Eliminating waste

Increasing pressure from governments to prevent as much waste as possible from going to landfill and rising costs makes waste disposal an expensive option.

Our 235 Made for life range at RNLI Shop is made from lifejackets worn by our very own lifesavers
Our 235 'Made For Life' range.

Waste not, want not 

At the RNLI we’re committed to reducing waste in all its forms wherever practical and have adopted the principles of the waste hierarchy before considering disposal, which are:

  • Eliminate – avoid producing waste in the first place
  • Reduce – minimise the amount of waste produced
  • Reuse – use materials as many times as possible
  • Recycle / upcycle – make new items with existing or reprocessed materials
  • Recover – recover energy or create compost from waste.

Turning waste into resource

Unavoidable waste can be a potential resource and through working with recycling partners and embracing innovation, we aim to maximise the return for the RNLI from this resource where viable. 

This not only helps to reduce our environmental impact but also helps maximise the use of the donations we receive. 

RNLI College at Holes Bay in Poole from the water 

At RNLI College we’ve initiated cardboard compaction with free collection and food waste recycling, reducing carbon emissions by just over 3 tonnes each year. 

The food waste recycling is more or less cost neutral and the cardboard compactor will pay for itself in 17 months and then go on to save approximately £3,000 every year.

The coffee grounds from the College are also collected and returned to our coffee supplier who creates fuel pellets to use in roasting future batches of coffee. 

We have installed a much larger mill-sized cardboard baler and a smaller one for plastics at our Headquarters in Poole so that volumes are reduced while recycling is increased; reducing costs and generating an additional income. 

There is a strong recycling ethos across the RNLI. Recycling bins are installed at our Headquarters in Poole and we are also working with our regional bases and lifeboat stations to ensure as much waste as possible is diverted from landfill. 

Our new 235 Made for Life range features some very innovative products such as bags, wallets and tablet cases made from lifejackets previously worn by our brave volunteer lifeboat crews at 235 of our lifeboat stations.

The range is available at the following shops:

Poole College         
Grace Darling
Dartmouth Visitor Centre
St Ives

When they reach the end of their service lives, RNLI lifejackets are decommissioned. But to save them from going to landfill, we’re now upcycling them into this hard-wearing and water-resistant product range, complete with many original lifejacket features. 

This sustainability initiative saved the RNLI £17,000 in disposal costs and is now generating thousands in income with 100% of the profits going directly back into our lifesaving service.

Future plans for our 235 Made for Life range include using drysuit and wetsuit materials. And we’re also looking into reusing materials to make kit for our lifeboat crews and lifeguards. 

These lifejackets have been keeping our people safe for years. They’ve been there for medal-winning rescues, thousands of lifesaving moments … We owed them something better than landfill
Adrian Frogley
RNLI Disposals Officer
Read more about our 235 Made for Life story in our Magazine article: The double life of a lifejacket.

What to do with a 27-tonne lifeboat

Over the next 15 years, 86 of our all-weather lifeboats will come to the end of their operational lives. These include 12 27-tonne Tyne class lifeboats and 37 Mersey class lifeboats.

Poole RNLI’s Tyne class lifeboat, City of Sheffield 47-023, in rough seas

In previous years we have sold off whole lifeboats, extending their useful lives and recovering as much value as we can, and we will continue to do this wherever possible. We’ve also taken lifeboat parts back into stock as spares where appropriate. 

But there’s no guarantee we can sell every single lifeboat. And our biggest challenge is that modern composites used in lifeboat construction are notoriously difficult to recycle.

The leisure industry landfill composite boats at the moment. We want to be at the forefront of finding a new life for that material.
Adrian Frogley
RNLI Disposals Officer

Our Lifeboat Decommissioning Challenge is two-fold:

  1. To recover best value from the lifeboat materials, components and systems onboard.
  2. To ensure future lifeboats are designed for disassembly, recycling and reuse.

At the forefront of the challenge is our sustainability vision – to create more value than we take. We have a duty to decommission lifeboats responsibly and a desire to reduce our environmental impacts and cost.

It’s RNLI Disposals Officer Adrian Frogley’s job to find the most carbon- and cost-effective ways of discarding RNLI kit at the end of its lifetime. And that means everything from a lifejacket to a 27-tonne lifeboat. Adrian says:

‘We’ve looked at all sorts of solutions, from floating housing to interesting art projects. We’re currently interested in how composite materials are managed. The leisure industry landfill composite boats at the moment. We want to be at the forefront of finding a new life for that material.’

We launched a challenge in April 2015 to encourage like-minded organisations to join us in our mission to find an innovative solution that will minimise the environmental impact of decommissioned lifeboats.

The project is ongoing and will also help us identify how we can transition to a sustainable circular economy resource model – one where we maximise the use and value of all our resources before they are recovered and regenerated.

The RNLI uses a wide range of raw materials and products and it’s our duty to make the best use of your donations and obtain best value when procuring the things our people need. 

We also recognise we have a role to play in ensuring that any negative social and environmental impacts of our economic choices are eliminated or reduced where possible.  

Supply Chain Management

We have a Sustainable Procurement Policy and our suppliers are asked a number of sustainability-related questions. Over the next few years we aim to make this policy and questionnaire even more robust and work closely with our key suppliers to ensure that they share and operate to the same values as us.

The crew kit room at Achill Island Lifeboat Station showing racks of yellow Musto all-weather jackets and wellies

We have already worked on our Corporate Clothing Policy and reduced the number of suppliers we use. We are also working to ensure our whole corporate clothing supply chain meets sustainability criteria and that a chain of custody is maintained.

Resource management

Using our resources more efficiently goes hand in hand with procuring them in a sustainable way as a means of eliminating waste, reducing costs and saving energy.

An example of this is our Printer Consolidation Project at our Headquarters in Poole which has reduced the number of printing and copying devices and the amount of paper, toner and inks we use as well as the associated costs.

By definition, many of our activities are on or near water and we do all we can to ensure that we do not pollute or contaminate it.

View of our All-weather Lifeboat Centre (on the left) and RNLI College (on the right) from the water
Fresh water is also an important resource and we strive to be as efficient as we can when using it.

  • Aerators are fitted to all bathroom taps and showers in the bedrooms at RNLI College to reduce water use. 
  • The use of water and chemical-dosing in our Sea Survival Centre training pool is carefully controlled. 
  • Our All-weather Lifeboat Centre has a water treatment plant to ensure the waste water from blasting and cleaning our lifeboats is filtered and cleaned before being discharged.