On course towards a circular economy for recreational craft

Pleasure boating has been reaching an increasingly large number of people in recent years. Consequently, more and more craft are in circulation. However, these are gradually reaching the end of their useful life. Recycling is proving complex. Moreover, some craft are neglected or abandoned. Therefore, experts gathered on 18 March to discuss how to achieve a circular economy in the recreational craft sector.  

Belgian Federal Minister for Mobility: "Turning challenges into opportunities is the ambition we must also set ourselves for the end cycle of pleasure boats. We are at a turning point: some fifty years after composite hulls became popular, thousands of boats are coming to the end of their useful lives, with no real treatment process worthy of the name. Turning the blind eye to abandoned wrecks is not an option. For everyone's safety and for the future of our waterways, we urgently need to define the conditions for truly sustainable boating, for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We are working on this at national level, and the Belgian Presidency of the Council offers us a great opportunity to put this issue on the European agenda and benefit from best practices among Member States, for the safety of all and for the future of our waterways”.  

The number of craft has increased steadily in recent years, reaching around 6 million across Europe today. Since the 1970s, the majority of those craft are no longer made of metal or wood, but of composite. Those composite craft last 30 to 50 years, meaning that today a large number have reached the end of their useful life. In Europe, around 80,000 craft are ready for dismantling every year.  

Complex recycling causes problems  

However, recycling composite is not so straightforward. This causes craft to be abandoned on quaysides or along rivers and canals. Not only is this not a pretty sight, it also harms the environment and it can cause dangerous situations.  

The first steps towards recycling  

Initiatives are therefore already being taken in several countries to tackle that problem. One of the barriers to recycling is its cost. Accordingly, France has developed a financial plan to make recycling more financially affordable. Besides, recycling is not technically easy. In this regard, Finland has already taken several steps. Finally, there are legal questions, e.g. what about craft for which the owners are unknown? Belgium looked into this in its legal study.  

Together for a circular economy  

All those best practices were presented at a meeting on 18 March. The attendees were very diverse: policymakers, the composite industry, pleasure boating federations, but also waste processors, waterway operators and even the wind turbine industry. Indeed, there is an obligation for the latter to recycle the same materials. Besides sharing best practices, discussions also focused on the steps that are still needed to move towards a circular economy, whether in legal, policy and technical terms.  

It became clear that a lot of work remains to be done, both at national, regional and European levels, but the stakeholders present are motivated to tackle the problem. They also hope this event will stress the importance of this issue so that it will remain on the political agenda even after the upcoming elections.