Though no boat owner wants to think about the end of the line for Ol’ Wavewhacker, 99.9% of all boats are going to meet an end eventually. What happens to them?
If the dead boat is aluminum, it can be hauled to a scrap metal recycler where it’s worth about 20 cents a pound at today’s prices. If the boat is wood, stripped of most of the metal parts (take these to a recycler, as well) haul the rest to a landfill. Or just park it behind a barn, it will organically decompose in a decade or two. Wood boats will burn, but there’s probably enough plastic, paint and varnish on and in them to make this option environmentally insensitive.
So what about fiberglass boats? If Ol’ Wavewacker is fiberglass you can park it behind the barn for 20 years and it will still be there, a bit faded, probably with some green stains in places where water collects, but it lasts. The good thing about fiberglass is the glass part of the product will last thousands of years, the resin that binds it will break down more quickly, but it will still last longer than you, me or our grandkids. This is also the bad part about fiberglass boats because unless you and the grandkids make a special effort to keep the boat maintained, repaired and polished, at some point, it too, will be decommissioned. Then what?
Some landfills will take a whole boat. Most will take one if it’s sawed into small enough pieces. But landfills are nasty, but necessary, blights on the landscape. It would be much better if as much of the materials going into landfills were recycled or put to some other use.
So can Ol’ Wavewacker be recycled rather than buried with tons of non-recycled refuse? That’s what a pilot project in Rhode Island is trying to find out.
The boating industry has been more boom than bust for the past 50 years and has produced an increasing number of decommissioned fiberglass boats most places. In hurricane ravaged areas huge piles of dead boats tend to accumulate quickly. Rhode Island has been impacted by three major hurricanes in the past decade, Irene, Sandy and Jose. In some areas, junk “wave whackers” were still piled uselessly from earlier storms, thus the project.
Initially called the Rhode Island Fiberglass Vessel Recycling Pilot Program, the project was completed in 2019. This project included collecting 20 tons of recycled recreational fiberglass boat material, processing it, and supplying the product to concrete plants. In some applications, concrete can be poured without having to have reinforcing rod or wire encased in it if recycled, ground up fiberglass is entrained in the mix.
The powdery stuff which is mixed with sand and gravel to make concrete is called cement. The manufacturing process to make cement from limestone and other ingredients requires a lot of heat. In the pilot program, some of the recycled fiberglass was burned to supplement the energy source used to make the heat to produce the cement.
Now, the original project has been renamed, “phase one” and currently, the groups sponsoring the RIFVR are funding “phase two” which will include an economic analysis of the pilot program to help determine long-term feasibility, lessons learned and what sort of legislation and regulations supportive of fiberglass boat recycling will be required to allow and promote other fiberglass recycling programs.
The phase two program is being made possible with support from 11th Hour Racing, the Association of Marina Industries, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, and the BoatUS Foundation Grassroots Grant Program.
The upper Midwest is one of the top boating areas in the country. Though we don’t have hurricane piled boats, we do have an ever-growing pile behind barns and elsewhere. Perhaps what Rhode Islanders learn can be adapted, adopted and used here and other areas of the country.