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Shrinking their environmental footprint

Committee explores boat shrink-wrap recycling options

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published January 31, 2020

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — In the gray doldrums of winter, only hearty fishermen are even thinking of venturing out onto Lake St. Clair, and the boats that sprinkle the lake through spring and summer are mostly hunkered down for a deep winter’s nap under a blanket of shrink-wrap.

Come May, however, the plastic will be pulled as boaters anticipate the season of fun on the lake and begin to get their craft ready for the water.

But what becomes of all of that plastic?

Some owners will reuse the shrink-wrap that has kept their boat safe for months, but after a few years it loses its sturdy structure and has to be tossed. Other owners only keep the shrink-wrap for one year’s use.

Mike Droogleever, of St. Clair Shores, is the director of the St. Clair Shores Waterfront Environmental Committee’s annual Nautical Coast Cleanup and an avid boater. He said he was pleased that nearly 400 people came together in 2019 to help clean up the shores of Lake St. Clair.

Pondering the question of, “What do we do with all of the shrink-wrap?” while having that many people working together to clean the lake got him thinking, though.

“There is no program around here that exists” to recycle all of that plastic, he said at the 2020 Waterfront Environmental Committee meeting in January. “Why can’t we do that? We have a day to do that.”

Droogleever said that he is looking into how the committee can collect discarded boat shrink-wrap for recycling during the 2020 Nautical Coast Cleanup. He is confident that they’ll be able to make the program a reality.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said in an interview Jan. 28. “There are plenty of these programs that exist already. What we’re trying to find (is) a local solution.”

He said there are regional recycling programs for shrink-wrap around the country, but no “strong effort that exists here, that’s surrounding Lake St. Clair.”

Droogleever said that he has been approached by a local marina owner pledging support for the program.

“It’s just a matter of organizing it, and (there is) no better time than something that’s right along the theme with what the environmental committee does.”

The greatest challenge to recycling efforts, he said, is contamination. Volunteers will be needed to remove objects from the shrink-wrap plastic like zippers and nylon straps.

“It’s being responsible with what we do with the community,” Droogleever said. “Boating is a pleasurable activity. We can do that.”

He said he’s anticipating that they will have “overwhelming participation,” but for the first year, the committee is only focusing its collection and recycling efforts on the one day. This year’s Nautical Coast Cleanup is scheduled for May 17.

Waterfront Environmental Committee Chair Mark Balon said that he thinks the plan will be synergistic.

“Primarily because when we’re doing our cleanup, we’re around a lot of boats and a lot of people,” he said, adding that he thinks it will be good for boaters to see what it is the committee does each year. “Those people could also come and see what we’re doing, cleaning up the lake, cleaning up the environment, and start participating.

“These are good things that we’re trying to do, and we’re trying to get more attention to our programs.”

“We’re just going to give it a go and build off our experience,” Droogleever said. “There are other solutions that exist. We can ship this stuff across the state, but I’m trying to avoid that. We can do this locally.”

The committee has also had a program to collect and recycle monofilament lines used by anglers for the past seven years.

Peter McInnes, a member of the committee and the chair of the monofilament recycling program, said that birds, turtles, ducks and other wildlife can get tangled in discarded line, which can last up to 600 years in an aquatic environment. The special collection containers are made of PVC pipe and curved to prevent birds from grabbing the line out of an open waste container.

The committee has recycling stations at different locations in St. Clair Shores, including Veterans Memorial Park and the Blossom Heath fishing pier.

Balon said every member of the Waterfront Environmental Committee works hard to keep the lake clean and the annual meeting is a time to share their work with the community.

“They wanted to accentuate all these positive programs since the committee has been involved with being good stewards for the lake for almost 20 years,” Balon said. “Many negative stories seem to get most of the attention, so they want to continue to educate the community of these good programs and how everyone can help celebrate Lake St. Clair.”