Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Managing plastic

Mowi employees plastic

The increasing prevalence of microplastics in our environment has frequented news stories and headlines throughout 2018.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics, which by definition are under 5 mm in their longest dimension, are turning up in a wide spectrum of products across the entire food chain. Researchers have detected them in foodstuffs such as bottled water, beer, chicken, canned tuna, shellfish, salt and honey – and the list is growing. While much of this microplastic contamination enters the food chain on land, the FAO estimates that over 10 million tonnes of plastic waste finds its way into our oceans annually. Clearly, collaborative and pragmatic action at the global level is needed to mitigate this trend. It is our collective responsibility to judiciously manage the environmental fate of the plastics we use – and to do this, we need to develop a future-safe road map to tackle the problem head-on.

No plastics found in our salmon fillets

The three R’s are the shared motto of progressive companies like Mowi: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. At Mowi, we have developed a company-wide policy on plastic waste management. Amongst Mowi’s important material value drivers is the goal to innovate in order to reduce our environmental impact and, specifically, to overcome the plastic waste challenge. Sector-wide, aquaculture is well-placed to provide consumers with tasty, wholesome seafood that is also free from microplastics. At Mowi, our monitoring results indicate no plastic-related contaminants in our salmon. Indeed, going forward, aquaculture will provide an advantage to consumers due to the traceability that is inherent in its supply chain and production controls.

A collective effort to reduce

Over the last several years, as plastics have emerged as a pressing environmental concern, Mowi is increasing its focus on mitigating the potential ecological impacts of packaging materials. For example, since 2015, at our processing plant in Brugges, Belgium, we have reduced the weight of our MAP trays by 20%, which in turn has reduced our plastics consumption in this area by 96 tonnes per year. ‘Modified Atmosphere Packaging’ trays are designed to keep food fresh. Similarly, we have switched from using polystyrene boxes to Forest Stewardship Council approved cardboard boxes instead, which has further reduced our plastics use by 7 tonnes per year. This is an example of the innovation that we seek to encourage company-wide; this change was implemented as a result of our supply-chain observation that, although the polystyrene containers were 100% recyclable, some of our foodservice customers found them inconvenient to recycle. Following on from the success of these measures, more Mowi packaging modifications are in the pipeline for 2019. Our policy also encourages collaboration with all stakeholders in the value chain and we have been actively forging partnerships with research bodies and universities to meet our policy objectives.

Where the use of plastics is unavoidable, we encourage the use of recycled plastics and we try to avoid single-use plastics in our operations altogether. Mowi’s policy also encourages employee and community initiatives to remove plastic waste and litter from the environment. On the 4th of May 2018, Mowi arranged its first ever Global Cleanup Day. Hundreds of Mowi colleagues, together with their families, joined resources and mobilised a communal effort to clean local beaches of plastics and other marine litter. This initiative, inspired by our CEO, Alf-Helge Aarskog, saw Mowi colleagues across three continents come together as one task force in a mission to help tackle the tide of plastic and marine debris affecting each region.

Alf-Helge noted that Mowi depends on a healthy ocean and that: “We will do our part to reduce the use of plastic and make sure that our sites are clean. Going forward, we will focus even more on avoiding unnecessary use of plastics in our operations, and make sure plastic waste is handled in a responsible manner.” He thanked everyone that participated and said: “It is very encouraging to see that so many people contributed in this common effort. Even though the amounts of plastic we collected during the Global Cleanup Day are huge, this is off course literally nothing compared to the enormous amounts of plastic released to the environment every day. But it is nonetheless important that we do what we can do.” Initiatives like these not only help to raise awareness about the harmful effects that plastic pollution has on our environment but also builds a solid platform on which proactive coastal environmental stewardship can be nurtured and encouraged.

Upcycling nets

Embracing the concept of the circular economy, Mowi’s ambition is that 100% of recyclable net materials should be upcycled when the time comes to replace them. As new and innovative recycling technologies become available, it will become possible to recycle more ex-farm net materials; this is an important step in diminishing the environmental impacts caused by primary production that is reliant on virgin raw materials. This will also decrease the quantity of waste produced that ends up being incinerated or going to landfill. In the last two years we have recycled 384 used nets in Europe. For 2018 this means a total of 302,987 kg of fish farming nets were upcycled. This latter quantity resulted in a decrease in non-renewable resources equivalent to 516,778 kg of oil and a decrease in carbon footprint equivalent to 1,094,353 kg of CO2. Remarkably, this reduction of GHG emissions in 2018 is the same as that which would be generated by 10,039 passenger plane trips from Oslo to London.

Mowi’s used nets have been transformed into useful new products. The recycling process re-converts the netting into new polyamide filament, which in turn can be used in a variety of applications, such as in the manufacture of swimwear or carpet yarn. Aquafil Group’s manufacturing unit, which produces regenerated ECONYL® nylon filaments, notes that one tonne of polyamide fishing nets provides enough recycled nylon yarn for 26,000 pairs of socks or approximately 1000m2 of carpeting. This recycling technology is also used to create swimwear and underwear; not only does this initiative create highly desirable product lines, produced from waste nets, it also raises funds for the removal of marine litter from the ocean.

In addition to our in-house Plastic Waste Management policy, we are also committed to the ongoing role out of the ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) certification programme across our farm sites, globally. ASC are currently working on the inclusion of plastic-specific indicators for their next standards update and we look forward to coming on board with this update.