Where the captain meets the smith: ship recycling
Life at sea can be rough, ask any seafarer. And that’s not just on the sailors, even more so for the ships. After 30 odd years, a ship has reached its end of life. But when the captain bids farewell to his vessel, its useful life is far from over. Actually, a new life is just around the corner.
Ship recycling plays a vital role in the lifecycle of vessels, ensuring their responsible end-of-life management. In recent years, there has been a shift in perspective from ship scrapping, often associated with environmental and labor concerns, to ship recycling, a more sustainable alternative.
How to recycle an ocean giant
Modern ocean going ships are enormous. Recycling a 250 meter long giant calls for more than a scrapyard press returning compressed metal cubes. The typical ship recycling process therefore involves several stages to maximize the recovery of valuable materials while minimizing environmental impact. Still more than 70% of the world fleet ends up on beaches in Asia, where they are scrapped mostly by hand. This presents great threats to people and the environment, end results in recycled materials of lower quality than possible. There is an alternative to scrapping, and that is recycling.
That process begins with the arrival of the ship at a designated recycling facility. Prior to recycling, the vessel undergoes preparation, which includes the removal of hazardous materials, such as asbestos, PCBs, and fuel residues. This step ensures worker safety and prevents environmental contamination. Once hazardous materials are eliminated, the ship is dismantled into smaller sections using various cutting techniques. Mostly this is done via cutting equipment mounted on diggers. The cut off sections are then processed further to extract recyclable materials, such as steel, aluminum, copper, and other non-ferrous metals. The recovered materials are segregated, processed, and prepared for reuse in various industries, contributing to resource conservation and reducing the need for virgin materials.
There’s value in old ships
Ships consist of numerous components and materials that are highly recyclable. The primary recyclable element is steel, which constitutes the majority of a ship’s structure. Steel recovered from ship recycling is widely used in construction and other industries. Steel from the current ship recycling facilities is however still contaminated with coatings and other additives. With the pressure on the steel industry to shift to sustainable manufacturing, the need for clean and homogenous scrap is rapidly increasing. Next to steel, ships contain significant quantities of non-ferrous metals, including aluminum, copper, and brass, which are valuable commodities in the recycling market.
furthermore, ship recycling facilities are equipped to handle and recycle other components, such as engines, generators, electrical equipment, and machinery. These items can be refurbished, resold, or used for spare parts, reducing the demand for new manufacturing and extending the life cycle of existing equipment.
Towards a Circular Ship Recycling Approach
To achieve a truly circular ship recycling approach, several improvements are necessary:
- Enhancing Hazardous Material Management: Strengthening regulations and oversight to ensure thorough identification, removal, and disposal of hazardous materials from ships is crucial. Improved practices will safeguard worker health, prevent environmental contamination, and facilitate the recycling process.
- Implementing Effective Waste Management: Developing comprehensive waste management plans at ship recycling facilities can help optimize the recovery and recycling of various ship-generated waste streams. Proper segregation, treatment, and recycling of waste materials will minimize environmental impacts and promote resource efficiency.
- Advancing Technology and Innovation: Investing in research and development of innovative recycling technologies can improve efficiency and increase the range of recyclable materials. For instance, advancements in techniques for recycling composite materials, such as fiberglass, can address the challenges associated with their current limited recycling options. Developments like CMT International, show that combining different innovative technologies leads to a significant increase in the quality of extracted materials.
- Promoting Collaboration and Certification: Encouraging collaboration among shipowners, recyclers, and regulatory bodies is vital for creating a transparent and accountable ship recycling industry. The development of internationally recognized certification schemes, such as the Hong Kong Convention, can ensure adherence to environmental and labor standards.
Every challenge has it’s opportunities
With the numbers of end of life vessels increasing rapidly over the coming decades, there is a significant challenge ahead to reuse all the elements theses consist of responsibly. Ship recycling offers a sustainable approach to managing end-of-life vessels, promoting resource conservation and minimizing environmental impact. To make ship recycling truly circular, efforts should focus on effective hazardous material management, improved waste management practices, technological advancements, and collaborative initiatives. CMT International provides a lighthouse example of how to combine efforts in all these corners into one circular system. By embracing these improvements, the ship recycling industry can transition towards a more sustainable and circular future, ensuring the long-term well-being of the environment, workers, and the economy.