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Why Aluminum Boats are Environmentally Superior to Fiberglass

By Travis Brandt, Founder Ravenark Boats

Aluminum alloy manufacturing begins through a process called Bauxite mining. It’s a nasty thing to do to any ecological system because it strips the ecology from the soil.  However, then the ecology grows back.  Many mines in the world are legally obligated to reclaim the mine, for decades after they close it.

Organic Matter when put on soil, can re-invigorate the soil of a mine. The same process is used by agriculture, which uses mega-tons of chemicals as weed and pesticide killers. Bauxite mining is a bad thing, but can aid to organization, development, and improved ecology when managed wisely.

In this video, we can see the Effect of Organic Matter On A Reclaimed Bauxite Soil in Jamaica: https://youtu.be/bo3aAt_N_cA

In this video, What Happens To a Mine After it is closed: https://youtu.be/uYw06osVLMI

In this article The Head of Jamaica’s “Life After Bauxite” Program Lauds a Bauxite Mining Company for Aiding the Agricultural Reuse of Mined Land.

https://revitalization.org/article/bauxite-company-is-lauded-for-agricultural-reuse-of-mined-land-by-jamaicas-life-after-bauxite-program/ 

The image here is of agriculture in a reclaimed Bauxite Mine.

After an aluminum boat is manufactured, it can be used for 40-50 or more years and recycled.

There are no limitations on the use of recycled aluminum.  Once melted back down, it can be re-processed back into some other kind of aluminum, and the process continued.

Fiberglass boats, by contrast, are not like this at all, creating an end of life issue by the many millions of boats.

Fiberglass boats started to trickle out in the first half of the 19th century.  Merely between 2011 and 2015, when people started caring enough to count, 1.5million boats reached End Of Life in the US, and 1.7million in Europe. Nearly all of these wound up in landfills, or at waters bottom, with an as yet unknown half-life.

Fiberglass boats are made from epoxy, which is made with acrylic alcohol and dissolved in styrene to create the vinyl ester resin, and organic peroxides are used as a catalyst. Because these and other resins are used only in industry, the average person will encounter polyester resins as the most common fiberglass resins.

The salient question is; “What are the structural features that make polymers non-biodegradable?”

According to Barry Burke, B.S. Polymer Science, University of Southern Mississippi (1975)

“Assuming you are referring to modern synthetic polymers, the answer is in the chemical bonds that make up the polymer. In most cases, the backbone of the repeating chain, or 3 dimensional structure of thermostat polymers, is carbon to carbon covalent bonds. These can be linear or aromatic. Both are extremely stable and not attacked by the acidic or basic chemicals involved in biodegredation. Ester, and ether linkages are sometimes more easily attacked in general, but make inferior polymers for most usages. Polymers range quite widely in what they are resistant to, but are designed to be resistant to various chemical and physical stresses. That is why they are used. The downside is that these designed in resistances do not disappear at the end of their useful life.

For example, fiberglass boats last for decades, and the polyester resins holding the glass fibers last much longer. But there is no mechanism for that resin to know that you have scrapped that boat. It persists where it exists, on the water protecting lives, or in the landfill after being junked and crushed. Being a thermoset polymer, it can’t even be melted and remolded into a new structure. (The best use, though not often economically feasible, is to grind it up where it can be recycled into reinforcement for concrete or asphalt.) Thermoplastic polymers, that can be melted and remolded, are easier to recycle. But even they fight the cost benefit curve. And never forget, all recycling requires significant energy to collect, sort, store, and process. So, to varying degrees, you’re trading one form of environmental damage for another. There are no easy answers. The myriad benefits of modern polymers, including health and safety, economy, aesthetics, strength, efficiency of processing, etc. weight very heavily against the ecological downsides. And, were they replaced with “natural “ materials in the volumes required, significant environmental stresses would be created.”

(ref Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-structural-features-that-make-polymers-non-biodegradable)

It’s no secret that landfills are filling up.

In the USA,  In October 1972, US Congress enacted the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) https://www.epa.gov/ocean-dumping/learn-about-ocean-dumping  It is also well known that many countries still dump their trash by the hourly shipload into the Ocean.

One caring researcher is Corina Ciocan, a senior lecturer in Marine Biology at University of Brighton. Her article  ‘Abandoned fibreglass boats are releasing toxins and microplastics across the world’  covers the casual disposal of boats made out of fiberglass is harming coastal marine life.  “microparticles are the resins holding the fibreglass together and contain phthalates, a massive group of chemicals associated with severe human health impacts from ADHD to breast cancer, obesity and male fertility issues.

Abandoned boats are now a common sight on many estuaries and beaches, leaking heavy metals, microglass and phtalates: we really must start paying attention to the hazard they pose to human health and the threats to local ecology.”

Photo: Mark Seton/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Read Corina Ciocan’s Article Here: https://theconversation.com/abandoned-fibreglass-boats-are-releasing-toxins-and-microplastics-across-the-world-143857

We don’t talk about the long term effects of fiberglass enough.

Water below the earths crust is beginning to go bad. Salmon have stopped migrating in many places. Can anyone name a place on Earth where the fishing isn’t significantly more poor than it was 10 years ago? Hardly.

Obviously overfishing, massive Russian trawlers, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and other countries all have a nearly unregulated fishing industry.  Even though they sign on to treaties, the author speaks from personal experience that enforcement by the US Coast Guard although well intentioned, is not enough, because the problem is so vast and complex a few Coast Guard cutters are not making a dent.

Arguably, the USA does a great job of managing our own environment, it has taken lots of work to get here.  Nearly everone in the marine industry cares about the environment.  Commercial fisheries want sustainability because they want to fish next year, subsistence fishers want to eat and live, and recreationalists want peace of mind.  The problem is not with America, except our politicians are not doing a great job of affecting other countries.

The West Coast ecology of the US and Alaska is affected by the Pacific, which is affected by large commercial fleets that are not necessarily American.

What can be done about our little corner of the problem, Fiberglass Boats?

Obviously, lets make more aluminum boats than fiberglass boats to stem the proliferation of new fiberglass boats.

And let us manage End Of Life issues for the current many millions of fiberglass boats, which is certainly turning into a government funded problem. What we need is more government programs! (Not!)

Lets quickly look at Florida, because it’s the largest boat market in the USA, and glance at Washington State because that is where the author is located, as well Oregon because it is on the Columbia river and the Pacific Coastline, also California because of its coastline and population, and finally Alaska which is experiencing dramatic environmental changes.

What are states doing about the prolific fiberglass boat demons cluttering up society.

Each state, many more than listed here, is spending public resources to clean up derelict boats. The problems are obvious. Where to put it? How to haul it? Who owns it? Who should pay for it? Is anyone liable?  Each state must pass a series of laws to even create the authority to take action and to fund it.  Here is a list of those programs:

FLORIDA

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) offers grants that local governments (not private citizens or nongovernmental organizations) can use to get rid of derelict and abandoned vessels after the owner has been provided due process.  Florida Department of Environmental Protection or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, depending on jurisdiction. https://myfwc.com/boating/grants-programs/derelict-vessel/  Sadly only $1,000,000 was made available, and the boats still end up in landfills.

CALIFORNIA

California’s Division of Boating and Waterways sponsors a no-cost Vessel Turn-In Program (VTIP) https://dbw.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=28816

WASHINGTON

Washington Department of Natural Resources Vessel Turn In Program https://www.dnr.wa.gov/programs-and-services/aquatics/derelict-vessels/vessel-turn-program

It is worth mentioning the Composite Recycling Technology Center in Port Angeles that was funded by a US Dept of Commerce $2mil grant and is a 25,000 square foot composite recycling technology center, they make products out of composite recycling; https://compositerecycling.org/

OREGON

Oregon State Marine Board https://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/boater-info/Pages/Abandoned-Derelict-Boats.aspx

ALASKA

Alaska Department of Fish And Game has at its disposal the Abandoned and Derelict Vessels Act AS 30.30. Arguably it is not effective.

Alaska has over 33,000 miles of shoreline and is socially all about ‘individual rights’

Abandoned And Derelict Vessels In Alaska is an article by Jeanette Alas who is a Habitat Biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Habitat and is based in Anchorage. She represented ADF&G on the Abandoned and Derelict Vessel ad-hoc task force.  http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildlifenews.view_article&articles_id=846

NOAA

Office of Response And Restoration: https://blog.response.restoration.noaa.gov/when-boats-dont-float-how-noaa-marine-debris-program-works-remove-sunken-vessels?utm_medium=email&utm_source=GovDelivery

Obviously the fiberglass boat environmental problems are significant enough to warrant solutions, and solutions of a similar magnitude are not being fielded in the Aluminum Boat space.  When comparing the Bauxite Mining issues to the half-life of chemicals that are by nature going to poison everything in their path for the next thousand years, whereas the Bauxite mining can relatively quickly be reclaimed to agriculture when properly managed.  Also aluminum can be recycled quite easily.

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