Shrink-wrap recycling: When you protect your boat, think green this white winter

Programs for recycling non-biodegradable shrink-wrap from boats is a better means of disposal than having it enter into landfills never to break down.

For those who live in coastal or lake communities in Michigan, the sight of blue or white packages perched upon trailers is common, this time of year, as boats are winterized and parked or stored. The process of boat winterization – where the engine and fuel tank is prepared for a long and cold period of non-use and the rest of the boat is cleaned and covered to prevent damage – often includes the use of shrink-wrap to cover the boat. For boats stored outside, shrink-wrap use can be necessary to prevent damage, but can have negative environmental impacts if disposed of in landfills.

One of the most negative impacts shrink-wrap has on the environment is that it takes up a lot of space.  Shrink-wrap from one boat can weigh 15 pounds or more depending on the size of the boat, and with over 800,000 boats registered in Michigan in 2012, according to National Marine Manufacturers Association, there is potential for a large amount of shrink-wrap to end up in landfills. Once in a landfill, the non-biodegradable shrink-wrap will continue to accumulate and take up space without ever breaking down in the soil. The space shrink-wrap occupies in landfills could be used for other garbage, and its presence means that more landfills will be needed to dispose of our garbage in the future.

Recycling shrink-wrap is one way to prevent it from getting thrown into a landfill. In Michigan, marinas have made great attempts to reduce the amount of shrink-wrap that enters landfills by participating in recycling programs. According to Michigan Sea Grant, over 50 marinas in Michigan participated in some sort of shrink-wrap recycling program, which resulted in 115,000 to 200,000 pounds of shrink-wrap from entering landfills each year. Participation in shrink-wrap recycling by marinas resulted in $250 to $700 in savings because marinas did not have to pay for additional waste collection services. The Michigan Clean Marina Program is working to increase the number of participants in shrink-wrap recycling, and is working with county programs as well as non-profits and industry manufacturers of shrink-wrap. The Michigan Clean Marina Program is a joint effort between Michigan Boating Industries Association, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and Michigan Sea Grant (Michigan State University Extension and University of Michigan). 

For additional information on how to recycle your boat shrink-wrap or for assistance on locating a recycling facility in your area, contact Josh Gunn, Coordinator of the Michigan Clean Marina Program.

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