With the country's fish farms continually striving to prevent marine debris polluting our coastlines, firms such as Scottish Sea Farms are helping turn the tide on one of the great marine challenges of our age, reveals Andrew Collier

 

Stemming the flow of marine waste is one of the world’s most pressing pollution issues.

It goes far beyond irresponsible littering on coasts and beaches: items discarded on our streets can make their way via the sewers and rivers out into the sea where it eventually washes up on land again – or worse, cause harm to local wildlife.

Raising awareness of the scale of this global problem, and encouraging collective action, will be key.

Initiatives like Zero Waste Week, which took place 6th – 10th September, focus on waste avoidance and on reusing and recycling more items. 

Others such as the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) annual Great British Beach Clean, which got underway yesterday (Friday 17 September) and runs until Sunday 26 September, aim to tackle the marine waste that’s already littering our shores.  

With the help of thousands of volunteers every year, each item of waste is recorded before being removed; data that is then collated and stored nationally to help inform future policy and bring about advances such as banning microplastics in personal care products, better wet wipe labelling, the introduction of the plastic bag charge and support for a tax on single use plastic items.

It’s not just organised events such as these that are working to bring about positive change. Increasingly, businesses are playing their part too.

Scotland’s salmon farming sector is acutely aware of the need to keep the marine environment clean – after all, it’s where their fish live and grow.

In its sustainability charter, launched last year, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation pledged to “take every step possible to avoid marine debris from our farms and recover any items promptly regardless of their origin.”

At sector level, this includes the Organisation keeping a log of all marine litter reported and working with its member companies to coordinate the removal of debris wherever possible. At company level, it involves a concerted drive to prevent marine debris at source. 

Scottish Sea Farms is one such member company. From its 42 marine farms around Scotland’s west coast, Orkney Islands and Shetland Isles, it supplies premium quality Scottish-grown salmon to leading UK retailers including M&S Food and Waitrose, and customers in over 30 countries worldwide.

Anne Anderson, Scottish Sea Farms’ Head of Sustainability & Development, says that like most food producers, the company is working hard to minimise the impact of its activities on the environment.

HeraldScotland:

“In our case, this includes taking every precaution to prevent any marine debris from our farms.Moorings, buoys, netting, feed pipes – we’re vigilant about checking the integrity of our farm infrastructure on a daily basis, monitoring the shipping forecast for early notice of severe weather and carrying out risk assessments to identify any additional measures necessary.

“In the rare event that extreme weather does result in marine debris from one of our farms, we’ll act swiftly to recover it as soon as conditions make it safe to do so.”
When back on dry land, many of Scottish Sea Farms’ team can regularly be seen along their local shorelines removing marine and general waste from all manner of sources.

“It’s something we’ve done at local farm level for many years now,’ says Anne, “while also participating in larger, organised events such as the Great British Beach Clean.”

This year, Scottish Sea Farms’ participation in the UK-wide clean-up will be its biggest yet, with all 480 employees asked to take part.

“Healthy fish require a healthy environment,” says Anne. “So, from a professional point of view, it’s in all our best interests to keep our shorelines clear of debris, regardless 
of source. 

“More than that, most of our employees work in the same remote and rural communities as they live, meaning they are personally invested in looking after their local environment.”

Another salmon farmer taking part in the beach clean programme is Mowi, which has 1500 employees in Scotland

Its Community Engagement Officer, Jayne MacKay, says: “We are privileged to operate in some of the most beautiful coastline locations in Scotland and it is important to look after our beaches.”

HeraldScotland:

As with Scottish Sea Farms, staff at its farms and facilities work to help keep local shorelines clean. “We think it is important that this feeds into the bigger picture and supports the work that the Marine Conservation Society is doing.”

The hope now, she adds, is that Covid restrictions will relax sufficiently to allow teams to safely carry out beach clean surveys every quarter. 

“Everything that is found in that particular 100 metre stretch is recorded on the Beachwatch website. Following that, the team will clean the remaining beach.”

Again, as with Scottish Sea Farms, Mowi has also made a commitment to remove aquaculture equipment that has washed ashore in areas where it has operations, irrespective of the original source.

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Fresh initiative from Mowi will tackle a large scale issue

ACROSS the salmon sector, there is a concerted drive to minimise the use of plastics, especially in cases where it is currently only used once. Where possible, it is far more sustainable to use alternatives that can be re-used or recycled.

One company taking a lead in this area is Mowi. It has produced its own Leading The Blue Revolution Plan that aims to unlock the potential of the ocean as a food source for future generations, and a strategy on plastics is part of this.

“We have targets that aim to drive a reduction in plastic use and also to constantly improve our use of recycling”, explains Kate Stronach, the company’s Sustainability and Compliance Manager. 

HeraldScotland:

Mowi has set itself three targets. “The first one is that by 2025, we are planning to ensure that 100 per cent of our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable. 

“The second is that at least 25 per cent of the content of that packaging will come from recycled plastic. At present, our packaging on Mowi products is up to 80 per cent recycled content and the trays are recyclable.”

Another achievement in this area, she adds, is that Mowi is transitioning to returnable crates for transporting harvested fish. 
Making this move avoided having to use 124 tonnes of less sustainable packaging last year.

“We also have a target relating to farming equipment. By 2023, we want all of this to be reused or recycled – we are making progress towards this. And in 2020, all of our old nets were re-used for land stabilisation projects, with further work ongoing.”

In terms of minimising the use of plastics, areas such as nets can be challenging. “That’s why a lot of our focus is on re-use. We’re quite honest in our plan that a lot of these issues can’t be solved overnight, but they are things we are committed to doing.”

Also working to reduce the use of plastics in food packaging is fellow salmon farmer, Scottish Sea Farms.

Recent years have seen it start making the switch from expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging to returnable, re-usable ‘bulk bins.’

Traditionally, EPS packaging has been the preferred packaging solution amongst those transporting fresh produce such as fish, as its lightweight insulating properties help preserve temperature and quality.

The problem lies in the fact that EPS is single use packaging solution, with limited options for recycling. 

“It has taken over 40 different trials, over many years, to find a suitable food-safe alternative,” says Scottish Sea Farms Head of Sustainability & Development Anne Anderson.

“However, by switching to bulk bins wherever it’s practical to do so, we’ve removed over 1.6 million polystyrene boxes to-date. 

“The challenge now is to find a similarly food-safe, environmentally friendly alternative for our export customers.”