NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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Fishing for Energy: Powering Local Communities (Part III)

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By Anna Manyak, Northeast Regional Coordinator and Knauss Fellow, NOAA Marine Debris Program

Fishing for Energy is a unique partnership between Covanta Energy, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and Schnitzer Steel, designed to provide a cost free disposal solution for derelict or otherwise unusable fishing gear to commercial fishermen across the nation.

In the previous installments of the Fishing for Energy blog series (Part I and Part II), I focused on how the program helps prevent and remove debris from the marine environment.  While the removal and prevention of marine debris is certainly a hallmark of the program, in equal importance is the fact that collected fishing gear doesn’t end up in local landfills.  Instead, metal items, such as traps, are recycled through Schnitzer Steel, and combustible items, such as nets, ropes, and buoys, are brought to a local Covanta facility where they are burned as a source of renewable energy to power local communities.  In the final installment of the series, I’d like to highlight this part of the process.

The idea that marine debris can be used to create electricity may be surprising to some, but the process, known as ‘Waste-to-Energy’, turns out to be fairly simple.

The process of creating energy from waste.
Image credit: Keep America Beautiful, kab.org

The process begins at a Schnitzer Steel facility, where collected fishing gear is sorted.  Here, metals are pulled for recycling and collected fishing gear is sheared for easier handling prior to being transferred to Covanta.  Once sheared, the gear is brought to the bunker of a Covanta facility, where it is mixed in with other municipal waste.  This assortment of household garbage and sheared fishing gear is then transferred to a combustion chamber, where the waste is burned at incredibly high heats.  The heat released from the burning of this waste boils water, which in turn produces steam.  This steam then turns a turbine, and voila!  Electricity is made.

Fishing for Energy turns a marine debris problem into a hopeful solution.  Not only does it help protect the marine environment from the impacts of marine debris, but it also helps to provide energy for local communities.  In fact, one ton of derelict fishing gear can provide enough energy to power a home for 25 days.  With the amount of gear collected to date (750 tons!), the program has potentially provided enough energy to power a single home for 51 years.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Fishing for Energy program, visit the Marine Debris Program website.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

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