Challenges and Opportunities for Recycled Polyethylene Fishing Nets: Towards a Circular Economy

Polymers (Basel). 2021 Sep 17;13(18):3155. doi: 10.3390/polym13183155.


Plastic waste generation has become an important problem that critically affects marine and oceans environments. Fishing nets gear usually have a relatively short lifespan, and are abandoned, discarded and lost, what makes them one of the largest generators of ocean plastic waste. Recycled polyolefin resins from fishing nets (rFN), especially from polyethylene (PE), have poor properties due to the presence of contaminants and/or excessive degradation after its lifetime. These reasons limit the use of these recycled resins. This work aims to study the incorporation of recycled fishing nets PE-made to different grades of virgin PE, in order to evaluate the potential use of these rFN in the development of new products. The recovered fishing nets have been fully characterized to evaluate its properties after the collection and recycling process. Then, different PE virgin resins have been mechanically blended with the recovered fishing nets at different recycling contents to study its feasibility for fishing nets or packaging applications. Critical mechanical properties for these applications, as the elongation at break, impact strength or environmental stress cracking resistance have been deeply evaluated. Results show important limitations for the manufacture of fibers from recycled PE fishing nets due to the presence of inorganic particles from the marine environment, which restricts the use of rFN for its original application. However, it is proved that a proper selection of PE raw resins, to be used in the blending process, allows other possible applications, such as non-food contact bottles, which open up new ways for using the fishing nets recyclates, in line with the objectives pursued by the Circular Economy of Plastics.

Keywords: circular economy; high-density polyethylene (HDPE); recycled fishing nets (rFN); recycled polyethylene.