Monday, June 25, 2012

Collection Report May 30, 2012

Down to wire for Year 2 at Bay View. This installment: Wednesday, May 30. Noon. 60 degrees. Foggy, overcast skies.
I missed the previous week due to rain, rain... And in the interim, Memorial Day weekend had come and gone! Still, the beach didn't look that different. There was the same old wrack line of dried-out organics. Same steep shoreface. Dunegrass encroaching & spreading as it has all year. Sand cusps from the beached sandbar high & pronounced. Basically, all just as it had been all spring.

With a few exceptions -- signs that Memorial Day had in fact come and gone. Such as (1) The return of the Bait Tank cigarette butt bin:
(2) Buried beer bottle bingo:
(3) Flotsam forts:
(4) Thoughtless chain-smokers at the "thinking log":
(5) And a new found toy for the collection:
All proof that the lazy days of winter and spring were past, and unofficial summer had begun. Despite the cold & damp of the day. So what was left behind in the sands? Zone N:
116 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 59
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 15 (bottle, 4 bottlecaps, bottlecap o-ring, 4 food wrappers, 3 straw wrappers, 2 candy wrappers)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (bottle, foil wine bottle top)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 61 (3 packaging scraps, tape, string/cord, 2 scraps >1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 24 (23 cigs, 1 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 8 (paper scraps)
  • Misc./unique: 1 (swiffer cloth)
A local, summer signature. Except... so much foam. No idea where it all came from. Because looking at it, it's a little bit of everything! Insulation, coffee cups, coolers, squishy foam toys, clamshell packs... Just, everything. Some certainly washed/blown in. Portland, Maine is now considering banning styrofoam in the city. From my experience the past couple of years, I think it's high time.

On to Zone S:
66 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (asphalt)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 53
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (candy wrapper)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 3 (glass jar, jar lid, foil)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 3 (watergun plug, 2 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 5
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
The glass jar was a half-full jar of pasta sauce. Random! And then there's all the foam & styrofoam here too. Tons of it. Including many of the same-looking bits as Zone N, and bits that had clearly been nipped & pecked by wildlife (fish? crabs? seagulls?):
Not just ugly. Far worse than just being ugly.

So there we have it. May 30. Winter is over. Tourists are back, at least a little. Time circles back around. And the beach tells the tale.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Portland, Maine Close to Banning Styrofoam

Portland, Maine's City Council took a bold step Monday. They have directed a committee to draft an ordinance banning the sale of plastic foam in the city. The full story is here.
Image linked from original found at:
Of course, in the comments section the vote has been pilloried by those who don't believe in government regulation, and predictably by those in the plastics industry.

I've added a comment of my own, as follows:

"I've been collecting and recording man-made plastic garbage blown & washed into local beaches here in Saco and now Biddeford for the past two years. The amount of styrofoam that blows up and down the coast and swirls in the oceans is sickening. Especially when there are biodegradable -- and often reusable -- options.

Styrofoam is one of the more toxic plastics to create. It's one of the more toxic plastics to incinerate. Worse, it's an example of exceptionally poor design. One gust and it blows away. (Out of hands, trash bins, dumpsters, and landfills.) One misplaced step and 1 foam cup explodes into 100 foam pieces that all blow their own way. It's so light and airy that it's not economically recyclable to any Materials Recovery Facility, including ecoMaine.

We pretend styrofoam is cheap. But that ignores the cost of safe waste disposal, city cleanups, storm drain/sewer backups, ocean cleanups, economic loss due to blight, and harm to wildlife -- including some of the endangered animals that we claim to love & respect. Every bit of foam that's ever blown away is still there. More every year. It doesn't go away. Nothing is known to digest it or break it back to its building blocks. Paying little now so our kids and grandkids can pay more later? Talk about "mortgaging our future."

There is plastic debris in all the ocean gyres of the world. It washes up on the most distant, pristine, beautiful places on the globe. And it washes up here in the Gulf of Maine. I applaud the effort of Portland's City Council to say "enough" to even part of the scourge."

If you agree that banning styrofoam is a step in the right direction, please drop a comment yourself!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Righting a Wrong in Illinois

A 12-year-old girl in Illinois saw the damage that plastic bags were doing to her environment. She asked her town to step up and put an end to plastic bags. Big Plastic noticed. They lobbied to get a bill written making it ILLEGAL for any town to ban plastic bags. Instead, the bill pushes the failed fable of plastic-bag recycling as the way forward. They're hoping to make it a model bill for all states!
Abby Goldberg, Grayslake, Illinois, USA
But it seems that Big Plastic bulled the wrong 12-year-old kid. This girl, Abby Goldberg, isn't backing down without a fight of her own. She's published a petition to convince the Governor to overturn this bit of extreme silliness.

Abby is the future. She is a very brave young champion, with a vision of a world that's less polluted instead of more. The petition drive is going viral. There were a few hundred signatures early this afternoon. Now there are close to 7,500 (Today, June 26, one week later, there are close to 150,000!!). If you agree with her stance, please take a moment to add your name to the list.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Collection Report May 16, 2012

Wednesday, May 16. 1:15PM. 2 hrs before low tide. 60 degrees, a gray day in a wet week.
The huge cusps were still there -- leftover from the washed-in sandbar. The steep foreshore & weak tides meant no new wrack. But there was one sign of life:
Have fun stormin' the castle!
Kids & families slowly returning to the beach. A reminder that Memorial Day was just around the corner. Despite the chill and gloom in the air.

So, Zone N:
31 finds:
  • Building materials: 2 (asphalt, concrete)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 12
  • Fishing misc.: 2 (rope knots)
  • Food-related plastics: 2 (food wrapper corner, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 1 (foil)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 6 (plastic bag, packaging, 1 scrap >1", 3 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 5
  • Paper/wood: 1 (churn handle?)
  • Misc./unique: 0
The styrofoam covered a little bit of everything. From coolers to cups, local to wash-in. And that churn... thing was... weird.

Over to Zone S:
17 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (wood block with nail in it)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 10
  • Fishing misc.: 2 (shotgun shells)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 3 (pen, webbing, elastic armband)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
More of the same styrofoam mix. The shotgun shells? They're always washing up. Nobody can confirm a connection between shotguns and fishing, but it's a remarkable amount of shells & shell wadding for it all to be swept downstream from hunting grounds upriver. Another mystery of the deep.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Collection Report May 11, 2012

Friday, May 11. Bayview, 10AM. Greetings from a smooth, glassy, muddy low tide...
The flat terrace means that March's sandbar was now gone. Where?
Riding high & dry. Bayview's cusps had risen higher than even the base of the foredunes. Pushed upward several feet by the heaps of fresh sandbar sand brought in by the waves.

There was little other than sand and old reeds to see. The huge ridges made a very steep shoreface -- no surprise that few things would beach and stay beached. But what was there was fascinating. A piece of tomorrow...
Sea snail eggs on a lobster trap scrap
And a piece of yesterday...
1997 trap tag... bleached but perfect
As for debris? Zone N:
37 finds:
  • Building materials: 1 (shingle tarpaper)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 15
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (rope)
  • Food-related plastics: 3 (bottle, end-corner of food wrapper, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 8 (foam float, rubber chunk, 3 cords, 3 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 6
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 1 (chunk of wax)
Anybody know what that foam would have been used for?

Meanwhile, down in Zone S, a practically clean slate:
6 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing misc.: 3 (fishing lure, trap tag scrap, trap scrap -- not pictured)
  • Food-related plastics: 1 (straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 1 (scrap >1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Misc./unique: 0
So, a dead sandbar, a steep shoreface, a clean beach. Yet 5 miles south, at Curtis Cove, this is what's washing in:
May 17, 2012
What a difference a few miles makes.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Plastic Bag Recycling Hype

Hilex Poly makes plastic bags. They make a very large amount of money from making these "free" bags that you find at supermarkets, Big Box stores, and your local take-out shop. They wish to keep making this money.

They know people are sick of seeing littered plastic bags in parking lots, gulleys, roadsides, parks, playgrounds, and wrapped around (or inside) dead creatures.
A dead, starved pelican, beak wrapped tightly in plastic bag
Plastic bag caught around endangered loggerhead turtle
So Hilex Poly has decided that by promoting "recycling," they will win the day over bag bans.

Hence their latest volley in the spin wars: "Hilex Poly Co. leading by example in battle against plastic bag bans."

In it, their PR firm says, with straight face, that "Legislation doesn’t address the plastic waste problem." They describe a system that uses ~32% recycled content (meaning 68% is brand-new virgin plastic) as "closed loop." Among much else.

I've asked them questions, repeatedly. Oddly, they haven't responded. So I'm asking them here:

  • As you well know, industrial film has a very different use history from a consumer shopping bag, in terms of potential contaminants encountered. You say your recycled bags are made of both industrial film & end-user bags. What is the ratio? How much of the recycled resin in your bags is from post-end-user consumers (i.e. actual supermarket bags) and how much from industrial, pre-end-user sources?
  • What is your yield loss due to "kick-out"? What percentage of the post-end-user consumer bags returned from supermarkets ends up unusable for recycling into supermarket bags?
  • Do you recycle bags that already use recycled resin a second time into new food-grade supermarket bags? Or has the resin broken down too far after 1 recycling to use as food-grade again?
  • What percent of your used bags are unrecyclable thanks to post-supermarket user activity (use as trash-basket lining, school lunches, dog-poop containers)?
  • A related question: How clean and untouched by any contaminant must an end-user plastic bag be in order to be recycled as food-grade material?
  • What is the cost of creating a recycled bag compared to creating a virgin-plastic bag? What does a consumer pay in terms of inflated grocery prices to pay for "free" bags? Is that price increased when recycled bags are used?
  • If your average bag has ~1/3 recycled material, then 2/3 of each bag is made with virgin material. If consumers recycled 1 million bags, to use them all in new bags you'd have to make 3 million bags. If those 3 million bags were recycled, to use them all you'd have to make 9 million bags. If 100 billion bags were recycled, to use them all you'd have to make 300 billion bags. Where is the saturation point? At what point do you start getting back too many bags to use in new bags?

I'd like answers. As a consumer, as someone who values the cleanliness & health of the planet, we all deserve the truth. Not spin.

If you would like answers also, please share this blog post with your friends, or on FaceBook, Twitter -- however else you like getting questions answered. I'd be honored for the help.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Collection Report May 3, 2012

Thursday, May 3. 2:30PM, low-tide. Upper 40s. Chilly, gray. Finally dry after a couple days of drizzle.
Very high cusps with nicely defined ridges and troughs. Dune grass growing nice & strong, advancing far down the beach compared to 2010 & 2011. A steep shore face, no wrack, no energy, no nothing.

Here, for the record, Zone N:
36 finds:
  • Building materials: 2 (asphalt, tile)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 4
  • Fishing misc.: 0
  • Food-related plastics: 6 (bottlecap, 1 food wrapper scrap, 2 straw wrappers, straw, chewing gum)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 2 (sea glass, foil wrapper)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 3 (1 scrap >1", 2 scraps <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 18 (17 cigs, 1 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 1 (salt packet)
  • Misc./unique: 0
No obvious wash-ins. Maybe the bits of foam. The sea glass, asphalt, & tile may have bashed around the local sands for months or years. Everything else local or at best blown in. Quickly over to Zone S:
7 finds:
  • Building materials: 3 (asphalt, roof shingle, brick)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing misc.: 1 (shotgun shell)
  • Food-related plastics: 0
  • Food-related metal/glass: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 1 (scrap <1")
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 1
  • Paper/wood: 1 (paper tag from water bottle)
  • Misc./unique: 0
So it continues. Bay View lives in a dream, and for now the people who wander its shores get to see a beach the way their grandparents would have seen it. 5 miles down south at Curtis Cove, here's what I found washed-in during the same week:
Plus the fishing rope:
148 pieces of garbage there in 150 feet of beach in one week. And that was a slow week. Don't let Bay View fool you. The Gulf of Maine is badly abused. And in one place or another, in one time or another, it will show us what we've done to it.