Outdoors: Dealing with plastics and other waste


In our throwaway world, early spring can be depressing.

When we travel the highways of the Northeast, the snow-covered winter trash emerges in ugly profusion as the snow recedes. Where trash containers are ample, where pickups are frequent, as is the case in many interstate rest areas, you hardly notice the stuff. Where some officials closed rest areas and pulled collection bins out of parking areas along Route 81, by contrast, the scene resembles a Mumbai dumping area from Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.” 

The biggest problem in handling all our waste, of course, is economy of scale. We well remember the debates that took place years back in Southold about whether to pay for a local waste-to-energy plant. Unless you have enough material to make the thing pay, e.g. Islip or Hempstead, you are better off economically having your waste hauled off. This always leaves you with an uncomfortable feeling about the final destination of all that tonnage.

We’re an awfully wasteful society, and our packaging woes haven’t gotten any better. In small rural areas upstate, for example, recycling seems like a token affair, unlike the East End. In the northern tier, for example, you can recycle only two grades of polyethylene and polypropylene plastic.

Plastics, which constitute much of America’s litter, have always created headaches because so many plastic products seem to live forever with almost no degradation. If you don’t believe this, find an old spool of monofilament that’s never been exposed to sunlight or extreme temperatures and check its strength with a calibrated scale. Unless the line has been compromised by repeated stretching, it probably tests the same as it did when you first spooled up.

When I went to Europe as a technician on a summer job more than 50 years ago, I found some German mono called Super Mimicry, the likes of which I had never seen before. It had remarkable tensile strength despite its small diameter. I purchased loads of the stuff (the German mark at that time was 4:1 against the U.S. dollar) and brought extra spools home. A couple of years back I began to wonder if I should still use it to make up leader material and shock leaders for saltwater rigs. So I pulled out a Chatillon scale, tied clip swivels onto the ancient mono with some 90 percent knots and put the Super Mimicry through its paces. Sure enough, there was no detectable loss in line strength! So much for the old admonition that you should change lines every season regardless! Better advice: Check your line carefully before you discard it.

Fortunately, tackle shops and line manufacturers have long encouraged fishers like us to discard line responsibly. Lots of stores have waste bins designed to collect the infinite tangles of discarded lines. For obvious reasons, tangles of line, inadvertently stripped from reel spools, then discarded in the marine environment, can have disastrous consequences for birds and aquatic mammals.

Low-density polyethylene is used for many plastic products like the shrink-wrap that encloses vessels stored over the winter in our local marinas and boatyards. It’s composed of virgin resin material, #4 LDPE premium, which is recyclable into consumer products, but will not biodegrade in a landfill.

Recently we received a flier from one supplier in Michigan, Dr. Shrink, (address: 315 Washington St., Manistee, MI 49660) who provides dropoff and pickup service in certain areas of the country. The closest one to us is located in Ronkonkoma at KAD Recycling, One Comack Loop, Unit 6, Ronkonkoma, NY 11779 (Phone: 631-220-8935).

New this year, Dr. Shrink is looking for facilities to serve as pickup or dropoff locations. The participants buy $5 fill bags from Dr. Shrink and fill them with shrink bags only, then fill out forms for pickups so that semi-trailers can collect the plastic wraps during July. Participants can also drop off bags themselves at locations listed on a website. Those willing to participate can find details about the program at

Out of curiosity, we made a couple of phone calls and learned that the handling of shrink-wrap varies widely. In Southold, for example, Johanna at Port of Egypt told us that the firm sends its shrink-wrap to the town facility for recycling, while an upstate marina we’ve used on Lake Champlain gives its wrap to the local hauler for disposal. One gets the feeling that, were more collection sites available along the eastern seaboard and in New York (Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario, for example), they would be well-utilized since marina owners tend to opt for “green” solutions. Unlike the overall deluge of waste, the plastic containers, the excess plastic covers for consumer products, the plastic packaging that stuffs our garbage, marina shrink-wrap seems to lend itself to proper disposal. Certainly, this is a bright spot in a somewhat discouraging picture!