When it comes to metal recycling, there aren’t many projects bigger than a US Navy aircraft carrier. Based in Brownsville, Texas, International Shipbreaking LLC (ISL) has built a global reputation for recycling some of the world’s largest ships, ensuring material goes straight back into a sustainable, circular economy.
“Our company was founded in 1995 to provide a recycling service to the US Navy,” says Chris Green, President of ISL. “Since then, every member of our team has been focused on improving our service and increasing our standards so that, when the time came, we would be the trusted ship recycling partner of choice for the more advanced Nuclear Powered Fleet”.
This effort has paid off and, when seven supercarriers were up for recycling in 2014. The company invested heavily in infrastructure required to safely secure and recycle these enormous vessels and was awarded the contract to process five of them.
In 2018, the company was vetted and deemed compliant with the most stringent ship recycling regulation in the world, the EU Ship Recycling Regulations (EU SRR). Achieving this goal put International Shipbreaking on a short list of facilities outside of the EU that are allowed to recycle ships flying EU member states’ flags.
“International Shipbreaking can offer major shipping companies traceability, accountability and sustainability in our operations to meet the modern shipping industries increasing demands for a ship recycling option that aligns with company Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) policy,” says Chris.
So, how does ISL go about recycling a ship the size of an aircraft carrier or oil tanker? While these ships are made from materials that the metal recycling industry is used to handling, Chris says the processes that underpin ISL’s operations are somewhat different:
“Unlike a fridge or a vehicle, when you recycle a ship, you first need to make sure that you know what you are dealing with. We do an environmental assessment and Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM) so that, before we even bid on a ship, we know which waste materials are present and the cost to secure, remove and safely dispose of them.
“After this is complete, we draft a Ship Recycling Plan which allows our teams to evaluate each stage of the project and calculate the most competitive price possible.”
Once work begins, ISL can call on some of the most advanced equipment anywhere in world to ensure that as much material as possible can find its way back into the circular economy.
“We have reinvested almost every penny that we have made back into getting our operations to the next level,” says Chris. “This year we will be refurbishing the infrastructure that’s already here and investing in new equipment.
“A great example is the investments we’ve made in cable recycling. We realised that this represented a large percentage of our waste and, by installing a cable chopper, we reduced what we were sending to landfill by 30% almost immediately.”
Not all shipbreaking firms are this focused on improving their operations, however.
In many parts of the world, shipbreaking is an industry in need of reform. Ships have traditionally been sent “over the horizon” to shipbreaking beaches in Asia with few questions asked about what happens after a ship operator hands over their vessel. The result has been dangerous working conditions with high rates of fatalities as well as unsafe processes which cause significant environmental damage.
“Having an alternative to this, which meets all of the EU requirements and hits a standard mandated by the US Navy, is going to be instrumental in creating a more sustainable global shipbreaking industry,” says Chris. “Increasingly we’re seeing investors telling ship operators they have to have a plan in place for the recycling of a ship once it reaches end of life and our company offers a sustainable option while still paying a competitive price.”
It is an ambitious goal but one which ISL is achieving in partnership with EMR, a global leader in sustainable materials. Since 2010, Chris says the ISL team has benefited from the logistical support and strategic experience of the wider EMR business. And it’s a relationship he believes will help ISL to continue its success in the years ahead:
“Right now, we’re the most advanced shipbreaking operation in the United States and we’re working hard to become the most advanced shipbreaking operation in the world”.