maritime assets

Circular economy
Influencing the fundamentals through ship recycling lessons


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set strict standards for reducing GHG emissions in international shipping – targeting at least a 50% drop by 2050, compared to 2008 levels. To help accomplish this, marine and offshore asset owners should rethink circular economy principles from a recycling viewpoint to assist in the decommissioning of today's assets as they reach end of life. Beyond the environmental benefits, these concepts can make the decommissioning process safer and more efficient. They need to be applied through design, build, operation and maintenance for a true circular economy. 

What is a “circular economy”?

A circular economy is a design-led manufacturing, use and recycling supply chain that emphasizes reuse of materials and minimizes the requirement for virgin materials. The benefit is that production and use are more efficient in terms of cost, energy, resources and the environment.

This concept is fairly new in the shipping industry. In fact, it was during the late 1990s when forward-thinking industry stakeholders began speaking about green recycling of ships. More recently, “sustainable ship recycling” entered the lexicon. Today, as the industry must accelerate its decarbonization efforts, circular economy principles are beginning to take hold.

The underlying concepts of circular economy thinking are simple. At its most basic level, it involves a control of resources  from the design stage, all the way through disposal. To apply this to marine and offshore asset decommissioning, operators need to lean on knowledge gained by other industries that have already found success in this regard. And once key learnings are applied, best practices can be used to improve both decommissioning capacity and capabilities.


Building on ship recycling regulations

One way in which decommissioning stakeholders can capitalize on lessons learned from other areas of the marine and offshore industry is by taking a look at today’s common ship recycling practices. It is possible today to recycle or reuse upwards of 98% of all materials found in ships today. This is thanks in part to regulatory frameworks that have been put in place to mandate to owners and operators the need to recycle, while aiding them in discovering the best ways to meet standards.

The Hong Kong Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships was adopted in 2009 and is supported by solid guidance. Thanks to the Convention, shipbuilders, owners, recycling facilities and regulators alike have a detailed roadmap to follow. It provides shipowners with strong guidance on developing and maintaining an Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM), and there are comprehensive operational guidelines for ship recyclers to follow.

Because of the Hong Kong Convention and related frameworks such as the European Ship Recycling Regulation, operators charged with decommissioning their vessels don’t have to invent processes from scratch. They simply have to follow established circular economy best practices already being carried out in other marine and offshore sectors.

The 10 Rs of the circular economy

What are the best practices when it comes to the circular economy? Here are 10 things to keep in mind to ensure a circular economy approach:

  • Refuse

    If you don’t need to use new materials, don’t. Utilizing recycled materials up front in your manufacturing processes will cut down on GHG emissions just as well as if you’re recycling materials at the end.

  • Reduce

    If you can’t completely get rid of a particular item in building your asset, think of ways to reduce its impact – this includes reducing its resources and searching for ways to cut virgin material use to a minimum.

  • Remanufacture

    Are restored, reused, repurposed or repaired items available to replace virgin materials? Can the discarded item be used elsewhere?

  • Regift

    Don’t dispose of an existing item; find another way to use it. This might mean selling or gifting it for reuse.

  • Reuse

    Stop thinking of closed life assets – items that can only be used once before they’re thrown away. Instead, think of how you can use the item in another way after its original function is finished.

  • Restore

    Existing assets might be old, but that doesn’t mean they’re no longer useful. They can be restored to be in line with modern specifications, and continue producing for years to come.

  • Repair

    Offset maintenance costs against newbuilds by increasing repair budget to extend the life of existing assets.

  • Repurpose

    If an existing asset can no longer function in its primary role, how can you use it in another way? Convert it into something else that prolongs use and provides more ROI. For example, turn a tanker into an FPSO.

  • Recycle

    Convert waste into new products and process materials so they can be used in a new way.

  • Recover

    Put existing materials back into the supply chain, and consider ways to recover energy from incineration.

Ensuring compliance throughout the lifecycle

At BV Solutions M&O, we help owners align their assets with circular economy thinking from design through to decommissioning. Our Hazardous Materials experts support owners by developing IHMs onboard, using PRAXIS IHM software, prior to certification and during operation. And we help with ship recycling facility (SRF) selection, assisting owners in choosing the right yard and providing onsite consulting to the recyclers themselves.

We also perform a final survey report, including IHM, Ship Recycling Plan and SRF authorization checks in advance of certification. Our onsite audit service during ship recycling makes sure that IMO and EU requirements are met.

In addition, we work with SRFs to improve their yards from an operational standpoint by helping ensure that safe and environmentally sound procedures are in place, and that circular economy principles are being followed.

Photo of Robin Townsend

Ship Recycling Projects Manager

BV Solutions M&O

As the maritime industry moves toward a decarbonized future, it’s a question of ‘must’ vs. ‘might.’ No one has all the answers yet – wind propulsion might be the energy of the future, or it might be hydrogen or nuclear fusion. What’s certain is that circular elements must be part of the discussion. We must rethink the way we operate now if we want to reach our goals.