KPU student recycles ghost fishing gear

Fri, Sep 15, 2017

Sherry Chang is saving our oceans by turning trash into treasure.

Over 640,000 tonnes of commercial fishing gear is abandoned, lost or discarded in oceans annually. Chang, a recent graduate from the product design program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University's (KPU) Wilson School of Design, is working on keeping polyethylene fishing nets from being discarded by recycling them into useable products, such as cups.

Lost or ghost fishing gear kills 100,000 marine mammals every year, and over 135 different species of ocean life are caught and die in the discarded nets. 

“I hope manufacturers will see recycled fishing nets as a marketable alternative material, thereby reducing pollution in our oceans and preserving marine life,” said Chang.

For her final project in the program, Chang experimented with polyethylene fishing nets by melting the material at different temperatures from 650 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. She then researched manufacturing methods to test the commercial viability of using the melted nets to form products. Chang successfully used thermoforming, casting, and compression molding to create cups out of discarded fishing nets. The same manufacturing methods could be used to create a host of other products.

“Product design is, in big part, the development of solutions to problems,” said Victor Martinez, an instructor at KPU’s Wilson School of Design. “I’m always looking to provide real-world problems for our students to tackle, and the issue of lost fishing nets and their impact on the environment seemed like an ideal challenge.”

Chang’s research project was inspired by a class visit from a representative of the Steveston Harbour Authority, who briefed a group of product design students on the challenges of the lost fishing nets and the impacts they have on the fishing community and the environment.

“I’m proud of Sherry and our other students’ approach to designing a series of solutions to this global problem,” added Martinez. Some of Chang’s fellow students conceptualized a mobile app for tracking nets, as well as other ideas for repurposing and recycling retrieved nets. “We were very happy to have a chance to work with our local community and contribute, in a small way, to their ongoing efforts.”

Chang’s research is part of Our Coastal Connection exhibit at the Britannia Shipyards Historic Site. A graphic representation of her work, alongside many other KPU graphic design students’ ocean conservation projects, is on display to the public in the Seine Net Loft building until May 1, 2018.

A free in-depth tour of Our Coastal Connection exhibit takes place Tuesday, Sept. 19, from 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Photos of Sherry Chang, the cup she created from recycled fishing nets, and infographics depicting her research are available on Flickr.

Quick facts

  • -640,000 tonnes of fishing gear are thrown into the ocean each year; that's one tonne every minute 
  • -An estimated 136,000 whales and seals are trapped by ghost gear every year
  • -78 per cent of the world's whale population are estimated to have been entangled in fishing nets 
  • -100,000 marine mammals die every year from lost fishing gear 
  • -1 million birds die annually from entanglement in or ingestion of plastics in the oceans 
  • -135 different species are caught and killed by ghost gear 
  • -14 per cent of Canada’s fisherman are in BC 
  • -3-4 years is the lifespan of most biodegradable fishing nets

Story by Tatiana Tomljanovic

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