For about two decades now, boats tightly swaddled in #4 low-density polyethylene (LDPE) shrink-wrap have been a common sight in marinas and service yards around the world, especially in wet and cool climates. Shrink-wrap is eminently practical as protection against rain, sun, dirt, or corrosion and even as a flame retardant. But like plastic bags, salad boxes, or paper cups, it’s a single-use item. Removing it at the beginning of the boating season inevitably brings up the question of disposal and shrink-wrap recycling.
For all its practicality (shrink-wrap is also used in industrial applications, disaster reconstruction, or as a building wrap), it is not biodegradable. Depending on the individual chemical properties of the various shrink-wrap types, it can either float or sink if it ends up in the water, thus posing a hazard to marine life. To ensure proper disposal, Michigan-based Dr. Shrink, a manufacturer of shrink-wrap products, encourages in-state customers to participate in the Recycling Run, an initiative the company has offered for 12 years.
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“Shrink-wrap recycling has been difficult in the past due to limitations on how to collect the used material, getting marine dealers to accept that recycling can be paid for by their customers, finding recyclers that are financially stable and who will be in business for several years, and finding a way to make the whole recycling program pay for itself so that it’s rewarding for everyone,” said company founder Mike Stenberg, who hopes to expand the initiative to other states. “We are now making inroads by working with the Michigan Recycling Coalition, Clean Ocean Access in Rhode Island, the Massachusetts Marine Trades Association, and Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institution].”
In this program, which is also supported by a grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), Dr. Shrink partners with MRC and the Bay Area Recycling for Charities (BARC) in Traverse City, Michigan. Asked about tangible results, Stenberg said about 40,000 lbs of used shrink-wrap were collected in 2020 as part of the larger effort to divert plastic from landfills. “Last year we captured the most plastic to date, at 35 tons,” noted Katie Fournier, MRC project coordinator. “For perspective, that equates about 202,090 kWh of saved energy and 1,050 cu yds [802.78m3] of space in the landfill.”
Participants must register by June 1, 2021 and order so-called EZ-Fill bags with zip ties for closure, which hold approximately 800 sq ft (74.32m2) of shrink-wrap and cost $7 apiece from a participating provider or directly from Dr. Shrink. The fee, Dr. Shrink says, supports the cost to collect, transport, bale, and recycle the plastic wrap. “This is cheaper and more valuable to the economy and the environment than having the material delivered to and disposed of in a landfill.” The company also suggests that marinas, boat dealers, and shrink-wrap installers could charge customers a recycling fee “similar to the costs of recycling batteries or used oil.”
Purposes for Used Shrink-wrap
What becomes of it after recycling? “Our virgin resin shrink-wrap is fairly desirable to recycle, and it can be mixed with lesser-grade materials to make a variety of products such as plastic lumber, garbage bags, construction sheeting, agricultural sheeting, etc.,” Stenberg said. “A typical processor of shrink-wrap would accept the collected material, clean it, and then either grind it or deliver it to a larger facility for further recycling.” But this can change depending on market shifts, as Fournier pointed out. “All recyclers know that there are very few waste streams that remain constant, especially as global recycling markets have changed drastically. In the past, the material has been used to make new products from postconsumer plastic that include plastic bags, guardrail blocks, lawn edging, plastic banners, decking, and benches.” What can be made from recycled shrink-wrap in the future, Fournier said, “is dynamic, as we recruit new local markets with enhanced capability to recycle the material in-house.”
Preparing for recycling is a simple three-step process the company summarizes as “Keeping it C.0.0.L.” The acronym stands for it’s Clean, has ZERO accessories, ZERO moisture, and is Loosely packed. First, the vinyl film must be cut above the perimeter band around the entire boat. Next, after removing all vents, zipper doors, strapping, and buckles, the wrap comes off and should be kept as clean as possible. And finally, the EZ-Fill bags are loosely stuffed with the wrap before being sealed with the provided cable ties and stored upside down (to prevent rainwater ingress) for pickup. Within a week of registration, participants will receive confirmation that includes information about pickup schedules or drop-off locations.
To qualify for direct pickup, yards and marinas must meet the 15-bag minimum. Pickups will be conducted throughout July and August; earlier service is available by request. Customers with fewer than 15 bags might have to consolidate their bags by dropping them off at a nearby collection location such as a marina, or a storage or recycling facility.
Dr. Shrink, 315 Washington St., Manistee, MI 49660 USA, tel. 800–968–5147, email email@example.com
Michigan Recycling Coalition, 602 W. Ionia St., Lansing, MI 48933 USA, tel. 517–974–3672, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.