COVENTRY — Some 1,300 pounds of plastic were collected during an event in Coventry this weekend, saving what would otherwise have wound up in the Central Landfill so that it can one day be used to make new products.
“Any material that we can keep out of there and give a second life is going to help the residents of Rhode Island preserve the life of the landfill,” Max Kraimer, program manager of Clean Ocean Access, said Saturday, as residents arrived at the Coventry Transfer Station to unload the sheets of plastic film that had protected their boats during the winter.
Hosted by Clean Ocean Access in partnership with the Town of Coventry, the free event offered residents a chance to dispose of their shrink wrap in a sustainable way.
One after another, drivers pulled into the transfer station to unload the low-density polyethylene that had been used to cover their motorboats, pontoons, jet skis and even outdoor furniture. In all, 54 pieces of shrink wrap were collected from 40 residents during the drop-off event.
Based in Middletown, Clean Ocean Access was founded in 2006 with the goal of improving ocean health, focusing largely on beach cleanups around Aquidneck Island. The focus has since evolved to combine marine debris removal with pollution prevention through education and engagement.
The nonprofit’s aim, Kraimer explained, is to act today “so that future generations can enjoy ocean activities.”
The event Saturday was part of the Shrink Wrap Recycling and Life Cycle Analysis Project, an initiative started by Clean Ocean Access in 2019 to raise awareness around global plastic use while piloting a domestic recycling stream.
Whereas items like shrink wrap were once sent to processing facilities in China, China’s 2017 National Sword Policy has since halted the import of most plastics and other waste, increasing the chance that the material will end up in landfills or incinerators.
Around 7.6 billion pounds of shrink wrap was manufactured in the United States in 2018, according to Clean Ocean Access, but only 3 percent was recycled. Through its shrink wrap recycling program, the organization hopes to address that by sending used shrink wrap to a recycling facility closer to home so that the material can eventually be reused by manufacturers.
“The spirit of this program is about finding new avenues, domestically, to recycle the material,” Kraimer said. “We’re actually questioning what recycling means."
Clean Ocean Access has partnered with TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based company that collects non-recyclable waste and turns it into raw material — in this case, the shrink wrap gets turned into post-consumer resin.
“We’re collecting all this material,” Kraimer said, holding onto a glass jar filled with little white beads that had once been shrink wrap, “and now that we have this post-consumer resin, we’re looking for a manufacturer to make it into the next line of products.”
Ideally, he said, the resin will be made back into shrink wrap or some other marine product, creating a “closed-loop” system that would result in less low-density polyethylene being produced in the United States each year.
So far, the project has shown promise.
Between 2019 and 2020, the effort resulted in more than 140,000 pounds of shrink wrap being turned into post-consumer resin.
The hope, too, is that programs like the shrink wrap recycling project will help people become more conscious of their consumption behaviors.
“We’re thinking about getting the consumer more aware of, when they buy something, what that material is made out of,” Kraimer said.
And an event like the one held Saturday in Coventry, he added, is a great way to help residents to see just how their own contributions to the cause matter.
“Especially when people see the truck,” Kraimer said, gesturing toward a moving van filled with large, folded-up sheets of plastic, “they can really see that the wrap that they’re bringing is making an impact.”