Sail Recycling

Sail Recycling


Green chemistry breakthrough gives fair winds to sail recycling initiative 

Tonnes of disused sails bound for landfill will be given a new lease of life thanks to a project that aims to create a recycling process using state-of-the-art green chemistry and biotechnology. 

Around 2,000 tonnes of sail cloth is dumped or incinerated every year in the world because of a lack of recycling options, making the sailing industry a major source of landfill material. 

Now a collaboration between start-up company Sustainable Sailing, the Illusion keelboats and our RHS Sailing Academy is creating a unique and innovative recycling scheme that will allow old sails to be made new again. 

This sail recycling technology relies upon recent advances in green chemistry and biotechnology to break down sails into their chemical building blocks, without problematic solvents. These building blocks can then be put together to become new sails or incorporated into other high value products. 

Dr Joe Penhaul-Smith, Founding Director of Sustainable Sailing said: “There has been no solution for the huge amount of sails that are landfilled every year. Plastics used to make these sails eventually break down and can escape from landfill and cause harm to the environment. 

“While upcycling by cutting sails up and using them to make bags and jackets is possible, only about 1% of all sails are currently upcycled into alternate products. Upcycling does not solve the challenge of end-of-life sail cloth, it just pushes the problem down the road for the lifetime of the garment because we cannot keep turning these items into other products more than once. 

“While there are recycling technologies for some of the plastics used to build some sails, none of these operate in the marine industry, due to the blended plastic nature of the sails on the market, which can chemically “poison” a number of recycling processes. 

“Our closed-loop recycling system for end-of-life sails will recover the building blocks of these plastics, in a truly sustainable solution for sails in the class.” 

The pilot project is part of a longer-term plan to scale up, to become a global solution for end-of-life sails. As these systems are refined and improved, Sustainable Sailing will be expanding their recycling service to cover all dinghy, yacht, windsurfing and kitesurfing end of life sails in the UK and globally. 

Ed Sibson, Director of Sailing, commented "It's fabulous to see the work that Joe and his team have put into solving the problem caused by sails at the end of their life. Sustainability is very important to the Royal Hospital School, and this is a huge step forward in reducing the environmental impact of our sport." 

Sustainable Sailing was founded to develop solutions which can be used across all sail cloth types, including all those cloth types that have been stored in sheds for years. Over the past two years, Sustainable Sailing have been building their technologies to be usable for sails currently on the market, as well as historically popular sail types and the cloths of the future. 

If you are interested in knowing more, or partnering with Sustainable Sailing to manage your end-of-life sails, please contact them via: