New Brunswick·Waves of Change

More than 3 tonnes of rope collected in wharf recycling bins

A pilot project in the Bay of Fundy has seen an estimated three tonnes of rope deposited in recycling bins at southwestern New Brunswick wharves.

Project of Saint Andrews aquarium group seeks to keep plastic out of the Bay of Fundy

Jackie Walker, outreach co-ordinator for the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in Saint Andrews, hauls about 200 kilograms of used rope from a wharf on Deer Island in July to Fundy Plastics in Pennfield for recycling. (Huntsman Marine Science Centre / Fundy Discovery Aquarium/Facebook)

Waves of Change is a CBC series exploring the single-use plastic we're discarding, and why we need to clean up our act. You can be part of the community discussion by joining our Facebook group.

A pilot project in the Bay of Fundy has seen an estimated three tonnes of rope deposited in recycling bins at southwestern New Brunswick wharves.

"It's been a pretty easy way, I think, to make a big change," said Jackie Walker, outreach co-ordinator at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre.

Walker and her colleague Cynthia Callahan, the Huntsman's aquarium manager, said they've had an incredible response to the project from fishermen, who now have a new option for disposing of the mounds of rope they use for buoys, nets and traps.

"It's a very good idea," said Bradley Small, president of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association.

Small said virtually all new rope is made of either polypropylene or polyurethane — types of plastic — and it has to be replaced every three to five years.

Until now, the only real option for disposal was the landfill, said Walker, and a great deal of rope was left lying around in backyards or sometimes even burned.

A lot of rope has also been ending up in the water, where it poses hazards for marine life, according to Callahan, and creates an eyesore.

Geneviève Philibert looks over the waste gathered during a dive this summer in Lower Prospect, N.S. Fundy Discovery Aquarium manager Cynthia Callahan says this type of man-made waste infringes on the habitat of marine life. (Olivier Lefebvre/Radio-Canada)

"All of these creatures call the Bay of Fundy home," Callahan said. "When man-made objects end up in there it's definitely infringing on their environment." 

"This is also an area where we rely on the ocean for tourism," she said, "and we want to keep our harbours looking as beautiful as we know they can be."

In March, four-by-four-foot metal bins were placed at several fishing wharves under a program called Debris Free Fundy.

There are now bins in Dipper Harbour, Beaver Harbour, Deer Island, Grand Manan and Back Bay.

They've been emptied a dozen times in the past seven months, said Walker, and the rope taken to Fundy Plastics in Pennfield. 

It's being stockpiled for now, she said, and will be shipped overseas for recycling.

A lot of fishermen didn't even realize the recycling facility existed, said Small.

Signs have now gone up to advertise the service at 13 wharves along the Fundy coast from Saint Andrews to Alma, said Walker, and any fisherman is free to drop off their old rope in Pennfield.

Small said he was surprised to notice that some of the rope has been disappearing out of the bins before it's even picked up for recycling.

He said it may not be strong enough for fishing purposes anymore, but people are finding other uses.

Some are stringing it around their gardens to keep deer out, he said.

"So much of this rope is still in amazing condition," said Callahan, adding that it comes in a wide variety of sizes and colours.

Walker picks out "the prettiest" for workshops at the Huntsman, where it's woven into new objects such as mats, Callahan said.

Weaving old fishing rope into mats during a workshop at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in Saint Andrews (Huntsman Marine Science Centre / Fundy Discovery Aquarium/Facebook)

The rope recycling program is a one-year pilot project, but the the Huntsman is already thinking about expanding it to other types of fishing gear, such as nets and rigid totes.

Walker said she doesn't see why it couldn't work in any community around the Maritime coastline.