Many boats stored outside are wrapped in a specific kind of shrink-wrap plastic. It's intended to be recyclable, but the machinery at Coastal Resources of Maine in Hampden cannot accept it. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Plastic used to cover boats presents a recycling challenge

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Recycling is a difficult subject to keep up with, even more so for boat owners and businesses choosing to shrink wrap boats for winter storage.

All the towns of Mount Desert Island are moving towards solid and recycled waste going to the Coastal Resources of Maine (CRM) Fiberight facility in Hampden. But the plastic material used to wrap boats and hay bales does not work in the machinery at that plant.

“Boat wrap is an industry-wide challenge for waste management,” said Shelby Wright, the director of community services for CRM “because of the size, the sheeting and the materials contained in it that make it really hard to handle.”

Some businesses are doing what they can to keep the plastic out of the waste stream. Ryan Donahue, who owns Ocean House Boat Storage in Manset, said the recycling market for the material has collapsed. His company’s practice is to gather the shrink wrap material “until it becomes a large enough pile or there is an option to recycle it again,” he said, adding “there has never been a real great solution for the long term.”

Fewer than a dozen boats at Ocean House are shrink-wrapped. “We’re all trying to turn the tide on plastic and keep it out of the ocean,” Donahue said.

Over at JW Boat Company in Hall Quarry, they were able to recycle the shrinkwrap that came off boats at their yard until this year. For the time being, they are sending it to the landfill.

“It’s not a residential item, generally it’s a commercial item and they’re disposing of a lot of it,” said Ben ‘Lee’ Worcester, owner of Eastern Maine Recycling in Southwest Harbor, which is where trash from Tremont, Southwest Harbor and Mount Desert is gathered before being trucked off the island.

“We’ll be delivering most of the sheet plastic to the landfill,” he said.

Ben Rogers founded Maine Mobile Shrinkwrap based in Penobscot in 2005. As the name implies, Rogers travels throughout Maine and parts of New England to shrink wrap boats at the end of the season, typically from mid-October to mid-November.

The company uses an average of 200 rolls of plastic that weigh 200 pounds apiece, covering about 850-1,000 boats.

“We’ve committed to recycling it because that’s the right thing to do,” said Rogers. “The material is meant to be recycled … When we can get rid of it, we get rid of it and when we can’t, we store it.”

Rogers has a baler at his business, which at least makes it easier to transport the used plastic to be recycled, even though it’s not always marketable. When he can, Rogers said he collects the used shrinkwrap from the boatyards he works with in order to recycle it.

Everyone agrees that keeping the plastic clean and separated from other materials is a challenge. Shrink-wrapping involves ropes, wooden braces, vents and other items that need to be stripped from it before it can be accepted for recycling.

“That, to me, is the biggest hurdle in the process,” said Rogers. “To take them apart is kind of a practical matter. It’s an ongoing challenge.”

While he wraps boats for the winter in a short time frame in the fall, removing the plastic to ready a boat for the season can happen anywhere between March and August. It can be an operational challenge for boatyards in the busy spring season to take time to separate, bale or store the plastic.

“Coastal Resources of Maine is working on a pilot program for next spring,” Wright said. “It’s something that we’re working on internally to come up with a way to properly dispose of that material.”

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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