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Sustainable Tech: Use of fish waste for fertilizer and other circular approaches


By now it should be apparent to all, not just those involved in advancing sustainable technologies, that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift towards true sustainability in all aspects of society. And one of the most exciting things about this shift is the out-of-the-box thinking and seemingly silly ideas that are embraced once their merits have been effectively communicated. One could argue that, among these ideas, repurposing of fish waste should be front and center. Fish waste, which is generated throughout all stages of the fishing industry, holds significant untapped possibilities for numerous applications, from displacing plastic to helping plants grow. It has the potential to be one of the best examples of how a more circular economy can be viable.

This is the fourth entry in an ongoing collection of informal case studies looking at the current state of different sustainable tech solutions. Some are ready to use, some require more funding, and some have a complicated position, as we previously discussed with nuclear SMRs, wave energy, and biopolymer plastics.

The goal of exploring these case studies is to highlight the importance of clear and informative communication with industries, governments, and the public to get the technologies with the best chance to make the world a more sustainable place to market – whether they involve carbon-free energy, plastics reductions, food production, or other ideas.

Here at Linq Consulting, we specialize in three things: helping sustainable tech projects obtain funding, helping these projects manage their operations, and providing effective communication to ensure successful projects can contribute to sustainable solutions in the real world.

We are exploring some of the most promising examples of emerging technologies that require help in one or more of these three areas in an effort to shed some light on the challenges and opportunities that exist – while highlighting any areas that can benefit from our expertise.

Below in our fourth informal case study, we cover how fish waste is generated, potential applications for utilizing repurposed fish waste, funding opportunities for projects that want to advance fish waste technologies, and outline what is needed to make circular fish waste usage more mainstream.

How is fish waste generated?

Before covering the innovative uses of fish waste, it is important to understand how it is generated in the first place. Fish waste entails all byproducts that come the fishing industry, including discarded fish parts, scales, bones, and processing residues. Traditionally, these waste materials were disposed of, often ending up in landfills or causing pollution through improper disposal in the environment.

Potential applications for repurposed fish waste

Below are the two most promising – and exciting – applications for repurposed fish waste.

1. Bio-based fertilizers

Fish waste can be transformed into bio-based fertilizers through a process known as fish hydrolysate. This nutrient-rich fertilizer provides essential elements like nitrogen and phosphorus to plants, promoting healthy growth and reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers. This circular approach not only reduces waste but also enhances agricultural sustainability.

2. Bio-plastics

Perhaps the most exciting (or at least useful) application of fish waste is the production of biodegradable plastics known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). PHAs can replace traditional plastics in various products, from packaging materials to single-use items like utensils and bags. PHAs derived from fish waste offer a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics while also helping to mitigate plastic pollution.

What kind of funding is available for circular fish waste projects?

Accelerating the implementation of technologies that promote circular fish waste projects require adequate funding. Similar to our other sustainable tech case studies, below are some funding avenues that can potentially help get these solutions to market.

Potential Horizon Europe funding

As already known by anyone who is familiar with the European grant landscape (or has read any of our other articles), Horizon Europe is the EU’s flagship research and innovation program. While most calls under Horizon Europe focus on reducing emissions, there are several opportunities within the program for projects related to PHAs and other bioplastics. Research funding can be sought under various calls targeting sustainable solutions for plastic waste and alternative fertilizers, both of which could be addressed by fish waste.

National government funding

Many governments worldwide are increasingly interested in supporting sustainable technologies. Several EU governments have small-scale grants, targeted subsidies, and innovation programs aimed at circular economy initiatives. Additionally, there are several municipal incentives for wastewater treatment and recycling components of fish waste in numerous cities across Europe.

High net-worth individual funding

High net worth individuals, especially those passionate about sustainability and technology, represent a potential source of significant investment. Collaborating with influencers, tech leaders, or environmentally conscious individuals can help secure funding and raise public awareness for fish waste initiatives.

What is needed to make circular fish waste usage more mainstream?

While the potential for circular fish waste usage is immense, several factors need to be addressed to drive its mainstream adoption:

1. Increased publicity

Greater publicity, including endorsements from well-known scientists, public intellectuals, or tech trend-setters, can help raise awareness about the benefits of fish waste repurposing and its positive impact on the environment.

2. Cost reduction

Continued efforts to lower production costs of PHAs and other fish waste-based products are essential to make them competitive with traditional alternatives.

3. Corporate buy-in

Collaboration with larger producers and companies can expand the market for fish waste-derived products, increasing their availability and accessibility.

Circular fish waste and potential uses summary

Overall, the main takeaways from current state of fish waste repurposing are:

  1. There is potential for fish waste repurposing to become a great example of the circular economy in action. It demonstrates a real-life example of a sustainable loop, where waste is transformed into valuable resources. Harnessing the potential of fish waste effectively closes this loop, stopping waste generation and creating better alignment with minimizing environmental impacts and the principles of the circular economy.

  2. There is a substantial and growing demand for products derived from fish waste. The market is primed and eager for sustainable alternatives to traditional materials. Consumers, industries, and governments are increasingly recognizing the urgent need to transition to eco-friendly options. As sustainability becomes a central focus, the demand for fish waste-based solutions is expected to soar.

  3. Several products are already being created from fish waste, including bio-based fertilizers and biodegradable plastics like PHAs. However, despite their promising attributes, these products have not yet achieved mainstream appeal. This underscores the untapped potential waiting to be unlocked. With the right strategies and awareness campaigns, these products could become household names, further driving their adoption.

  4. Public perception is lacking; this is not an oft talked about technological advancement. Bridging this awareness gap is crucial to gaining public support and generating interest in sustainable alternatives. Education and outreach efforts can play a significant role in changing this narrative.

  5. Fish waste uptake needs to occur soon to help the world move from the current trend of non-circular materials, most of which is not able to be recycled and ends up in the ocean, where it is then, ironically, detrimental to fish, the very creatures from which the waste originates. Swift adoption of fish waste repurposing would help to not only reduce waste on the front-end by getting rid of fish waste itself and back-end by lessening waste that would be created in place of the products it replaces, but it would also help to show how important and, more importantly, attainable a circular economy can be.

How to find out more about circular uses of fish waste

We at Linq Consulting hope that this informal case study on our fourth featured sustainable technology provided a valuable overview of a promising route to repurposing waste to increase materials available in a circular economy and lessen the amount of single use plastics that end up in the environment. Fish waste can be a great example of an outside-the-box solution that could have far-reaching positive impacts.

For further in-depth reading on fish waste repurposing, we recommend these resources:

If you have any questions about circular fish waste projects or any related subjects contact us at info@linq-consulting.com. If you are currently developing a project that involves this or another type of sustainable technology and would like to discuss potential funding options, we can help you secure funding from a variety of sources.

Follow us @link-consulting on LinkedIn and Twitter/X.

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