The Sotenäs region is a small Swedish municipality with a big vision: turning the problem of marine waste into an opportunity for local jobs, green innovation and a more sustainable future.
Located an hour’s drive north of Gothenburg on the Swedish west coast, Sotenäs is a coastal community with a year-round population of just over 9,000 inhabitants. Surrounded by the sea, the area has a proud fishing tradition.
Today, fishing is still an essential part of the local economy. Tourism is also important, with the municipality’s population swelling to more than 50,000 each summer. Both industries depend on a clean environment and healthy seas to sustain them.
Yet Sotenäs, like coastal municipalities all over the world, faces major challenges in the form of marine litter and waste from the fishing industry.
Each year thousands of tonnes of litter washes up on Swedish shores. And hundreds of tonnes of old and worn out fishing gear has to be retired. This kind of waste is notoriously difficult to recycle.
A complex problem
Old, ocean-worn material is currently of little value to manufactures. Virgin plastics are still too cheap to produce. And when it comes to recycling, fishing gear is one of the most difficult and complex waste streams to process.
The size, construction and design of large modern nets, which have plastic and metal woven together, makes the recovery of raw materials a challenge. As a result, old nets often end up in landfill.
In many countries, where landfill disposal is expensive, large quantities of old gear is left lying around, or worse, dumped at sea.
But Erik Goksøyr, head of Sotenäs’ Marine Recycling Centre, says there is an alternative:
“The work we are doing Sotenäs proves there is great value in recovering these materials. Businesses can tell consumers a story about products which ‘help to clean the ocean’.”
A simple solution
Goksøyr presented the work of the the Marine Recycling Centre in Sotenäs to colleagues from municipalities from across the KIMO network at the organisation’s 2020 Conference.
Sotenäs’s project is unique in Sweden – if not the world. Yet it is a simple idea.
The facility gathers and handles marine waste, including beach cleaned and ocean plastic. Discarded fishing gear (known as ‘ghost gear’) is also collected and brought to the centre for sorting. Once sorted, items are returned for reuse, recycling, or upcycling into new products.
Workers at the Centre are taking part in training programmes. This is an important social element of the project’s work, which helps people enter or return to the jobs market.
The project engages local fishermen and has set up collection points at harbours, as well as arranging waste collections. The Centre now collects waste from all over Sweden, with 110 tonnes of fishing gear collected so far this year.
Goksøyr says: “Fishermen have jumped at the opportunity to give their used equipment a second life. Nobody wants to see something that has a potential value go to waste.”
The relationship with the fishing industry and other key stakeholders is serious. Norden Fishing association, the non-profit organisation Keep Sweden Tidy and the Båtskroten boat recycling company are all partners in the Centre’s Fiskereturen national collection system. Financing is provided by the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management.
Working together for cleaner seas
The Marine Recycling Centre is part of a wider project ran by the Sotenäs municipality. Cooperation between stakeholders is at the heart of their work.
Local businesses, NGOs, academia and government all collaborate with aim of creating local green jobs and contributing to a better environment, both locally and globally.
With support of the Swedish Innovation Agency, the municipality has founded an innovation centre – or ‘test bed’ – to experiment and find new uses for the materials recovered. This test bed supports companies, universities and researchers to investigation options for the repurposing of marine waste materials.
While new efforts are being made to change the design of new fishing gear so it is easier to reuse or recycle, the problem of what to do with existing gear remains a major challenge all around the world. But it is a problem that Sotenäs wants to help solve.
Or as Goksøyr puts it: “It is quite exciting when you look at marine waste and fishing gear as a valuable, limited, sustainable resource instead of a problem – and the potential of what it can become!”
KIMO International is a network of local governments, working together for healthy seas, cleaner beaches, and thriving coastal communities. Follow KIMO on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and sign up for our email updates.