Fishing net recycling program looks to increase production in Cordova

Nets are compressed by a new bailer at the Copper River Watershed Project.
Nets are compressed by a new bailer at the Copper River Watershed Project.(Shae Bowman)
Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 1:30 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Eleven years into its fishing net recycling program, the Copper River Watershed Project is working to get more nets to recyclers.

Though the program has already collected around 260,000 lbs nets, with the recent addition of a commercial bailer, the nonprofit will be able to fit significantly more nets into a shipping container that will carry the nets to Portugal.

Though direct tracing is difficult, the destiny of the Cordova nets will be a variety of plastic products, and they could potentially be included in a line of Grundens products made from recycled nets.

“I think the thing that’s exciting about recycling nets is that we have such a large amount of them and unlike other types of plastics that could be recycled, these nets are very consistently the same material,” Shae Bowman, Operations Manager at Copper River Watershed Project said.

The Copper River Watershed Project is working with Net Your Problem, a company that works to coordinate the logistically complex business of recycling nets at an international level.

“Depending on what the material is, they can mechanically recycle it, which is basically they grind the nets up, wash them, melt it, and then put it through extruder, which produces very small plastic pellets and then those pellets get resold on the plastic market and you can just use that as a replacement for virgin plastic,” Net Your Problem founder Nicole Baker said. “The other option is sort of like what’s called depolymerization, or some kind of chemical recycling where the nets get basically turned into their carbon and hydrogen building blocks and then you can make a variety of petroleum products out of that. You can also make a fiber out of that, which is what the goal is for the nets from Cordova, for them to get sent to a company that makes a fiber. Grundens has been supportive of the project in Cordova because they’re going to be releasing a line of clothing next Spring that’s made from recycled fishing net fibers.”

Baker says the biggest challenge in expanding net recycling programs is keeping costs competitive or below other alternatives fishermen use to dispose or store old nets.

In Cordova, the net recycling program is well established and free, whereas disposing of nets in the landfill costs money. However, changes in the recycling market have created some additional challenges for the program.

“The big thing is that the fishing web really needs to be stripped of all your lines and it needs to be cleaned up. And that can be pretty challenging because these nets are really big and they’re good at catching things,” Bowman said. “For a long time we have accepted nets kind of coming in in any shape or form, and with the changing recycling market we really had to up our game as far as the quality of nets we’re sending to recyclers.”

Bowman says that an in-kind donation from Alaska Marine Lines helps cover shipping, and without that donation, the program might not be possible. Baker says a construction company plays a big role in helping load the nets at a collection site in Kodiak.

“There is a place for anybody who thinks that they could contribute, either communications, logistics, financially,” Baker said. We need everybody in order to figure out ways to make this solution available to fishing communities.”

To learn more about Copper River Watershed’s net recycling program click here.

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