Friday, October 28, 2011

Collection Report Oct 17, 2011

Monday October 17, 12:15PM, about two hours before high tide. This compressed week -- only 5 days since the last collection -- had started drizzly, and ended windy. In fact, on the 17th it was actually quite gusty, with winds blowing from the west, offshore.

All of which led to a beach so uninteresting that I forgot even to take a picture of it!

I did find some debris, but much of it seems to have been tossed up earlier in the month, maybe buried under sand until the rains & winds revealed it. So, Zone N:
57 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 18
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (2 rope bits, shotgun shell wadding)
  • Food-related plastics: 4 (food wrapper, 2 straw wrappers, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (foil wrappers)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 5 (2 balloons, marker, marker cap, rubber foot)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 21
  • Paper/wood: 2 (paper scraps)
  • Misc./unique: 2 (thread, glass stone)
The big thing(s) of note?
It doesn't really matter where these started. Just where they ended up.

Over to Zone S:
26 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 10
  • Fishing misc.: 2 (rope twine, vinyl trap scrap)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (bottle scrap)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 2 (bits of cord)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 11
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
Take away the cigarettes and the styrofoam and you've taken away 2/3 of the week's debris. Hopefully the new Bait Tank cigarette butt bin will help with the former. In the few days it had been there, it was already gaining some notice. In fact, there were 3 times as many cigarette butts in the bin as on the parking lot asphalt! Early days and small gains. But real gains.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Collection Report Oct 12, 2011

The times, they are a-changing.
Bay View, Wednesday October 12, 2011. 12:30PM. A day of clouds & chill gathering after an astounding Indian Summer weekend of 80 degrees and bright sun. The sea this week had been busy, the wrack line pregnant with plastic:
A winter wrack line
Ghost of feasts past
As well as other oddities from the deep!
Ruby wishes I'd brought this home
So what all turned up on the two 250-ft stretches of beach this week? Zone N:
178 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 30
  • Fishing misc.: 23 (13 clawbands, 6 rope scraps, trap bumper, buoy scrap, trap vinyl coating scrap, reel cap)
  • Food-related plastics: 6 (3 wrappers, bottlecap ring, 2 chewing gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 5 (2 cans, 1 can scrap, 2 glass shards)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 40 (7 bag scraps, 3 cords/ties, rubber band, chair leg foot, netting, 3 hairclip scraps, bandaid, glove, sticker, toy shovel handle, 10 scraps >1", 10 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 64 (62 filters, 2 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 4 (2 wood firecracker sticks, 2 scraps)
  • Misc./unique: 5 (sock, fabric, 2 flipflops, battery)
This is a strange mix. The beautiful summer-like weekend no doubt brought the flipflops and beer can. But this:
and this:
look a lot more like winter debris than summer.

Especially when you take into account Zone S:
88 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 11 (inc. large chicken? grocery package chunk)
  • Fishing misc.: 22 (8 rope, 10 claw bands, shotgun shell, 3 trap vinyl scraps)
  • Food-related plastics: 10 (2 bottlecaps, bottle, 6 food wrappers, old broken fork)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (can scraps)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 22 (balloon, Listerine packet, 3 bandaids, 4 strapping, 7 scraps >1", 6 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 11
  • Paper/wood: 3 (paper scrap, 2 wood firecracker sticks)
  • Misc./unique: 6 (4 fabric, tennis ball, candle wax)
For the past several months, Zone S has been averaging only ~1/8 as much debris as Zone N. This week it was up to 1/2. Clearly a bounty from the sea, spread up and down the shoreline. Lots of vinyl and other far-traveled scraps, including this oddity:
"Sealed: Do Not Remove"
I can only wonder what the story is there.

At any rate, a very interesting week. For one thing, lobster trap vinyl coatings were back! These dense bits of plastic coating from rusted lobster traps used to show up all the time. Then, back in May or June, they stopped. For months not one bit of dense vinyl made it to Bay View. Vinyl is much denser than seawater, and sinks to the bottom. (As did the mussel shells, fish bones, etc. that also arrived this week.) So for months it seems that sea-floor currents weren't bringing stuff into Bay View, now suddenly they are again. What will that bode for future weeks? Guess I just have to wait and see.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shifting Sands

I know there's been a drop-off here of articles lately. Plenty of collection reports sure, but fewer stories. It's actually been a very busy time. But in case you've missed it on Facebook and/or Twitter, I wanted to take a little time to let you know what I've been up to.

First off, I've been learning some pretty fascinating -- and useful -- science. Did you know that with just water and 4 common household chemicals you can ID the vast majority of any consumer plastics you find? It's all about density. Liquids have different density. Going from least dense to most dense:
  1. Rubbing alcohol (70%)
  2. Castor oil
  3. Water
  4. Glycerin
  5. Corn syrup
Different plastics also have different density -- some like #2, #4, and #5 plastics float in water, others like #1, #3, and #6 sink.
Enter mad scientist
Take that a step further, and you can sort them all out. #2 floats in water but sinks in castor oil. #4 floats in castor oil but sinks in rubbing alcohol (70%). #5, the least dense plastic, floats even in rubbing alcohol. Going the other way, #6 sinks in water but floats in glycerin. #1 sinks in glycerin but floats in corn syrup. And #3 (most vinyls actually) sinks even in corn syrup. It's simple, cheap, and it really works!. This link will tell you more.

Science experiments aside, I've been able to get Flotsam Diaries into the wider world, thanks to two guest-blog posts at the well-regarded "Scientific American" online! The first, on September 5, recapped my Year 1 of collection at Bay View beach here in Saco, Maine. The second, published on October 13, chased a too-perfect statistic often repeated in plastic-pollution circles, following the trail back 27 years into a now-meaningless void. As the recent lawsuit by plastic bag makers against ChicoBag shows, the plastic industry will attack wherever it feels it has a shot. Environmental orgs would do well to fact-check the numbers they use before picking that fight.

Last but not least, there's big news from Bay View beach, Saco, ME. At long last, working with the city council and the head of Saco's Parks and Recreation department, I've gotten a "Bait Tank" cigarette butt bin installed in the beach parking lot!
A beautiful addition
It really is a work of art, right down to the reused surfboard "shark fin" on top. A great way to educate as well as give smokers a resource they've needed. It's early days, but it's already getting used. It was a thrill visiting Bay View yesterday and seeing 3-4 times as many cigarette butts in the bin as on the asphalt!

I'm also working a few more projects that will hopefully start bearing fruit as fall turns to winter. It's a pretty exciting time. A year and a half ago, a trip to the beach woke me up to a real problem in today's world. Since then, I've hoped most of all to learn about it, share what I've learned, and try to make a difference. And that's still the North Star that guides the what, how, & why of it all.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Collection Report Oct 2, 2011

Early October, and the rain and drear lay thick for several days. During a very lucky ~45-minute break on October 2, I managed to hit the beach long enough to make a fair collection.
The wrack line was back. And with it, the usual suspects. And at least one unusual suspect:
Fading light on 10/1 when my daughter & I discovered
The evening before, my daughter and I wandered the beach as dusk gathered, and found this odd gift from the sea down at the southern end of my "zones." Fortunately it was still there the next morning. A better picture on Oct 2:
Logtek, Inc. is a fishing supply company from Tusket, Nova Scotia, Canada. As the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation explained to me, that doesn't necessarily mean that this floated in from 200 miles away. These crates are in general circulation among fishermen up and down the Gulf, and this one may have fallen off a more nearby dock. Still, it had clearly been bobbing in the sea for a long time.
How many more?
Another good mystery, probably never to be solved. (Though the bin did seem to have remnants of a serial #. Might just be a way to learn more about it sometime.)

The crate may have become flotsam from an unavoidable mishap. But the nine (!) balloons that I found were completely preventable litter. A few were latex (which supposedly disintegrates over time). But many were mylar -- a plastic that persists on & on. My daughter and I went to Saco's harvest festival yesterday. As we watched balloon after balloon escape up into the atmosphere, I wondered how many people actually realize that what goes up eventually comes down.

Anyway, back to 10/2, it's now obvious that scouring of Bay View by Irene is over. Easterly winds have started to bring the ocean's payload back to shore. Crates, balloons, and this double-headed lobster buoy among it:
On to the collection. Zone N:
68 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 10
  • Fishing misc.: 11 (2 buoys, buoy scrap, buoy rod, 3 claw bands, 2 rope, rope twine, shotgun shell wadding)
  • Food-related plastics: 12 (2 bottle caps, 2 cups, 2 tops, 6 wrappers)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 22 (4 balloons, 4 latex gloves, pacifier, cord, Hooksett disc, 6 non-food packaging, 2 scraps >1", 3 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 12
  • Paper/wood: 1
  • Misc./unique: 0
My big question: How is this good advertising?

Number-wise, a small haul. But a dreary week, soaking-wet beach, and a rain-curtailed collection played a part in that. The buoys, balloons, and disc from the NH sewage treatment plant disaster in March prove that the post-Irene lull is over. On to Zone S:
60 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 21
  • Fishing misc.: 5 (crate from Nova Scotia, 2 buoy scraps, rope twine, claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 7 (2 bottles, bottlecap, 2 cups, food wrapper, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 18 (3 bags/scraps, 4 balloons & 1 balloon end, bottlecap, flosser, Hooksett disc, 2 scraps >1", 5 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 9 (8 filters, 1 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
An unheard-of thing. Almost the same amount of garbage in Zone S as Zone N. And almost the same kinds of stuff. Which strongly suggests that the week of October 2 was ruled by wave & wind, not the tromping of local feet.

A final thought.
Beer bottlers have succeeded in convincing Eastern Europe to accept plastic beer bottles. It's cheaper for them to produce, and shifts the environmental burden to the unwary consumer. Western Europe and America have resisted. But as this plastic Coors bottle shows, the bottlers aren't going to stop. And are making inroads. The next time you visit a grocery store or drug store, look around at the packaging. Whatever you see that's not yet made of plastic, will be. Marine Debris Conferences aside, plastic pollution is just getting warmed up.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Collection Report Sep 25, 2011

September 25, 9:15AM, and a beautiful fall morning.
A calm sea and a clean wrack line told the story. No energy, no trash. Sadly, a dead harbor seal pup had washed in. (Apparently that's happening a lot in the Gulf of Maine this fall.) But there was very little else to be seen. Except a beautiful bay under an ever-changing sky.
The light haul from Zone N.
62 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (brick chip)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 10
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (2 rope pieces, claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 6 (bottle cap scrap, 5 food wrappers/scraps)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 3 (firework, 1 scrap >1", 1 scrap <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 35 (34 cigarettes, 1 package scrap)
  • Paper/wood: 1
  • Misc./unique: 1 (fabric fill)
The International Coastal Cleanup had its main week from Sep 18-25. More than likely, some local folks hit Bay View as part of it, leading to a surprisingly (shockingly?) litter-free beach. Minus, of course, the ever-present cigarette butts. The story was similar on Zone S.
23 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 13
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 2 (milk bottle cap ring, wrapper scrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 3 (3 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 2
  • Paper/wood: 2
  • Misc./unique: 0
I'm glad Ocean Conservancy-sponsored coastal cleanups try to raise awareness. But I wonder if volunteers leave with the wrong impression. It would be easy to think that it takes a beach a whole year to collect debris. It doesn't. Cleanup volunteers should be encouraged to revisit their beach in a month. Or even a few weeks. That might really open eyes. Take this stretch of beaches in the mid-Atlantic, badly fouled just one week after the big cleanup. It hurts to see a beach trashed. It hurts a lot more viscerally to see it when you've just busted your backside to make it better.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Collection Report Sep 18, 2011

A quick return to Bay View. 10AM. 60 degrees. A partly cloudy, moody, beautiful morning.
The kind of day where leaden skies offset glimmering sand, and you just can't quite tell what the air is doing.
It had only been five days since I'd been here. A couple of those had been cool and drizzly. With gentle tides that left the softest, finest powder behind. Sand dollars peeked out along the low-tide terrace, and there were few people to be seen.

All of which should point to a quiet, clean beach. Which wasn't at all the case. Though at least the litter tried to make itself interesting this week:
How to tell if your beach is in Maine
So, on to it. Zone N
151 finds:
  • Building materials: 4 (2 brick bits, asphalt bit, fence slat)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 20
  • Fishing misc.: 11 (buoy scrap, 3 rope bits, 6 rope twine, shotgun shell wadding)
  • Food-related plastics: 6 (cup, bread tag, lid, 3 tear-off tops)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 7 (can, can scrap, 2 bottlecaps, 3 foil wrappers)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 23 (bag, balloon, 2 condom wrapper scraps, bandaid, 2 firecrackers, rubberband, 2 plugs/grommets, pail handle, 3 scraps >1", 9 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 69 (67 filters, cigar cap, filter tip)
  • Paper/wood: 10 (7 paper scraps, popsicle stick, 2 firecracker sticks)
  • Misc./unique: 1 (headband)
A lot! Why? Some was probably lightly buried when I visited on the 13th, and later rains uncovered it. At any rate, the burned bits, styrofoam, and condom wrapper speak more to the 13th than they do to the 18th. Aside from some fishing scraps, the two most likely wash-ins were the faded sand-bucket handle and the balloon.
Those gray plastic fireworks are also strange. Nothing of the sort washed in during 2010. Yet most weeks since late spring 2011 I've seen them. Are they fishing-related somehow? Are they construction -- like blasting caps? Dunno. Would love your thoughts.

At any rate, another week filled mostly with debris of beach people doing beach things. On to Zone S:
22 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (tile)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 10
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (buoy scrap, rope scrap, shotgun shell wadding)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 3 (bag scrap, pen cap, scrap <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 5 (all filters)
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
Zone S continues being comparatively dull & delightful.

Still, the week's big takeaway: A beach that looks clean, probably isn't that clean; a beach that's been picked clean, also probably isn't that clean. All it takes is a late summer shower to remind you. What lies beneath?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Collection Report Sep 13, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 7:52 AM. Already a bright, muggy day.
Feeling the glow
Labor Day was well and truly past. The benches, trash cans, lifeguard tower -- stowed away for the year. The sun & sky may not have gotten the message. But the earth had.
Welcome back, mysterious
crawlers of the low-tide line
Autumn's sand trails were back. Sandpipers too, scurrying along the edge of each wave. Along the roads, the leaves of young -- or weak-willed -- maples were already kissed with a hint of red and orange. The earth knows.

Which is why the hot sun and Labor Day remnants strewn across the sand came as a shock. (It was a busy collection, as you'll see.) This twilight time, mid-September, straddles two very different Maines.

Curiously, there was still no wrack-line of Irene debris. The early August wash-in along with Irene's offshore winds really did scour Saco Bay clean. Even so, the ocean still left a couple calling cards:

The NH sewage treatment plant disc
saga continues, and will for years
And another applicator. Sigh.

It's all still out there. It'll make its next appearance when it feels like it. (See Delaware, where heaps of plastic garbage floating in just a week after the big Intl Coastal Cleanup.)

So on to the finds. Zone N first, as always:
177 finds:
  • Building materials: 3 (1 chunk asphalt, 2 wooden blocks)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 28
  • Fishing misc.: 16 (4 bits rope, 4 claw bands, 6 bits of rope twine, 2 buoy scraps)
  • Food-related plastics: 6 (bottle, bottlecap, food wrapper, 2 utensils, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 4 (3 cans/scraps, 1 sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 26 (7 bags/scraps, 3 bandaids, 3 toys (tank tread, "hamburger," squishy foot), theme park wristband, 2 bottlecaps, plastic strapping, chair/umbrella plug, expand-foam tube, 1 scrap >1", 6 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 82 (81 filters, 1 wood filter tip)
  • Paper/wood: 11 (10 paper scraps, 1 wooden stick)
  • Misc./unique: 1 (fabric scrap)
A little bit of everything, including the partially burned leftovers of at least one massive bonfire (some in this closeup).
Set it, and forget it. BTW, Ruby has a set of plastic food including the same hamburger. Might clean this one up and add it to her collection. Supersize Me.

As always, Zone S had less to offer.
32 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 5
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (2 rope scraps, buoy scrap)
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (bottle, bottlecap, gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (seaglass, gum wrapper)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 11 (2 bags/scraps, 1 bottlecap, cord, tennis ball, Hooksett disc, tampon applicator, 2 scraps >1", 2 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 6 (5 filters, 1 rolling paper)
  • Paper/wood: 2 (paper scrap, wood clothespin)
  • Misc./unique: 0
Oddly, the most interesting find of the week came from here:
"Game ends 12/31/10"
Old, scuffed, battered... But no signs of sealife on it. So... what's the story? Someone's favorite water bottle, reused for months and then lost? A dog toy? Or ocean-borne? I'd love to know.