3D Printing with Recycled Fish Nets


Marine pollution continues to be one of the major global ocean conservation issues. Ian Falconer, CEO of Fishy Filaments, is taking a local stand against debris, by giving new life to Cornish fishing nets. 

Cornwall, on the Southern coast of England, boasts a large fishing industry. The fishing industry drives much of the local economy, and has become a rich component of the region's history. Traditional fishing practices include seine netting, drift netting, and trawling- each method involving massive woven nets. 

Fishing nets are typically made from synthetic, non-biodegradable fibers, such as nylon. After excessive use, they wear down and are either repaired, or replaced. Recent industry shrinkage, in Cornwall, has caused declines in skilled netsmen who can patch and repair net damage. Even with workers to maintain equipment, the industry disposes tons of fishing nets, annually. 

"End-of-life nets can be transported 100 miles or more from Cornwall to a suitable landfill site"

The Southwestern UK lacks landfill capacity to dispose of the nets, and doing so is costly. "End-of-life nets can be transported 100 miles or more from Cornwall to a suitable landfill site," says Falconer. Not to mention, the EU's Circular Economy Package is expected to ban single-polymer items, such as fishing nets, from landfills by 2020. These complications led Ian Falconer, an engineer from Cornwall, to investigate alternate solutions. 

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"Some Cornish nets are recycled, but the nearest fishing net recycling plant that is able to take them is over 1000km away in Slovenia. The Slovenian process, while effective and provably better for the environment than using first-life plastics, requires a continental-scale net collection infrastructure to feed a large scale chemical (de-polymerisation) plant. The same issues of energy use and emissions mentioned in the previous line are multiplied. There is also a management overhead to the international transportation of post-consumer plastics. Within the EU they must be tracked and insured against illegal or accidental release." - Ian Falconer, Fishy Filaments

His solution: converting disposed fishing nets into high-quality 3D printing filaments. 

Fishy Filaments, a startup founded by Falconer, that provides a way for local fishermen to recycle their nets, while creating a reliable, local supply of high-quality 3D printing materials.

The company fills gaps in two major UK markets: fishing and technology. By localizing recycling efforts, lowering environmental costs, and creating a transparent 3D printing supply chain, Falconer hopes to create a product that's well-suited for, and embedded in, local markets.

This innovative idea serves as an example of what can happen when combining environmental prevention with Circular Economics. In the future, Fishy Filments aims to develop marine bio-plastics suitable for 3D printing, freeing the sector from reliance on a crude-oil economy.

Check out this video that outlines the process of turning fishing nets into 3D printing filaments.