Electronics waste has been described as the next gold rush, so enormous is the potential. But recycling is still a big challenge lying ahead for the marine industry.
The marine industry is just one of many that might benefit from a new way of doing business—creating a circular life cycle for products rather than the current linear use-and-discard.
The term “gold rush” is literal because this precious metal constitutes an estimated 10% of the content of electronics products. This means that efficiently recycling gold, as well as rarer metals such as europium (found in color screens), lanthanum (batteries) and the mercury commonly found in displays, could convert costs to benefits.
In addition, environmental groups and other stakeholders are lobbying for a material passport for every product to encourage reuse. It’s estimated that only about a third of the European Union electronics waste is legitimately recycled, and most of it is dumped on third world countries.
The Marine Challenge
Yet industries such as car manufacturing have been working on this for some time. Renault and Tesla in particular have been pioneers in the field. The latter builds end-of-life costs into its electric vehicles to cover the outlay of buying them back from the final owner. They are also built with disassembly in mind.
Recycling is a big challenge lying ahead for the marine industry, according to Steven Beckers, industrial architect and president of the Implementation Centre for Circular Economy in Brussels.
“In terms of materials, the boating industry is now behind other industries. This is your challenge,” he said during his keynote address at METS 2016. The audience included staff from large recreational boat builders and electronics manufacturers. Many nodded their heads as Beckers spoke about hull recycling. “The marine industry has a big problem because of materials such as polyester, fiberglass and other stuff.”
“Navico uses multifunction devices to reduce the amount of electronics.”
Currently, the big four marine electronics manufacturers—Navico, Raymarine, Garmin and Furuno—follow the European Union WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) guidelines. This year saw the introduction of a mandatory 85% recycle rate for member states.
At industry leader Navico, the problem is recognized, but steps to solve it are incremental. “Making the product that you buy more and more useful as time goes on is one of our ways,” explained company spokesperson, Anthony Chmarny. “For instance, Navico uses software updates to increase the life of these products and multifunction devices to reduce the amount of electronics,” he told NauticExpo e-magazine.
The Issue of Boat Graveyards
But these steps and new EU policies will not make for sustainable levels of consumption, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a pioneer in the field. Record-breaking English yachtswoman MacArthur circumnavigated the globe in 2005 and witnessed ocean pollution first-hand. She established her foundation with the aim of accelerating the transition to a regenerative alternative to current linear production cycles.
These initiatives should be a call to arms for leading organizations in the marine electronics industry, such as the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA). Also implicated, of course, are boat builders whose OEM partnerships encompass all the components that go into a vessel, including the electronics. Yet action is slow.
“The larger issue is boat graveyards; the engines and electronics stay on board.”
“The NMEA has not yet addressed this issue, but we do see this as an important one in the coming years,” NMEA president Mark Reedenauer told NauticExpo e-magazine. “The larger issue is boat graveyards where old boats get laid to rest; typically the engines and electronics stay on board,” said Reedenauer.
The NMEA, along with other stakeholders, clearly see it as a future concern due to current economic limitations.
“There is a possibility for scrap metal and computer recycling on these vessels, but my guess is the labor to remove these parts does not justify the cost to do so. That’s not to say that this won’t change in the future,” added Reedenauer.