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Recycling fishing line: every metre matters

Sitting on the bank, aboard a boat or stood on the towpath in pursuit of a fish, recycling is probably far from your mind. But Viv Shears, co-founder of the Anglers National Line Recycling Scheme, is encouraging all anglers to step up and protect the natural world they get so much enjoyment from.

Fishing line ready for recycling

We all know the feeling. The excitement of the new fishing season approaches, and we dust off our kit in preparation. Stripping one, two, three or multiple reels is undoubtably one of the bores of this task and we all have our own methods.

What have you done with it? Be honest. I would imagine most of us have bundled it up, and maybe a few will have cut it into smaller lengths to make it less likely to endanger wildlife.

Viv Shears of ANLRS with a catch

The one thing we have all been guilty of is putting this unwanted line into the rubbish bin and forgetting about it.

Old line always ends up in landfill or being incinerated, because even if you put it in your recycling bin, local councils don't recycle nylon or braid.

(Photo: Viv, with a catch)

Taking responsibility

In the last 10 to 15 years in the UK, we've become much more accustomed to sorting our waste and recycling at home. We're now very aware of the impact plastics are having on the environment. So, if we can adapt to household recycling, then surely, as anglers, we can change and make a difference in terms of recycling the obvious hazard of redundant fishing line?

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Next time you’re on the bank, have a look at your reels and what breaking strain of line in pounds you have on them. Now multiply that by ten years and consider that your line will still be around then.

Tests have shown that a 60lb monofilament line will take about 600 years to degrade fully but, as with any plastic, it will still break down into tiny fragments (microplastics) that are almost impossible to filter out of water. This means that these microplastics hang around in rivers and oceans, being accidentally consumed by fish and other creatures, and entering our food chain. Not a nice thought.

Next time you're on the bank, have a look at your reels and what breaking strain of line in pounds you have on them. Now multiply that by ten years and consider that your line will still be around then. As anglers, we treasure the environments that we fish in and the wildlife found there, so we have to do our bit to protect them.

The birth of a solution

In 2016 BBC South News ran a feature about recycling commercial fishing nets. This was seen by Steve Tapp, who is part of a small group called Local Independent Sea Anglers (LISA).

Over the next 18 months Steve set up a trial angling line recycling scheme on a local basis in Sussex. Ten shops signed up to host recycling bins and around 150,000m of line was collected. At the LISA AGM, in mid-2017, I met Steve and spoke to him in greater depth about what he was doing.

ANLRS line recycling bin at tackle shop

As a passionate angler for more than 35 years, I'd witnessed the impact discarded fishing line and tackle could have on wildlife, like most of us have.

It worried me that this affected how the general public perceived angling, and most importantly anglers themselves.

Now that I knew old line could be recycled, I wondered how any angler could have an excuse not to dispose of it responsibly, rather than it ending up in local landfills, incinerated or, worst of all, in the environment.

I'm lucky enough to work in the fisheries world, so using my contacts in freshwater angling, Steve, fellow LISA member Paul Singleton and I decided to roll the scheme out nationally. In March 2018 the Anglers National Line Recycling Scheme (ANLRS) was born.

More than 5 million metres collected

The scheme was, and still is, the only angling line recycling scheme in the UK, and possibly the world, that has established a traceable route for the recycling of both monofilament and braided lines. It's run on a non-profit basis and is supported solely by donations from anglers and the angling industry. We're also registered as a Community Interest Company, which means the scheme's official purpose is for the good of the public.

Steve, Paul and I voluntarily run the scheme alongside our day jobs, with the help of a handful of other volunteers. In an average week I'll be speaking to new shops and fisheries about promoting the scheme, working on projects to enable more bins to be placed along our rivers and coastlines, and having regular catch-ups with our recycling partners.

Just before the scheme's second birthday in January 2020, we reached the landmark of having collected more than 5 million metres of old line. As well as the more common monofilament lines, we're now able to accept braided lines, fly lines and even the plastic spools that lines are sold on.

How it works

ANLRS rod stand

All the collected items are sent to a company called The Maltings Organic Treatment, run by a forward-thinking angler called Steve Carrie.

Steve's team are using the old line and spools to produce recycled plastic boards that are then used to create a wide range of new products. This includes recycling stations, benches, and rod racks and stands (pictured), which are being offered back to the angling trade.

Ultimately we plan to make fishing tackle items, such as bobbins and polarised fishing glasses frames, from old line. One of our targets is that these new items can also be returned to us and recycled again, so that we have a truly circular recycling scheme.

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The reaction from 99% of anglers that we’ve spoken to has been extremely positive.

Spreading the word

Young girl with ANLRS bin

More than 300 shops across the UK have one of our recycling bins. Many of these retailers offer incentives if you recycle your line with them, from a free cup of tea to a discount on new line purchases. There are also another 175-plus bins on various fisheries, charter boats, marinas and even at RSPCA wildlife centres.

Thanks to the work of two volunteer coordinators in Northern and Southern Ireland, more than 40 shops and fishing-related businesses there have signed up. Our visits to European fishing shows and trade events have also led to the scheme being officially launched in Belgium, under the direction of the leading Flemish angling organisation.

Tackle manufacturers, other businesses and the Angling Trust have all played their part in supporting the scheme too.

As with all recycling projects, the main aim is education. The reaction from 99% of anglers that we've spoken to has been extremely positive. Most are very keen once they find out that their line can actually be recycled.

Thankfully, many well-known anglers, such as Martin Bowler, Tommy Pickering and Alan Blair, have shown their support with social media videos and posts about the scheme, spreading the word much more quickly than we could have done by ourselves.

What's next?

We want to sign up even more venues to host recycling bins. We're also now working with beach clean groups in various areas of the UK, who come across worrying amounts of discarded line. So we want to link up with more of those groups and ensure that they're sending us what they find, rather than putting it in the bin.

Viv Shears, left, from ANLRS collecting line from an Angling Direct store

Making our recycling bins available 24 hours a day and having them in more convenient places for anglers would definitely help to increase what we can collect. We're now involved with a project that will see 48 ‘pipe bins' sited along four major river catchments within the next few months.

These bins consist of a length of 6-inch pipe, a 90-degree elbow and a cap at the bottom of the pipe to allow them to be emptied when the time comes. They can be fixed to walls or posts in areas where everyone can access them, from anglers to the general public, who may come across discarded line when using the waterways.

I'm excited about the pipe bins because they really put the scheme in the public eye, showing that anglers are trying to solve this problem. As the slogan of our scheme says, line recycling is “something the whole of angling can agree on”, regardless of where you fish or what you fish for. I'm incredibly proud to be a part of that and would like to think that the recycling of line will become the normal thing for anglers to do within the next few years.


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Last Edited: 14 March 2023

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