Shrink-wrap leftovers are new sign of spring

Environment: After boat owners began widely using the plastic material to protect their craft in winter, Anne Arundel County came up with a way to deal with the tonnage. It's being recycled.

May 04, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The burning of wintertime socks in Eastport, a decades-old ritual to bid the cold season a defiant good-bye, is no longer the lone harbinger of spring, that favorite season of Chesapeake Bay boaters.

Now there's shrink-wrap recycling.

Recreational boat owners around Annapolis who have traditionally shielded their craft from harsh winter weather with custom-made canvas or tarp covers increasingly are switching to cheaper plastic wrap, encasing their boats like packages of frozen chicken in the supermarket.

The marine industry and Anne Arundel County officials have become alarmed about the environmental consequences of tossing about 41 tons of the plastic wrap into county refuse bins every spring. So they are out to start a new tradition at this time of year -- recycling.

"We stopped throwing aluminum cans and glass bottles in trash cans years ago," said Beth Kahr, executive director of the Anne Arundel Marine Trades Association. "When you consider the magnitude of what's going on here, it's a little ironic."

In March, Kahr's group worked with the county to place shrink-wrap recycling refuse bins in three marinas.

Kahr, who also is administrative director of the state marine trades association, hopes to put refuse bins into other

Maryland counties with significant seafaring communities. Next year, she would like to see recycling in the boating communities of Southern Maryland and parts of the Eastern Shore.

Shrink-wrap isn't new to the maritime industry. New boats are delivered swaddled in the stuff. But about five years ago, Annapolis marina managers say, boat-owners began testing shrink-wrap for winter protection.

Plastic covering at least three times thicker than regular trash bags is bound around a boat and sealed up nearly air-tight with a heating gun, said Dave Gohsman, general manager of Port Annapolis Marina.

"It's really like putting something in a Zip-Lock baggy," Kahr said.

The material costs about $8 to $10 a foot. The owner of an average-sized boat -- about 35 feet long -- would pay $300 to $500 for a shrink-wrap covering that can be used for one season. In comparison, a canvas covering can be used over five to 10 years but it can cost about $5,000 to $6,000.

"Even at $500, in five years, that's only $2,500," said Doug Byra, store manager at Port Annapolis Marina, who installs shrink-wrap for people who store their boats there. "Let's face it, canvas will last, but you also have to remember that it can rip, and it's expensive to fix."

Bob De Young, general manager of Mears Marina in Annapolis, said boat owners also like that shrink-wrap is more form-fitting than a canvas covering. Even a custom-made canvas covering has openings such as zippers and holes and does not always exactly fit the contours of the boat.

Canvas "is not as weather tight as shrink-wrap might be," said De Young, who worked with Kahr on the recycling program when he saw the number of shrink-wrap converts at Mears Marina double to 12 in the past two years. "There aren't places where air can get through, dirt and whatnot. The protection is tremendous. More and more people are looking into it."

Then there's convenience, which boat owner Scott McSween said is "definitely worth it."

"We used to use blue tarp, and it's quite a task," said McSween, a Gaithersburg banker who has owned a boat for 10 years and converted to shrink-wrap this past winter. "It's heavy. You've got to build a [wooden] frame over the boat to put the tarp on top of it. My wife and I would do it ourselves, and it's quite an undertaking. This is much easier."

Last fall, all McSween had to do to winterize his 34-foot powerboat was call Port Annapolis Marina, which sent a crew out to wrap his craft in one day. When spring arrived, the same crew removed it for him.

With the material more and more popular, the need to recycle has intensified. With a $1,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Kahr started the program that takes the plastic to a Giant Food warehouse in Jessup, where the shrink-wrap is bundled into 1,200 pound balls.

The balls are sent to Manner Resins, an Annapolis company that recycles it into garden edging, plastic bags and plastic lumber.

Kahr estimated that five tons of shrink-wrap will have been collected in Anne Arundel County by the time the program ends next week.

"Anytime you can spare the environment some impact," she said, "it's a moral obligation to do so."

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