Sunday, July 29, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Jul 27, 2012

Friday July 27, 1PM. Curtis Cove. And the beach roses are in bloom.
Temps were in the 70s, with heavy clouds & heavier air. The skies threatened a couple times, but at best pelted the ground with a few small drizzles.
Lunar landscape
I've always wanted to see how long it really takes debris to return to the sand here. It had only been 4 days since my July 23 collection. What would the beach hold? Well.... a lot of this:
A wrack line of seaweed and plastic
Depressing -- and eye-opening. After an hour or so on the beach, here's what I pulled up from my 150-foot zone.
38 pcs of rope, about 35 ft total
573 pcs of non-rope debris
611 finds:
  • Bldg material/furniture: 3 (2 vinyl floormat scraps, vinyl upholstery scrap)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 38 (all rope)
  • Fishing trap gear: 396 (383 vinyl trap scraps, 11 bumpers, 2 bait bags)
  • Fishing misc.: 45 (1 fishing line, 44 claw bands)
  • Food-related plastics: 32 (26 #6 cup scraps, 3 bottle-cap o-rings, 2 candy wrappers, 1 bread tie)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 2 (can scraps)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 15 (1 bandaid, 1 comb fragment, 1 toy sticker, 7 cable ties, 1 windshield washer bottlecap, 1 medicine blister pack, 1 'impatiens' plant ID tag, 1 rubber cord, 1 "DENT PIK")
  • Scrap plastics: 71 (20 >1", 51 scraps <1")
  • Paper/wood: 0
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 9 (1 glove, 8 fabric pieces)
611, in just 4 days. Crazy! And of course tilted extremely heavily toward lobstering debris, including another insane haul of vinyl trap flecks. But the waves also brought many things that had no business being in the sea. Including:
A faded sticker from a toy
Windshield washer fluid bottle cap
'Impatiens' tag from planter/garden
Battered comb -- where's the rest?
"DENT PIK"?  Not even in Google!
Vinyl flooring scrap
Vinyl upholstery scrap
And of course poignant reminders of why plastics don't belong in the ocean in any amount:
Sealife-nibbled/poked cup scrap
Of all the finds on Friday, exactly one -- a candy wrapper -- was a local drop. Everything else came from the ocean. It was there because everything we use -- and lose -- is now plastic.

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 6396
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 1650
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 2779

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Waste Not, Want Not

In some ways, the modern world can trace its roots to August 1, 1955. That's when "Life" magazine published its famous article, "Throwaway Living."
The clarion call for the next half-century of consumerism was sounded. No longer did we have to -- or want to -- make do with what we had. We could just throw it away and get something new.

And corporations were eager to help us. After all, making products meant to be used once, thrown away, then bought again was a cash cow. It provided permanent consumers. We came to believe that we really could just throw stuff out and forget about it. That it was easy, natural, "American." Buy the newest gizmo and toss the year-old one into the bin. Drive through McDonald's, and 5 minutes later pitch 2 wrappers, a plastic ketchup pack, a plastic barbecue sauce pack, a greasy french-fry box, and an empty plastic cup & straw into the nearest bin.

We bought the lie that consumption had no costs.

The annual budget of Saco, Maine can be found here. It's in three parts: revenue (money coming in), capital (brand-new projects being undertaken), departmental (day-to-day running of the city). In the departmental budget, you'll find what the Department of Public Works pays for its waste-removal contracts.
$1,270,200 for FY 2012. That's only for curbside waste collection. It doesn't account for all the time, labor, and energy of cleaning up fouled gutters/streets/public spaces from blown-in trash.

That's enough to pay for:

  • The city administration's entire operating budget
  • The city's entire genl. assistance funds (emergency food, fuel, burial, medical, clothing etc.)
  • The city's voter registration services
  • The city's entire Building Maintenance operating budget
  • The city's entire Fire & Ambulance operating budget
  • The city's entire public drinking water supply
  • The city's entire Building Inspection & Zoning operating budget
  • The city's entire Planning & Economic Development operating budget
  • The city's public agencies (Meals on Wheels, trail memberships, TV, veterans' council etc.)
  • And the city's entire Parks & Recreation operating budget

Combined. And still have money left over.

That's the cost we pay for our "free" consumption.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Curtis Cove Report - Jul 23, 2012

Beginning a closer look at the continuing cleanups of Curtis Cove, Biddeford. Here's the first installment!

Saved from development last fall and placed into the hands of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Curtis Cove should be a pristine place, free from human intrusion. It isn't. On February 22 I got to a clean "base line" along a small 150-ft section of this polluted cove. As of last week, 5312 new pieces of manmade debris had washed in since then!

Following last week's catch-up post, here is Monday, July 23. Gray skies and heavy air. 8:30AM, low tide. A flat upper terrace of fine gray sand, sloping quickly off to a cobbly & green intertidal zone.
Before my collection, I took a stroll down to the tide pool that rings the north side of the cove. Always something interesting there. Today: a hermit crab war...
The little guy actually won this one
A new, bright-orange life form hanging out amid the rockweed...
A sea squirt, possibly the invasive Botrylloides violaceous 
And of course, this...
Far too many plastic flecks to count overall
Back up at my 150-ft beach zone, some of the week's debris was easy to see...
And some lay nestled amid the wrack:
All told, this is what my hour on the beach landed me yesterday:
68 pcs of rope, about 55 ft total
405 pcs of non-rope debris
473 pieces total:

  • Bldg material/furniture: 1 (grommet)
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 0
  • Fishing rope/net: 71 (68 mostly short, frayed rope strands, 3 small net fragments)
  • Fishing trap gear: 298 (277 lobster trap vinyl scraps, 11 mangled steel trap parts, 5 trap bumpers, 3 bait bags, 1 trap tag, 1 trap vent)
  • Fishing misc.: 25 (clawbands)
  • Food-related plastics: 17 (1 bottlecap o-ring, 1 straw, 10 cup scraps, 3 food wrappers, 2 cutlery handles)
  • Food-related glass/metal: 0
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 19 (4 bag scraps, 1 balloon scrap, 2 cigarettes, 1 bandaid, 1 saw handle, 2 cable ties, 1 crate seal, 4 cord scraps, 1 air filter scrap, 1 duct tape, 1 big tire patch)
  • Scrap plastics: 34 (13 >1", 21 <1")
  • Paper/wood: 2 (paper scraps)
  • Non-plastic misc./unique: 6 (5 fabric scraps, 1 glove)

Of the above, perhaps 2 pieces were local drops -- the cigarettes. Everything else most likely washed in. Now as maddening as these bits of vinyl from lobster traps are... least you can see how they get into the ocean. But, a saw handle?
How does that happen? This has been the big wake-up at Curtis Cove -- the amount of things that by no rights should enter the ocean, but have. And will. And will keep washing up as long as they're made out of persistent, permanent plastic.

Running YTD counts:
  • Total pcs of litter -- 5785
  • Pcs fishing rope -- 1612
  • Vinyl lobster-trap scraps -- 2396

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Curtis Cove Update

Back in May I described my new venture, Curtis Cove in Biddeford, Maine. Owned by the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, Curtis Cove is supposed to be a pristine, untouristed habitat & place of beauty untouched by humanity.

Unfortunately, with the abuse the Gulf of Maine receives, humanity leaves its mark with every high tide. After several weeks of heavy scouring, I reached a clean "baseline" for my 150-foot stretch of cove back on February 22. Since then I've been going most every week to see what washes in. It's staggering.

With my work at Bay View in Saco now finished for the time being, I wanted to get the blog on Curtis Cove caught up. So, without further ado, the basic results thus far. (Note: These photos don't show the fishing rope that I've collected each week; being now 1544 pieces, about 1/2 mile of rope & counting, they're in many garbage bags in our condo's storage area.)
Feb 29 - 249 pcs (inc. 153 fishing rope)
Mar 7 - 158 pcs (inc. 87 fishing rope)
Mar 13 - 215 pcs (inc. 87 fishing rope)
Mar 30 - 526 pcs (inc. 38 fishing rope)
Apr 4 - 303 pcs (inc. 95 fishing rope)
Apr 10 - 260 pcs (inc. 89 fishing rope)
Apr 26 - 81 pcs (inc. 33 fishing rope)
May 7 - 148 pcs (inc. 72 fishing rope)
May 17 - 272 pcs (inc. 107 fishing rope)
May 23 - 148 pcs (inc. 31 fishing rope)
May 31 - 257 pcs (inc. 28 fishing rope)
Jun 7 - 326 pcs (inc. 127 fishing rope)
Jun 15 - 451 pcs (inc. 212 fishing rope)
Jun 25 - 297 pcs (inc. 116 fishing rope)
Jul 6 - 346 pcs (inc. 145 fishing rope)
Jul 12 - 1275 pcs (inc. 124 fishing rope)
And there you go. The story of the past half year. Again, this is a beach that isn't touristed. Of the 5312 pieces of manmade garbage I've pulled off this little wedge of cove, maybe half a dozen were locally dropped -- a couple beer cans, a couple water bottles, a jug of orange juice. All the rest are washed in.

2119 vinyl coating scraps from lobster traps (933 of them from July 12 alone!), 167 lobster claw bands, 64 lobster trap bumpers, 61 bait bags, flower pots, part of an outdoor thermometer, 121 bag/baggie scraps, a car console, a car armrest, a fan belt, security seals/tags, a pressure-treatment tag from 1992, vinyl upholstery scraps, an air filter, a plastic coathook, 167 scraps of polystyrene coffee/drink cups/tops, a ketchup pack from a seaside lobster shack miles away, duct tape, fiberglass siding, plastic drywall anchors, 34 balloons/string.

From 150 feet of coastline. With its inlets, bays, & islands, Maine has approximately 3000 miles of coastline.

Change the game.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Collection Report June 23, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012. 8:00AM Bay View beach, Saco, Maine.
Summer in Maine, back again
This day marked a very big milestone -- the completion of my second full year studying Bay View! Though there is much to reflect on, for now, into the collection.

The fierce storm of June 3 was already fading from Bay View's mind.
Much of the advance line of dunegrass survived; later tides & winds quickly resculpted the shore to brush over the erosion & damage. In fact, the storm & outwash actually created a nice, long flat terrace between the dunegrass & foreshore. The perfect place for summer crowds to pitch their tents. Nature is a marvel.

Speaking of summer crowds, they're back. The trash signature proved that. Zone N:
138 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 10
  • Fishing misc.: 6 (4 rope, claw band, trap tag)
  • Food-related plastics: 20 (2 bottles, 4 bottlecaps, 2 cup-top scraps, 11 food wrappers, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 10 (bottle, bottlecap, 8 pcs foil)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 34 (8 plastic bags/baggies, hairclip, 4 scraps <1", bucket handle, 2 figurines, sand rake, 2 lightsticks, shovel handle, 9 plastic packaging, lubricating oil tube, black tape, strapping, tarp scrap, mesh)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 34 (32 filters, 2 packaging)
  • Paper/wood: 22
  • Misc./unique: 2 (fabric scraps)
Yes, the summer crowds are back. And as always, they congregate at Zone N, leaving the southern area much freer of debris. Zone S:
49 finds:
  • Building materials: 0
  • Foam/Styrofoam: 7
  • Fishing misc.: 4 (rope, trap scrap, trap tag, shotgun shell)
  • Food-related plastics: 9 (bottle, 3 bottlecaps, 4 food wrappers, straw)
  • Food-related metal/glass: 3 (can, 2 sea glass)
  • Nonfood/unknown plastics: 12 (baggie, 3 balloons, balloon ribbon, bleach bottlecap, 3 scraps >1", 2 scraps <1", nonfood packaging)
  • Cigarette filters/plastics: 9
  • Paper/wood: 4
  • Misc./unique: 1 (fabric)
No surprises here. This is the debris that beachgoers leave at a sunny, summery beach. I saw it in summer 2010. And summer 2011. And now summer 2012. How many more summers, until we finally change the game?

And there we are. Full circle, again. Two summers, two falls, two winters, two springs. 14,000 pieces of trash, Hurricane Earl, TS Irene, the December Storm of 2010, and June's no-name beast. Ice crystals, sand dollars, rivulets, beach cusps. Dog walkers, wrack lines, sea glass, dunegrass. Sand bars, beached boat, demolished convent, seal carcass.

Bay View has been such an eye-opening place. It taught me that in a plastic world, there is no "away." Yet now I find that lesson coming home to roost about 5 miles south, at Curtis Cove. Where there are no tourists, but there's more garbage per foot than the worst day that Bay View threw at me. So much more to learn, and to share.

For the moment, I leave Bay View to rest, though probably to return now & then. Curtis Cove will keep me -- and sadly generations after me -- plenty busy.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lifting Spirits and Loafing Around

When you see plastic litter everywhere, it's easy to get despondent. But it's far more productive to get creative.

Our family goes through a loaf or two of bread a week. Buying grocery-store bread, that's scores of hole-lined plastic bread wrappers a year. Dumb, unrecyclable, waste. So I thought, why not just bake bread instead? It turns out, it's so easy. And tasty, nutritious, and almost plastic-free. Plus it makes the house smell amazing.

The Web has a billion recipes. But I wanted to show you mine, for a country-style wheat bread. I'm food-challenged as a rule. If I can make this, and nail it, anyone can!

This is what you need:
  • 2 heaping cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup stone-ground wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cups 2% milk
  • 3 Tblsp sugar*
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 jumbo egg
  • 2 1/2 tsp active yeast^
You will also need:
  • Extra unbleached all-purpose flour for mixing/kneading
  • Large glass bowl (or other heat-resistant, smooth bowl)
  • Bread pan (mine is 9"L x 4"W x 3"H)
  • Large, clean work surface like a butcher-block table

For me, the ingredients themselves are a lot of fun. The milk & wheat flour are from our local farm -- Harris Farm in Dayton, Maine. I've walked their fields and petted their cows. Harris is also where we get our eggs, "Annie's Farm-Fresh Eggs" out of Limington.

Moreover, almost all of the above is plastic-free. The only plastic comes from the lid of the milk bottle and the lining of the wheat flour. All the rest is paper, glass, and metal!

On to the recipe.

1. Heat the milk (microwave or saucepan) til it's as hot as you can comfortably touch. This will kick-start the yeast and wake it up.

2. While milk is heating, add the rest of the ingredients in the large bowl.

3. When the milk is ready, pour it into the bowl & stir with a fork for a minute until it's all combined.
At this point, the dough will be sticky & gooey. That's perfect. This is where the fun begins.

4. Preheat the oven to the lowest possible temperature (mine is 170F).

5. On the butcher-block, spread out a handful of all-purpose flour. Get your hands floury too. This is messy. Enjoy it!
6. Scoop out all of the dough from the bowl onto the butcher-block.

7. Sprinkle a little more flour on top of the dough, and all over your hands, then start kneading.

This is super easy once you know the tricks. Start by smushing the heel of one hand down into the dough like you're massaging a very tense shoulder. Push the dough forward with your palm & fingers so it stretches.
This is where the magic happens. Your kneading will start lining up the proteins in the flour to create gluten. Gluten holds the dough to itself, helps it rise beautifully, and gives it a wonderful chewy texture. Don't rush this!

Get into a rhythm. Knead with your left hand until the dough is stretched out. Fold the dough back over on itself and knead with your right hand. Many times the dough will start sticking to the table and/or your hands. When it does, add a little more dry flour to the table & your hand, pick at the stuck bits, free it all up. Do a count. "1," left-hand smush, fold, right-hand smush, "2," left-hand smush, fold, right-hand smush, "3..." Get air into the dough with each fold. Stretch it and work it. Remember to add dry flour when you need it! Don't overthink it, just a poof of flour & back in the game. Feel it all coming together.

8. After 3-5 minutes (a 100-count for me using the above method), you'll have a ball of dough that is no longer sticky to the touch, but is still moist & holds really nicely to itself.
9. Now the dough is ready to rise in the oven. Dust the bottom of your bowl with more flour, then plop the dough ball in the middle. Place a large plate on top, leaving 1/2" of airspace.
10. Put the bowl in the oven, turn OFF the oven (important!), and set the timer for 30 minutes. The residual warmth will help the dough rise.

11. While the dough is rising, grease your bread pan well with butter or olive oil. When the timer goes off, carefully take the bowl out. The dough will have about doubled in size.
12. Reheat the oven again to its lowest setting, then "punch down" the dough. Basically knead it very briefly -- 5 seconds at most -- to squish out the biggest air bubbles.

13. Transfer the dough to the bread pan, stretch it out so it's a rectangular block, and cut a 1/2" slit in the middle. (The slit isn't just for looks. Without it, the bread could rise so high that it breaks and deflates, leaving a dense & disappointing loaf!!)
14. Turn the oven off again. Moisten your fingers with tap water and run along the top of the dough just so it's a little slick. Then put the pan -- uncovered! -- into the oven & set the timer for another 30 minutes.

When the timer dings the 2nd time, your dough will look like this:
15. Leave the pan in the oven, and turn the oven on to 350F. Turn the timer on for another 30 minutes. (If your oven heats to 350F very fast, check the loaf after 25 minutes instead of 30. Ours takes forever to heat, so 30 minutes is perfect.)

16. When the timer dings its 3rd time, you're done! Bread!
Total time: 1 hr 40 minutes. Total time that you had to do anything: ~10 minutes. So easy.

There really is nothing like the smell of fresh-baked bread. It's doubly sweet when you baked it yourself. "How do I keep it fresh?" you ask? Well, it fits perfectly into one of those handy store-bought bread bags stuffed into various nooks & crannies in all of our houses!

The fight against plastic pollution seems hopeless. But it's really not. It doesn't require one massive overwhelming rethink about how we live our lives. Just a whole bunch of tiny manageable ones. Once in a while, pick something that you use that's plastic, and use less of it -- or find an alternative. Tell your friends, share the word. Heck, share a loaf of bread.

Change the game!

* This will not make the bread too sweet. The sugar will be food for the yeast, which will devour it and make the bread rise fast & flavorfully.

^ You can also use a pre-made yeast packet. Pre-made packets hold about 2 1/4 tsp. I use 2 1/2 because I like to err on the side of more rather than less. Don't skimp. Give it enough to rise.