Fishing gear’s place amongst single-use plastics

Dr Stuart McLanaghan, our Head of Responsible Sourcing, explains why fishing gear is covered in the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive.

Globally, since the 1950s we’ve produced 9 billion tonnes of plastic and it’s a really versatile material. It can help reduce food waste and lower transport costs, having a positive impact on carbon emissions. But along the way we’ve also created 7 billion tonnes of plastic waste, so we need to look at how we use and manage plastics.

The European Union estimates that up to 85% of litter in EU waters is plastic. Half of this comes from single-use plastics, such as bags, plastic bottles and other forms of packaging. The lack of options for reusing or recycling single-use plastic products has led to 5-8 million tonnes being lost annually to the marine environment.

The Single-Use Plastics Directive was adopted by the European Parliament in 2019. Its rules focus on tackling litter from the 10 single-use plastics found most often on European beaches. Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear is included as well because it accounts for 27% of beach litter. The Directive also promotes the move to a ‘circular economy’ – an economic system in which resources are more sustainably managed.

Recycling fishing gear is difficult because it is made up of different types of materials. For example, a trawl net may include a variety of types of plastic as well as steel wire, chains and rubber discs. Dismantling old gears to separate the individual materials is both time consuming and costly. There is also a lack of recycling facilities available within the UK and limited storage space at ports. These issues mean that most end-of-life fishing gear is currently sent to landfill. However, there are a number of projects and companies looking at ways to tackle these issues and make recycling fishing gear easier.

The Single-Use Plastic Directive will have an impact here because it brings in ‘extended producer responsibility’ from December 2024. This means that the companies making products will have to cover the costs of collecting, transporting and recycling plastic containing fishing gear. However, there is uncertainty on which fishing gear producers will be covered, because the Directive states that ‘artisanal’ net makers are not classed as producers, but doesn’t define who that covers.

Further info

Find out more about the Single-Use Plastics Directive

Read more about Tackling marine litter and end-of-life fishing gear