Turning the Tide on Marine Litter

Date of issue: April 8, 2016

A transnational European project which aims to help turn waste plastic from the sea into a useful resource was recently launched in Sisimiut, Greenland.

Circular Ocean, which is funded under the EU’s ERDF Interreg VB Northern Periphery and Arctic (NPA) programme, will also soon see the release of a report entitled “The marine plastic waste problem: reasons for Northern Europe and Arctic to take notice”. The event featured representatives of the local Greenlandic municipality and project partners from Greenland, Scotland, Ireland, and Norway. It provided an opportunity for exchanging information and knowledge of marine litter and further cemented the partnership for future work in this area.



Circular Ocean aims to support the move to a more circular economy and inspire remote communities within northern Europe and the Arctic to realise the economic opportunities of discarded marine plastic, in particular, fishing nets and ropes. The soon to be released report, the first of the project, will outline key facts and statistics relating to marine litter and provide an overview of current estimates of the scale and impact of marine litter, which has a particular relevance to the region. The report will provide a strong basis and justification for the need for the development of resources that support the collection, reuse and recycling of marine litter.
It has been estimated that over 8 million tonnes of marine litter ends up in the ocean every year, of which 15% is floating on the surface, 15% is washed ashore and the remaining 70% sinks and rests on the ocean floor. Fishing related gear has been assessed by experts to be the most harmful type of litter to seabirds, mammals, and turtles, with the economic damage of marine plastic waste estimated almost €12 billion. The report will outline the potential impact of marine plastic litter, which due to its durability may take hundreds to thousands of years to fully breakdown. As a result, plastic is continuing to accumulate in the ocean, with research suggesting that it may contain 155 million tonnes of plastic by 2025 without significant intervention. This plastic will continue to entangle and be consumed by marine life, which has significant implications for the overall health of marine ecosystems and food-web.
Over the next three years the project partners are working with local enterprises and residents to provide and share information, knowledge and ideas to guide communities on how best to harness the hidden opportunities of discarded fishing nets. A Circular Ocean workshop will take place in Ålesund, Norway on the 1st and 2nd of September 2016 bringing together stakeholders to discuss current conditions and opportunities in developing a circular economy and green enterprises based on recycling and reuse of plastics in fishing nets and ropes. There will be presentations from stakeholders in Norway, discussions on mapping important prerequisites to incentivise green enterprise development and opportunities for networking.
The development of eco-innovative ideas, learning and sharing of knowledge will be disseminated to entrepreneurs, the general public, and politicians, and will ultimately help the project partners to support the creation of social enterprises. This will be achieved partly through open source, free-to-use resources including feasibility studies on fishing net collection, environmental impact reports, case studies of existing projects, information on fishing net reuse and recycling options and examples of pilot work undertaken using fishing nets. The highly informative, and easy to navigate project web site has been developed to provide a one-stop access point to all these forthcoming resources.
Speaking on behalf of Qeqqata Municipality, Technical and Environmental Manager Hans Ulrik Skifte said at the launch “This Circular Ocean Project is a very welcome initiative. We have lots of old marine waste, mainly from the seafood industry. The problem is not only in Sisimiut, but old fishing nets are very common sights in Greenlandic towns and settlements. We still see the waste everywhere, especially near our waterfront. The old nets get collected, and transported to our junk yard. We are interested in discussing solutions for this part of the project, as well as all other areas of waste management. It is essential for us to participate in this matter, on the other hand, we don’t have endless economic and human resources in our workplace, and we have to take care of all the waste management issues at the same time. That’s why we welcome any external initiative, and work together with all of you.”
Partners involved in the Circular Ocean project include the Environmental Research Institute of the North Highland College UHI, Scotland; Macroom E, Ireland; The Centre for Sustainable Design, University for the Creative Arts, England; the Arctic Technology Centre, Greenland and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Norway.
What is Circular Ocean? View the animation to find out: . For further information on Circular Ocean go to or email


Marine litter is a global problem: Approximately 8 million tonnes of plastic litter entering the seas and oceans annually creating an eyesore on beaches and having a dramatic impact on marine wildlife. It is estimated that over 100 000 marine mammals and 1 million seabirds are killed each year as a consequence of becoming consuming or becoming entanglement in discarded plastic. If current trends continue, it is estimated that by 2025 there could be one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of finfish in our seas. The new project, funded by the EU’s Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, aims to help reduce marine litter by incentivising its removal and enable communities and entrepreneurs across northern Europe to utilise plastic litter as a potential resource.


In remote regions, renowned for their natural beauty and wild environments, monitoring, collecting and recycling marine litter can be difficult due to low population densities and prohibitive road and/or sea transport costs. With partners in Scotland (ERI), Rep. of Ireland (Macroom E), England (The Centre for Sustainable Design), Greenland (Arctic Technology Centre), and Norway (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) the ‘Circular Ocean’ project aims to overcome such obstacles by creating an online, open- access network allowing anyone to share and access practical and innovative ideas of how to reuse plastic. Already marine litter has been used to make new products including trainers, rucksacks, socks, jackets, skateboards, carpet tiles and sunglasses. It is hoped that eco-innovation using resources otherwise wasted and lost to the economy will encourage the development of local businesses and benefit rural economies.


By providing expert guidance and support on eco-innovation Circular Ocean will encourage the development of enterprises based on the reuse and upcycling of discarded fishing nets and ropes which currently represents 10% of marine litter. The project will oversee the running of an eco-innovation competition designed to encourage creative ideas of how to reuse discarded fishing nets. Open to all designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and students in the Northern Europe and Arctic region, the competition will seek a new and innovative product and/or service solutions related to fishing net reuse.


“We are delighted to a part of this innovative project which we hope will help in combatting the global environmental problem of marine plastic waste whilst at the same time developing enterprise opportunities in Ireland and other parts of the NPA from turning this perceived waste into a resource” said Michelle Green of Macroom E.


Project lead Dr Neil James of ERI said “Virtually all plastic ever produced is still with us today, with more entering the seas each year to the detriment of fish, birds, turtles and marine mammals. If we utilise this so-called waste material for a new purpose we reduce the amount of new plastic created, reduce marine pollution, and encourage new green enterprises. Our aim in Circular Ocean is to facilitate this in the northern Europe and Arctic region.”