The development team at Westerly, R.I.-based machine builder U.S. Extruders Inc. has reeled in some financial support to study how to turn used fishing nets into plastic pellets.
The company was awarded $43,655 from the Rhode Island Commerce Corp. to conduct tests and refine its manufacturing process.
Founded in 2017, U.S. Extruders makes extruders with 0.5- to 8-inch barrel diameters for tubing, pipe, profile, film, sheet, medical, wire and cable, and compounding applications.
If the fishing net project is successful, U.S. Extruders plans to sell the pellets to manufacturing partners looking for a source of recycled material.
Company officials dubbed the study: "Fishing for a Solution: Determining the Process and Viability of Recycling End-of-life Fishing Nets."
"Being in Rhode Island, the Ocean State, we wanted to be part of the solution. Working on a project that has potential of alleviating some ocean plastics seemed a natural fit," Chief Operating Officer Dan Schilke said in an email.
That's a refreshing approach for a business, according to Laura Ludwig, manager of the Marine Debris and Plastics Program with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass.
"This is an unusual and excellent turn of events in the world I work with, given that a domestic commercial, for-profit manufacturer sees the value of working with this difficult material," Ludwig said in an email.
She wrote a letter of support for the grant and is working with the U.S. Extruders team to better understand the scope of the issue.
The Provincetown center is a nonprofit group on a mission to protect marine ecosystems and the coastal environment through applied research, education and public policy initiatives. The center organizes beach cleanups, monitors whale and shark populations, and is part of an analysis of humpback whale entanglement rates.
Entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with ships are the two biggest threats to declining species of whales. Since 1984, the Provincetown center has freed more than 200 large whales and other marine animals, like dolphins and sea turtles, from life-threatening entanglements with so-called ghost nets.
However, U.S. Extruders will be handling end-of-life nets as opposed to ghost nets, according to Marketing Manager Eric Adair. End-of-life nets are often left at docks and ports and end up in landfills.
U.S. Extruders is working with the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation in Kingston, R.I., Superior Trawl of Narragansett, R.I., and E&E Marketing Management of Montreal to identify where end-of-life nets are being discarded and to set up collection programs.
The company also will evaluate fishing nets to understand the materials, their mechanical properties and the steps required to recycle them. Adair said the researchers will begin with netting made of nylon 6. The material is popular with net manufacturers for its transparency, flexibility, tenacity to resist breaking and elongation to retain fish.
U.S. Extruders has been providing machines and process technology for various recycling applications since 2017 and now plans to apply this knowledge to net recycling, Adair said.
The potential for this project is that U.S. Extruders shows recycling nets is viable, repeatable, and scalable, Adair added.
The grant from the Rhode Island commerce group was part of its innovation voucher program that offers funding up to $50,000 to help businesses bring innovative concepts to market.
State commerce officials also put seed money behind a company called BlueDae Global Sustainability Inc., which makes "green concrete" with recycled plastic sand instead of cement, and John Rick & Fritz LLC, which has a machine called "Gif-O-Graf" to create multi-media animation from physical paper cutouts.