While producers have already made their own efforts to bring fishing gear into the circular economy, the message from those already working on this is that there is a need for the industry itself to contribute to this on a collective basis.
These pages have seen a good few reports over the years about ventures to recycle fishing gear, often into a variety of products ranging from socks to furniture. While gear manufacturers and suppliers, and recyclers such as Plastix and Nofir, have made significant advances in this direction, so far there’s little by the way of regulation.
But this is coming, not least with the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), the framework of which is being developed under the European Green Deal, one of the 2019-2024 priorities of the European Commission (EC).
As well as the focus on fresh air, clean water, healthy soil and biodiversity, this also has a strong emphasis on longer-lasting products that can be repaired, recycled and re-used. The EC has also formulated eight action points, including the protection of the environment. In this context the Single Use Plastics Directive (EU 2019/904) was passed and came into force in June 2019.
What is set to affect the fishing and aquaculture industries is mandate M/574n, which requests CEN/TC466 (Sustainable Fisheries Aquaculture and Fishing Gear Technical Committee) to develop standards up to 2024, for circular design of fishing gear and aquaculture equipment. At the same time, it appears that the EC has scaled down looking into its own rules for the EPR, instead relying on the OECD to address this.
Given this is a priority, the EC is working to an already tight timeline – and where Europe goes, other national administrations tend to follow. This is where a group of interested parties, including European rope and twine manufacturers’ federation Eurocord, are already working together with DG – MARE to develop future policies and laws in this sector.
This particular aspect in the story of developing standards for the circular design of fishing gear goes back to February 2020, when it was still possible to hold face-to-face meetings, when a workshop organised by the fisheries consultancy MRAG Europe brought together representatives of government bodies, fishing gear producers and users, recyclers, and NGOs concerned with ocean health. The outcomes of this meeting have formed a roadmap to build such standards.
‘We were contracted by the European Commission to look at the development of standards for circular design,’ said Dr David Feary, Technical Director within MRAG Europe.
‘This is part of the single use plastics directive, with our work designed to provide recommendations on the range of regulations needed to develop a set of standards, and how to develop such standards to enhance the circular design of fishing gear, including reducing plastic use and reducing the use of less- or non-recyclable materials.’
That 2020 meeting in Brussels set the ball rolling, partly with European rope and twine manufacturers’ federation Eurocord taking the initiative to make all this happen.
‘We took the ideas we had in terms of the need to develop a set of standards to DG MARE and they said OK,’ commented Koen van Goethem of coatings specialist I-Coats, who found himself chairing new technical committee CEN/ TC 466 with its three working groups.
DG MARE issued a request for developing a set of European standards which would support the future rules, with a May 2024 deadline for such standards aligning with the end of the European Green deal. CEN, the European committee for standardisation, which includes the EU member states, the EFTA countries Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, candidate EU countries as the Republic of North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey, and the United Kingdom, has accepted this request and has established CEN/ TC 466, which has the task of developing the requested standards.
‘However, there’s now an urgency to this’ said Zarra de Laat of the Netherlands Standardisation Institute NEN and secretary of CEN/ TC 466. ‘There has to be a first working draft of the standards by March 2022. So the earlier we have input into this, the better.’
‘It’s also important that we involve everyone in the supply chain,’ added independent consultant and chemical engineer Zoltan Patkai, who has a long background of involvement in this industry, and is one of the three working group convenors participating in CEN/TC466.
‘We have to bring the whole sector together on this. They have to understand what is in it for them.’
Experts needed – Read more about CEN/ TC 466