Monday, April 30, 2012

Collection Report April 9, 2012

Good morning from Bay View beach, Monday April 9. 8:05AM, low tide. Cool, colorful morning with bands of thick low clouds.
Being just after full moon, this "spring tide" was one of the lowest of the month. And again in the distance you can see Bay View's new sandbar peeking out from the receding waters. The same sandbar that seems to be vastly changing the shape of the beach this year -- and altering how much washes in, organic or otherwise.

The ultra-low tide exposed a complete bed of live sand dollars, including these folks:
"Fancy meeting you here"
And the terrace had another surprise -- in one small section the churning waves had sorted & collected a pile of boulders:
Only this one spot in some
600 ft of beach did this
A little more of the magic of the ocean.

The latest overnight high-tide -- also being a spring tide -- was one of the stronger ones since last November, pushing all the old wrack almost up to the dune's edge, leaving a blank slate in its place.
Much of this is new, clean sand dragged in, probably from the sandbar. Outside my zones, lobster traps that had been fully exposed were now half-buried in soft sand. All that energy & sand -- but zero new wrack -- is usually a harbinger of a small collection.

And sure enough, Zone N:
30 finds:
  • Building materials: 9 (6 asphalt, 2 concrete, 1 asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1
  • Fishing misc.: 4 (3 rope, 1 claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (straw, PS cup top, microwave plate scrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (gum wrapper)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 2 (rubber chunk, sand bag)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 7
  • Paper/wood: 1 (paper cup)
  • Misc./unique: 2 (cords)
The only find of note:
When sandbags are made from plastic fiber, and they fail & wash out to sea, they don't go away.

Zone S:
9 finds:
  • Building materials: 3 (asphalt, shingle, brick sliver)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (1 rope, 2 lobster trap vinyl scraps)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 0
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
Bay View's new personality started weaving itself together in late November, and it continues. The gunk is all out there; it's just chosen to spare Bay View beach this winter and spring.

About 5 miles south, at Curtis Cove in Biddeford, the story is vastly different. Here's just the derelict fishing rope that washed into 150 feet of beach there during the same week:
Think you know what's happening in the ocean? Dig deeper.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Say It

If you see it, and walk by it, and forget about it, so will everyone else. That moment hinges on you. It's you who has the power to say "Enough."

April 23, 2012
Mr. Robert Collins
Theater Manager
The Cinemagic & IMAX in Saco
779 Portland Road Saco, ME 04072

Dear Mr. Collins:
Yesterday, Earth Day, our family came to Saco Cinemagic to see “The Lorax.” Imagine our shock to see this scene lining the edges of Cinemagic’s parking lot:
It was similar all around the perimeter. 100s of feet just completely trashed.

Obviously litter isn’t just a problem at Cinemagic Saco. It seems it’s everywhere now. Streets, gutters, parks, and of course swirls of garbage in the ocean. I study what washes up onto local beaches, and the amount of pollution in the Gulf of Maine is horrible.

But if we allow scenes like this at our places of business, we’re just making it all worse.

I hope you will take the time to send out crews more regularly to the perimeter of the parking lot, and make it clear that litter & garbage just aren’t OK.

Thanks for your time.


Harold Johnson
“The Flotsam Diaries”

Sent Tuesday, April 24. Will post response if one comes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Collection Report April 3, 2012

After a nice Easter holiday and trip to Mouse land, time to catch back up with beach cleanups.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012. Bay View beach, Saco, Maine. 1:30PM, an hour before low tide. 50 degrees, pure sunshine, gusty wind running from north to south.

Dead water in the distance. Clumps of seaweed in the receding tide staying perfectly still as the waves above roll over them. Only this lone bit of weed managed to beach. And, of course, it had rope in it.
Another day notable not for how much washed in, but what it was. Like this:
I think nature did this; happens a lot
To this:
Modern...ish.... I think. Too far gone.
To this:
Largest horse mussel I've seen here!
And, sadly, to this:
Complete with claw & bite marks,
for extra yuck factor
Quickly then, on to the details. Zone N:
44 finds:
  • Building materials: 8 (6 asphalt, 1 block, 1 shingle)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 2
  • Fishing misc.: 12 (3 rope, 9 lobster trap vinyl scraps)
  • Food-related plastics: 2 (spoon, cup scrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (bottlecap, crushed aluminum can)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 10 (toy shovel head, 2 firecrackers, watch strap, tampon applicator, tear-top, bottlecap seal, 1 scrap >1", 2 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 8
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
And quickly over to Zone S:
16 finds:
  • Building materials: 5 (3 asphalt, 2 shingle)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 1
  • Fishing misc.: 2 (tiny buoy scrap, claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 4 (3 can scraps, 1 sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 2 (tennis ball, 1 scrap >1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 0
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 1 (fabric scrap)
With each week now at Bay View it's become clear that the bay is very different than a year before. Dune grass is advancing, waves have no energy, and the amount of "stuff" -- organic & otherwise -- that they bring to the shore is negligible. It's all out there. But Bay View is becoming less of a place to see it come in. The question is, for how long?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Laughter and Tears

Our family just returned from a week at Disney World's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our 5-year-old's first trip to Disney -- and for her a truly magical week. For me, sitting on the balcony with her watching the sun set over a savanna of fairly wild zebras, giraffes, antelopes, and colorful exotic birds -- well, that's magic too.
A good day
Of course, the real world is always around us, even in Disney's 40-square-mile "Girdle of Melian." And I learned long ago that the Flotsam Diaries isn't something I just turn off for a week. So what does Disney look like through the lens of a Flotsam Diarist?

In a word: Schizophrenic.

Walt Disney World heavily touts its green credentials. And given that it's set off 1/3 of its acreage as protected habitat, and was an early adopter of waste-to-energy and zero-emission vehicles, it's at least made an effort to earn them. In fact, Disney holds the State of Florida's "Green Lodging Certification" for all of its resorts.

But a grain of salt is needed. Walt Disney World made Central Florida's economy, and supports it still. Florida has no state income tax. Its coffers depend on tourism, largely Disney tourism. So if the latest buzzword is "green," it behooves the State to shower Disney with green accolades.

This isn't to say that Disney isn't actually trying. It's just that the signs I saw this past week never added up to a coherent story. Take the Mara cafe right at the Lodge. They offer reusable mugs to Lodge guests, and stock paper straws, not plastic.
Both an excellent start
But everything else in the whole cafe is wrapped in single-use plastic. This is what a meal there looks like:
Would you like polymers with that?
Plastic salad, plastic fruit cup, plastic cutlery, plastic coated paper plates, plastic candies. Even the apples were individually plastic-wrapped -- only the bananas & oranges were spared. We tried to cut back, but with limited success;* the healthiest foods were the most plasticized.

And look at that reusable mug. Way too big & bulky to lug through theme parks. In our week I never saw one of them used outside of the Lodge. Instead, vendors were hawking 20oz bottles of Dasani water at $2.75 each. That translates into $17.60/gallon, whereas well-monitored & regulated tap costs about $0.01/gallon! A company that really wants to promote & protect the environment would chill & filter water fountains and encourage re-use of visitors' bottles. But what for-profit entity would turn its back on such a cash cow?

Next, there was the hot & cold with recycling. Some parts of the parks offered obvious recycling bins next to the trash cans, some didn't. Some restaurants used care with their resources (the "Lunching Pad" in Tomorrowland offered cardboard trays and well-marked signs on where to recycle those trays); most didn't. It was literally the luck of the draw. In 2010 Disney claimed that it recycled a full 60% of all the 303,000 tons of waste produced on its properties. From what I saw, I don't know how they get to that number. Perhaps, like Europe, they consider burning trash for energy to be "recycling"?

I ran into still more schizophrenia at the shops. On the one hand, Disney has done something truly impressive -- and rare. Their shopping bags are made of 100% recycled plastic.
This is uneconomic with current technology; a real money loser. But it's good PR. On the other hand, about 0% of these bags will actually get recycled again into anything, so it's dubiously-green good PR. Worse, where were the reusable totes? I don't recall seeing reusable totes at any of the stores we visited; if they were there, they weren't being promoted.

Lastly, a poignant note of self-awareness in the Animal Kingdom Lodge literature. The Lodge is a special place. They've carved a functioning savanna out of the Central Florida jungle, populated it with untamed African animals of grace & beauty, and are very protective of them. As here:
Balloons -- of any kind -- are forbidden at the Lodge. Disney knows that balloons kill animals. They know that balloons escape, and it's usually impossible to track where they've gone until it's too late.

Yet just 3 miles away, vendors sells helium balloons to young, wide-eyed visitors by the hundreds (thousands?). The great folks at Balloons Blow have found Disney balloons on their beach 130 miles away. Who really thinks there are no Disney balloons lurking in the undergrowth on Animal Kingdom property? Disney knows they're there, they have to. But kids love balloons, balloons make money, so balloons are still sold in droves.

Disney's motto is "We Create Happiness." Today, happiness equals convenience. So for all the green talk, Disney caters to a modern throwaway culture, and doesn't do much to curb that culture. It makes nods, it makes efforts. But in the end, it doesn't make waves.

Which, in a way, makes it even worse. Disney property is kept fastidiously clean. But its budget & grounds crew would be the envy of any city treasury in the world. Disney has resources that few places can boast. If people get the belief that they can generate countless tons of waste and it all magically goes "away," what lesson is brought back home? How many visitors see this one sign tucked away in the Animal Kingdom Safari, and remember it two seconds later?
When the millions of tourists leave Disney's carefully crafted fairy tale and return to their lives, wouldn't it be nice if this idea was part of the top tier of good memories & inspiration going forward?

It is a small world, after all.

* The water bottle wasn't my choice. Florida's groundwater runs through soluble limestone -- tap tastes minerally, and can be unpleasant, albeit safe. I'm fine with the taste, my daughter called it "Daddy's gross water."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Easter Bunny

Up to now, Easter's come and gone without much ado from my daughter. But on Friday she came home from pre-school, shrieking "Easter's on Sunday and I can't wait for the Easter Bunny and the eggs!!"


It would have been easy -- and was tempting -- to hit the grocery store, grab a plastic basket & plastic "bedding," and a half-dozen plastic eggs to hide around the house.

But drawing inspiration from friends like Danielle of It Starts With Me and Ellen of House Behind the Other Houses, I'm trying to rethink things -- use a little less plastic. And more imagination.

So I dialed it back, remembering simpler times from my childhood. I grabbed 4 jumbo eggs; used a needle to tap a 1/4" hole in one side and a tiny hole in the other; held each egg over a bowl and blew hard through the tiny hole to push the innards out the bigger hole.* Filled each egg with a little tap water and blew it out to clean them up.

I then thought up a few hiding places and a few rhymes, and stuck a rolled-up note with a clue in each egg.

This morning came, and when Ruby opened the door to get the newspaper, she was greeted by a rolled-up note, from the Easter Bunny:
The note was met with another shriek of delight. "The Easter Bunny! And he used one of my hairbands to roll up the letter!" (It was handy.)

Of course the first clue led to her bookcase, where she found & happily destroyed the first eggshell:
This clue led her to the bathroom, where a cup on the sinktop revealed:
We have a game where you stack blocks, put Shaggy & Scooby Doo on top, and then pop out blocks Jenga-style until it all comes crashing down. After a little head-scratching, Ruby dashed off to the game, and found:
Okay, this one's a bit of a "gimme," but it was my first time being clever with a bunch of clues, forgive me. At any rate, a quick run to her rain boots revealed the last clue:
In a fit of insanity, we bought her a kids' drum set for Christmas/Hannukah last year. Which she of course loves. Sorry neighbors!

Anyway, after thinking about the clue for a minute, and ruling out lightning & thunder, she hit on the answer. And there found her prize.
All chocolate bunnies come in plastic now. I guess I could have made one from scratch. But I'm not there yet. Still, I bought one that had the least plastic I could find, and it was apparently delicious!

I am amazed at the folks who have vowed to remove plastic from their lives, and done it. It's not our reality. At least not yet. But the past two years of picking it up from places it was never meant to be reminds me that, despite our best efforts, it gets away. So any chance to cut down, get creative, and get a big smile of wonder & joy from our daughter from the result -- that's so worth it!

Happy Easter -- and Happy Passover -- to you & yours.

* This was a win for me because it meant scrambled eggs for breakfast and then lunch too!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Collection Report March 26, 2012

I will get these caught up so I can post other things!

Monday, March 26. 8:00AM. Closing in on low-tide, another weak one. 40 degrees, cloudy & drizzly. Record-breaking warmth on the first day of spring melted into a rainy & decidedly March-like weekend. Come Monday there were few signs of beachgoers.
But plenty of signs of humanity. Like this:
Beyond the plastic string, the intact green "biodegradable" latex balloon is what bugs me. Industry insists that a balloon popping high in the air instantly turns into dust. The truth is in front of everyone who's ever walked a beach, yet the denials continue. It's simple: There are no safe or environmentally friendly balloon releases. Balloons that go up come down, many reach the ocean, and many are mistaken for food by endangered sea creatures. People are free to create their opinions; they're not free to create facts. Lies should be challenged.

Off to the rest of the finds. First, Zone N:
39 finds:

  • Building materials: 4 (3 asphalt chunks, 1 tile)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 8
  • Fishing misc.: 2 (scrap of fishing line, trap grating)
  • Food-related plastics: 8 (cup, top, cup sliver, 4 wrapper scraps, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 9 (balloon w string, 3 packaging scraps, tieback, 1 scrap >1", 3 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 4 (3 filters, 1 filter tip)
  • Paper/wood: 1
  • Misc./unique: 3 (sock, leather offcut, metal toy truck)

Quite the mix this week. Rusted iron, fresh Big Gulp cups, and the tell-tale vertical sliver of a #6 PS cup, with equally tell-tale logo:
The Golden Arches
Saltwater stains & bryozoans attached; this sliver came from the sea. Free advertising.

And then Zone S:
27 finds:

  • Building materials: 4 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing misc.: 7 (buoy scrap, rope, 4 vinyl trap scraps, very old claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (bottlecap seal, wrapper, old cup scrap)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (foil wrappers)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 6 (wheel/box?, bag scrap, 4 scraps >1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 3 (all wrappers)
  • Paper/wood: 1
  • Misc./unique: 1 (leather shoe sole)

Another week, another little bit of everything.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Collection Report March 19, 2012

Monday March 19, 11:00AM. An hour or so after high-tide. After a ridiculously warm weekend, signs of a heavily used beach.

Yet in spite of the disaster at the can, the beach itself weathered the onslaught well.
Another ridiculously weak tide:
Barely made it up the slope
And another dead, glassy sea:
Smooth enough to skate on
But a few items still managed to beach:
Vent released from derelict lobster trap
This vent is made of polyethylene or polypropylene -- light plastic that floats easily on the sea. The little fresh wrack that I found also was mostly floatable, with air bladders to stay on top of the ocean. Light plastic & light wrack -- both rare at Bay View this winter, but here this week. Is it because the air warmed so much that the difference between it and the chilled seawater is firing up internal waves? Sending energy through the ocean even when it's not visible on the surface? I wish I understood the mechanics better. At any rate, something's changed this week.

On to the count. Zone N:
50 finds:
  • Building materials: 14 (8 asphalt chunks, 4 brick, 2 roof tiles)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 3
  • Fishing misc.: 6 (rope, trap tag, 3 vinyl trap scraps, claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 4 (3 wrappers, old knife)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (2 can scraps)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 10 (balloon, golfball, packaging, makeshift funnel, wallet insert, 3 scraps >1", 2 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 6 (4 filters, 2 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 4 (3 scraps, 1 packaging)
  • Misc./unique: 1 (grotty fabric/clothing)
Given the 70-degree weekend, the "local" plastic finds are really low. Even the knife was a wash-in.
Not sure how long that knife kicked around the sea. But most likely since at least the last good beach day of 2011. Plastic silverware is #6 plastic -- polystyrene that sinks gently in seawater. So the energy coming in to Bayview was both surface & seafloor energy this week.

Now down to Zone S, where a few other interesting things washed in:
49 finds:
  • Building materials: 7 (6 asphalt chunks, 1 roof shingle)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 2
  • Fishing misc.: 21 (2 rope, trap vent, 15 vinyl trap scraps, trap tag, shotgun shell, very old claw band)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 6 (3 can scraps, 1 sea glass, 2 foil wrappers)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 7 (baggie, packaging, large tire scrap, 2 rubberbands, tubing, 1 scrap >1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 5
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 1 (leather offcut)
The trap vent floated in on top, as did the trap tag. The large chunk of rubber tire may also be fishing-related, perhaps as part of a bumper on the side of a boat.

And there was a whole batch of vinyl scraps from lobster traps along the wrackline. Vinyl is quite dense and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, so rolled & bounced its way up to shore. And this stuff is insidious.
As these scraps break down smaller & smaller, they bounce in front of animals with smaller & smaller brains, and are no doubt eaten by them. Vinyl is toxic to make, toxic to burn, and no doubt toxic inside a gut. At the untouristed cove I also study about 5 miles away, this is what greets me in the tide pools at low tide:
One of these things is not like the others...
Each lobster trap can shed 1,000 of these bits as it rusts away. With at least half a million derelict lobster traps likely on the seafloor, the number of vinyl scraps we, our kids, and our great-grandkids will have to deal with is staggering.

The beach is different every week I visit it. Yet one thing's is constant. In nearly two years of beachcombing the same exact shoreline, the number of times that I've come away with zero pieces of manmade litter: Zero.