From sea to sea? N.S. company turns ghost gear into plastic lumber

June 19, 2020

Mike Chassie presses his nose up against a load of plastic lumber and takes a sniff. He’s inspecting the newest product made at his family’s business, Goodwood Plastic Products in Fort Ellis, N.S. 

“Smells great to me,” Chassie said last week outside the building where the synthetic timber is manufactured. “It doesn’t have any of the smell that you would think you’d get from that ghost gear.”

That ghost gear, lost or discarded fishing equipment, was three kilometres of old, thickly-woven, plastic fishing rope covered in marine life, and recently fished out of the sea by a diving company working near its home base in Mahone Bay, N.S.

The plastics recycler OK’d the fishy-smelling delivery for its newest venture: commercializing synthetic lumber made out of ghost gear. 

Workers picked out the shellfish and cut the ghost gear into shorter lengths before loading it into the shredder. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

The supply of this raw material for plastic wood may be limitless. 

Every year about 640,000 tonnes of ghost gear is left in Canada’s oceans, and threatens to entangle marine animals, and harm fishing stock. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans created a $8.3-million fund to tackle the problem and fishermen and divers are eager to help

Last week, World Oceans Week, DFO gave Goodwood $475,000 under the $2-million Innovative Solutions fund to address ocean plastic. The company is spending it on a new shredder that can make mincemeat out of tough plastic rope. 

Recycling this first shipment of ghost gear was labour-intensive. 

Previously, the plant had received old fishing rope and nets that were cleaned by the fishermen.  

This time, the workers had the job of picking out “mussels, a bunch of algae, there is everything that you could think of that’s at the bottom of the ocean,” said Chassie. “[We’re] surprised we didn’t find any lobsters.”

Ghost gear is shredded into fine strands of plastic. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Even still, flies buzzed about the pile of pungent plastic. 

Usually the 10 or so workers at Goodwood’s 16-acre plant handle milk cartons, margarine tubs and plastic bags from municipal blue-bag programs. The company hopes to recycle at least 10,000 tonnes of plastic annually. 

The recyclables are shredded, melted, and pushed through moulds to create planks and posts for building decks, park benches and picnic tables. The ghost gear was blended with shopping bags to create planks that look just like the other products now sold to the public.

The price for a 4-by-8 timber is $61. Chassie said it’s more expensive than treated lumber, but is more durable.

But he said the real saving is the benefit to the environment, especially if the plastic lumber is returned to where it came from — the sea — as wharf or marina timbers. 

“You don’t get any of those harmful chemicals that over time leach into the water, whether it be saltwater or freshwater.”

Chassie is eager to ramp up recycling a product that many people had considered no longer useful.

“You’re taking a product that would typically be destined for a landfill or to be buried in the ocean and forgotten, and you’re giving it a new life.”


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