Recycling used fishing line and soft plastics

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Photos by Gene Gilliland

The Aurora Bassmasters were the first known group in Ontario, Canada, to install used fishing line recycle depots.

In May 2013, the Aurora Bassmasters were the first known group in Ontario, Canada, to install used fishing line recycle depots.

Eight units were made from PVC pipe and placed at popular access sites, shoreline fishing areas or near boat launches around their home lake — the legendary smallmouth waters of Lake Simcoe, the most intensely fished and largest inland lake in southern Ontario.

Volunteers with the bass club continue to monitor these units, empty and collect used line as required and then send the used line to Berkley.

Since initiating the program in Ontario, the club has engaged with other Bassmaster clubs and numerous other stakeholder groups across the province and as far away as the Yukon to guide them through the process of creating and properly installing these recycle depots.

Scott Cochran, president of the Aurora Bassmasters, explained that, “Berkley has been an instrumental partner since Day 1. They provide advice and guidance and printed off identification stickers for us that are placed on units anywhere in the country. Up until recently, they also supplied us and other conservation organizations with the legendary Berkley Fish Habs.”

Since 1990, anglers have been able to deposit used monofilament line of any brand into the Berkley Line receptacles found primarily at tackle shops across North America. The line has been recycled and made into Berkley Fish Habs — submerged habitat structures that were available to many B.A.S.S. Nation clubs, resources agencies and conservation groups to enhance public fisheries.

Those fish habitats are no longer being manufactured. Additionally, the growing challenge of sorting through used line to remove the ever-increasing amount of nonrecyclable braid, hooks, sinkers and other debris has forced Berkley to consider alternative methods to retain the Berkley Used Line Recycle Program across North America.

Groups and individuals who have been collecting used soft-plastic baits to melt them down into reuseable baits have also experienced challenges. There is no nationwide program in Canada or the U.S. for recycling soft baits, but fortunately the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) does have their Keep America Fishing “Pitch It” campaign that encourages anglers to properly dispose of plastic baits into recycle bins, if available, or into the trash.

“The key is to keep unwanted baits out of our waterways, both here in Canada and the U.S.,” said Ontario B.A.S.S. Nation Conservation Director Jason Barnucz. “There is growing evidence that various fish species ingest discarded or lost plastic baits from the bottom, and these fish have great difficulty digesting or expelling them so the fish can suffer or die.”

Sport Smith, conservation director for the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation, runs the “ReBait Program” in his state. They generally collect over 100 pounds of used soft-plastic baits a year and turn that into 600 to 700 packs of new baits that are given to youth programs.

Jill Wijangco, the conservation director for the Illinois B.A.S.S. Nation, said she would love to see a national program to keep fishing line and used plastics out of her state’s waterways.

“The late, great, former president of the IBN, Ralph Sweat, had a “Pitch It” program going here in Illinois for several years,” she said. “But because of the cost of shipping the baits to a recycling facility, we were told they are hazardous waste. It’s no longer feasible.”

With these challenges in mind, the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water and Berkley have teamed up for a Recast & Recycle Contest to seek new ideas and improvements. A total of $30,000 in prize money is at stake for any boater, angler, armchair technologist, team, student or anyone willing to submit a contest entry through May 14, 2021.

“There are high hopes that this innovative contest will lead to a real breakthrough to increase the amount of used plastic baits and fishing line that can be collected and recycled,” said Gene Gilliland, conservation director of B.A.S.S.

Jake Dawson of Berkley revealed that despite rumors to the contrary, his company is still very actively engaged in keeping used line out of North American waterbodies and recycling line whenever possible.

But there have been some changes.

“The program is alive and well today. We receive regular shipments of line every month to process and send the incoming line to a recycling company. They hand sort the shipments to remove any unwanted items, and then the remaining balance of nylon is processed and recycled into nylon pellets. These get sold back into the industry with a large portion producing automotive products. Line that is not suitable for reuse is incinerated and used as a fuel source.”

Additionally, Dawson said, “In 2019 we were able to receive 10,811 total pounds of used line that could have ended up in our waterways. 6,703 pounds of nylon monofilament was recycled. The balance was converted to energy. We are on similar pace in 2020, so it’s refreshing to learn that COVID-19 has not put a halt into angler efforts to keep line out of our waterways and sent to us for recycling.

“If anything, participation in recreational fishing is up and we believe with the right marketing efforts we can even significantly increase the amount of line we are able to keep out of the water and recycle.”

As for the future of the program, he said, “Today, the program is promoted largely through grass-roots efforts, but we are in the process of enhancing the branding and presence of the program and will be driving greater awareness through social, digital, PR and continued grass-roots efforts.

“We are partnering closely in our marketing efforts with BoatUS to make sure we maximize all our efforts.”

Anglers interested in recycling used fishing line should seek out Berkley Recycling line bins at their local tackle shops and BoatUS or independent line receptacles near local boat ramps. Bassmaster Clubs and other conservation groups with outdoor line depots should contact those same tackle shops to inquire about line shipments.

If your local shop does not have a bin, the Berkley rep for that store can help try to get one installed. Recast & Recycle Contest rules and conditions and details on the current recycling process can be found at the Recast & Recycle website: BoatUS.org/contest. 

Originally appeared in B.A.S.S. Times 2020.