash into the sea by accident. Even worse, fishermen may just dump the nets at sea in the first place, creating what’s known as ghost nets.
Worldwide, fishing nets contribute many tons of plastic to the ocean each year. In addition, these ghost nets float haphazardly on ocean currents, wreaking substantial damage to reefs and marine wildlife. In Malta, they damage the shipwrecks that have made the island famous, including several dating back to World War II. Made primarily of nylon string, fishing nets are not biodegradable. When the ocean finally does break them down into smaller pieces, the nets release toxic chemicals that harm the surrounding wildlife. In this context, Nofir’s project is extremely important. As of April 2016, the company had successfully collected 17,600 pounds, or almost 8,000 kilograms, of fishing nets.
It is possible to reclaim the plastic and recycle it, particularly for use the textile industry. American outdoor brand Patagonia was among the first to make fleece jackets out of reclaimed plastic, primarily from soda bottles. In 2014, Dutch clothing manufacturer G-Star Raw launched a line made from reclaimed ocean plastic. Last year, Adidas introduced a sneaker prototype made entirely from ocean plastic and ghost nets. The brand plans to launch the sneaker later this year.
Turning waste into raw material is not only good resource management, but in cases such as this one, also a great win for the ocean and its residents.