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Circular Economy in the Maritime Industry

The circular economy is an objective shared by major economic industries that are committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Together with ANEN, we talk about the advances of the maritime industry in mitigating its environmental impact.

The main objective of this business model is to seek—and even promote—the economic profit of an activity by minimizing the use of natural resources and reducing the generation of waste as much as possible. Although the real objective is convergent, as we explain alongside the Spanish Association for Standardisation, each industry takes a different path to achieve it. In order to analyze the advances that have been made in the shipping industry, we went to the Spanish National Association of Nautical Companies (ANEN), which speaks to us from the perspective of the recreational boat market. “The industry has experienced significant growth throughout its history and, just like any other industry, has had an environmental impact. During all these years of growth, environmental practices and regulations have evolved and industry companies and organizations have actively worked to mitigate their impact and promote sustainable practices,” assert the sources consulted.

Some of the regulations that have been introduced to the market mention the control and elimination of wastewater and chemical discharges used in the maintenance of vessels, in addition to the prohibition of practices that could alter the aquatic ecosystem. Important technological initiatives such as onboard wastewater treatment systems have come about as a result of this regulation. “The industry is committed to sustainability and environmental protection, promoting responsible practices, environmental education, and awareness among mariners and boat users,” they affirm.

Major Accomplishments and More Challenges for the Circular Maritime Economy

For ANEN experts, decarbonization and end-of-life vessel management are two of the main challenges that separate the marine industry from the circular economy. In addition, challenges shared with other industries that act in ocean waters are also added on: adapting to the demands set by the fight against climate change and the attempt to alleviate the impact of invasive species (GloFouling). This transformation begins in port infrastructure, where the use of “renewable energy and the decrease of consumption of both water and electricity, as well as projects to preserve the environment where they are located, are promoted.”

The technological advances that favor this transformation of the maritime industry are inherited from the automotive industry in terms of electrification. “Sustainability is being worked on from a global approach—not just a boat-centric approach, where electrification is already feasible in certain segments of length. We’ve made progress in engines with reduced emissions, we’re sailing electric and solar-powered vessels, and we have companies developing new construction methods, working on design efficiency and alternative propulsion methods. This decarbonization must be progressive, supported by technological evolution and the adaptation of infrastructure,” ANEN insists.

Where does the transformation toward a circular economy have an impact?

The circular economy primarily affects certain processes, especially in the design of vessels and materials. The transformation focuses on durability, energy efficiency, and navigation. “A significant part of vessels are polymeric structures based on resins and fiberglass, thermostable materials with very few recycling options; this difficulty is also being taken into account.” They admit that they need “to continue advancing technological innovation to obtain recyclable materials with low toxicity from renewable sources,” with the objective of optimizing energy consumption and reducing the environmental footprint.

In this regard, recyclable resins are already available on the market, which is a very important step. Moreover, “marinas have efficient waste management systems in place for the proper separation and recycling of materials such as plastics, metals, glass, and other waste created by nautical activity.” Regarding the service economy in the recreation area, business models based on the offer of activities and services are growing instead of the sale of products: charter services, nautical activities, sailing clubs, and shared uses, among others.

“The transition to a circular economy requires a joint effort from the industry, authorities, and society at large. The development of innovative technologies, education, and awareness will be key to continuing to work for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future,” they conclude.

Article collaborators:

Jordi Carrasco, General Manager of ANEN and José Luis Fayos, Technical and Internationalization Adviser of ANEN.

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