Marine waste and plastic pollution: the chance to make the change

Plastic pollution:- A discarded plastic bag floats in a clear, blue water, tropical ocean
Plastic pollution:- A discarded plastic bag floats in a clear, blue water, tropical ocean

The 2nd of March of 2022 marks a before and after in the fight against marine waste and plastic pollution which is what is ravaging the seas and oceans of our planet. Heads of State, Ministers of environment, and other representatives from the UN Member States signed a historic agreement at the resumed the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly to end this ballast and forge an international legally binding agreement by 2024.

We would lose a great opportunity if we did not value the importance of aquaculture both in the origin and in the solution of this phenomenon.

WeAreAquaculture has contacted some of the most relevant agents in the industry to know their impressions and hopes. Above all to find out firsthand what the companies, where they collaborate and work, are doing to help and make this great change possible.

Delegates embrace each after the historic announcement – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

We should remember that more than 800 marine and coastal species are affected by this pollution through ingestion, entanglement, and other dangers. Furthermore, around 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flow annually into oceans, which may triple by 2040.

The "advantages" of plastic

The word plastic has been demonized in recent years. Its total disappearance is an almost impossible task that we have to take into account. This is the reason why it is worth knowing the proposals and alternatives that Runa Haug Khoury, CEO of AION makes us known.

"For many purposes, plastic is a really good material: it is functional, lightweight, and recyclable." However, she notes: "It's the resource economy around plastics we need to address. She underlines the need to "close the tap on plastic pollution, and limit the number of new plastics being constantly poured into all sorts of value chains". "There is no option but to move from a linear to a circular use of plastics," she explains.

In more detail, she highlights the reuse of certain products: "Companies like Aker BioMarine and American Seafoods whose fishing nets we recycle and repurpose with 100% inclusion rate into new value chains, be it serving trays at McDonald's restaurants, in the canteens of Sodexo or the Norwegian government, or 100% circular shopping baskets in grocery stores."

For this reason, she mentions Nutreco and Skretting Global's partnership: "Fishmeal big bags have been repurposed with 100% inclusion rate into solid pallets. This will now go into use in their global operations. It's all traced and documented through our 'digital twin' of the physical value chain, our circularity tech platform AION Loop."

Circular storage bins – AION

Consequently, this can be considered a first winning battle for all. For example, "the marine industry being able to step up to a documented responsibility on their plastic waste streams,". Besides, "users of plastic durables being able to keep the same functionality on their products without fueling new plastic production".

Looking to the future, she acknowledges the important role of the aquaculture industry: "There is an opportunity to be responsible first movers here. Demonstrating how innovative closed-loop plastic solutions can be adopted and scaled. This also can inspire other sectors and industries to follow." It reminds us how many industrial plastics the sector uses and can be recycled or repurposed into new product life.

Furthermore, she says: "There is a big willingness and engagement to close the tap on plastic pollution. From the man in the street and consumer, through to industry, regulators, and very much also the plastic industry itself."

Even though, we have to study in detail the new solutions and their consequences. "It is complex and requires new practices across both geographies and value chains. The UN global treaty signed in Nairobi was really important to create a common and level playing feel for action to abate plastic pollution."

Collaboration between producers, users and organizations

Most importantly, the Sustainability Manager of Nofir, Heidi Ruud reminds us how working closely with other companies and organizations can speed up part of the journey. "Through our tight-knit collaboration with the fishing and fish farming equipment producers and users, as well as organizations collecting marine waste, we can collect and recycle vast amounts of equipment: more than 56 000 tons since 2011," she notes.

Despite circularity and sustainability are now common concepts for everyone, Ruud indicates that in 2018 when the company started things look quite different. About today, she confirmed: "In Norway, almost all producers and major users of fishing and fish farming equipment are connected to our recycling system in some way or form: turning discarded fishing and fish farming equipment into new materials and products."

"Now we are also working with making sports nets out of discarded fishing nets. We have already delivered the first football and volleyball nets here in Norway," she details.

According to the Sustainability Manager of Nofir, fish is a very sustainable product. Although, the production and the value-chain around it needs to be as well. "People want more sustainable products. This industry can provide it, while also creating value out of its waste," she ends.

Fish welfare as a priority

On the other hand, for Viking Aqua AS high water quality is key for healthy production. The company builds a RAS facility, through which 99-99.7% of the water is recycled. Thus, Borghild Hillestad, Fish Welfare Director, confirms that they are also dependent on healthy marine ecosystems. "Sourcing necessary raw materials for fish feed, and plastic pollution can threaten the health of marine ecosystems".

At present, the company develops a project that gets its intake water from Fensfjord, Norway. Firstly, it established a local pond. A dam and a spillway will dam up a stream that flows through a depression in the terrain with a small pond.

The seven sisters waterfall over Geirangerfjord, located near the Geiranger village, Norway – Adobe Stock

As a result, Viking Aqua aims to half the footprint within ten years of production. Compared to what the comparable to actual fish farms. "To reduce the cargo footprint, we aim to produce our products in our own processing facility. So, we produce salmon all the way from ova to product. At our processing facility, we aim for a zero-waste factory," Hillestad says.

Regarding this, she indicated: "A fish contains far more than just the fillet, and there is no point in flying whole frozen fish to the other side of the world. We aim to process the entire fish, which will for sure positively impact the environment. We will adhere to the BREEAM-NOR standard, where waste management is included."

Besides, Viking Aqua is also part of a surveillance program led by the County Governor of Vestland. This ensures good quality and sustainable utilization of this fjord. "We have strict sustainability parameters under establishment. We aim to improve the health of our planet and not worsen it," she explains.

Keep educating and raising awareness

In every aspect of life, nothing manages to perpetuate itself in time if we do not invest in education and learning. Tanja Charlotte Krogh Sørensen, Dept. Manager, QA & Sustainability at RE:OCEAN, underlines the need to educate internally likewise. "Resulting in less marine waste, more efficient resource utilization and general implement of a more holistic approach to production and natural resources."

"Everyone must contribute and take action wherever possible to ensure local as well as global sustainable development. Aquaculture and the seafood industry, in general, have the possibility and thereby the responsibility to change the way that plastic is utilized in marine environments. Also, develop new technologies," she alerts.

RE:OCEAN depends on marine environments. Circular economy, resource efficiency, and recycling must be an integrated part of its business and solutions too. The company ensures that enhancing those approaches is considered and part of its functioning.

As it mentioned above, Tanja stresses partnerships as crucial steps for correct and responsible development. "It is our common obligation to do things better today and tomorrow than we did yesterday. This is only achieved through collaborations across companies, sectors, countries, and so forth."

"At RE:OCEAN we believe in responsibility. We believe in partnerships. Including but not limited to other aquaculture companies, experts from other sectors, and national. As well as international collaborations across borders," Tanja concludes.

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