Monthly Archive for November, 2012

That Time of Year

It’s going to be a white Christmas here in Gloucester, and I don’t mean snow. I mean the white plastic shrink-wrap used to winterize pleasure boats these days. Until recently, boats used to be covered in cloth canvas or reusable blue vinyl canvas. Boaters threw them over their Grady-Whites and their Rhodes-19s after they were pulled from the water in the fall, to protect the decks and cabins from the elements though the winter.  Rope was fed through grommets along the edges and pulled tight. Empty milk or Clorox bottles were filled with sand or water and used as weights. Now it’s a white disposable sheath that comes off a roll, and someone, either the owner or a boat yard worker, uses a heat gun to fit the plastic to the boat, releasing fumes and hot plastic scraps that blow off with the breeze.


The shrink-wrapping of the boating industry


Is shrink-wrapping that much better than a tarp that it’s worth creating tons of non-biodegradable polyethylene (LDPE) every year, which takes work and energy to recycle, if it is recycled at all?  I doesn’t seem so. It’s not cheaper. Over the life of the boat, it seems considerably more expensive than a reusable cover. It doesn’t ventilate as well as a tarp either, if at all. It looks like a mold and mildew incubator. Not only that, shrink wrap keeps the boater out of the boat for the winter. If you break the seal to do maintenance, or leave your cell phone inside, or just want to say hello to your darling, you have to create a heat-sealed patch to close it up again. To access a tarp-covered boat, you remove a milk jug and slip on under the canvas. As for durability,when the wind blows, as it will, small branches become air-borne missiles and make puncture wounds on the wrap.  So much for water-tight, but at least now it’s ventilated.


A maze of single-use plastic.


That’s its winter life. What happens in the spring?  The average pleasure boat is smothered in 14 pounds of shrink wrap, and there are tens of thousands of vessels along sea coasts, rivers and lakes across the country that get zip-locked for the winter. Where does all this non-biodegradable and environmentally toxic waste go? Some boatyards offer shrink-wrap recycling on site, for a price. Some shrink-wrap vendors sell bags to mail the used wrap back to them, for a price. In my town, Gloucester, the company that contracts our garbage pick-up and recycling will accept the wrap at their facility, for a price. Then it gets trucked to a plant to be processed into plastic lumber or some other material, all of which consumes energy.  What is the price of that?


A White Christmas

And what if it’s just a whole lot easier and cheaper to find a dumpster or a secluded bit of woods or ocean for all that plastic? What happens then? The plastic is non-biodegrable, it doesn’t disappear, but it does go through changes over time, in a landfill or the sea. Sunlight, water, and mold act on the material to break it up into smaller and smaller bits. As it breaks down it releases chemicals, some of which mimic human hormones, like pseudo-estogens, and these seep into the water table. A fish was caught recently in the Potomac River with eggs inside its testicles. What is the price of that?


The Ghost of Christmas Future


Americans like their things nice and tidy. I suppose that’s the appeal of shrink-wrap. And it’s new. We like new. The transformation from tarp to wrap seemed to happen quickly and all at once, so it was either one hell of a sales pitch or everyone was trying to keep up with the Jones, or both. Unlike all the plastic boat wrap that’s already been absorbed into the environment, maybe this is a fad that will someday go away.




All Roads Lead to Plastic

Well, a lot of thoughts lead to plastic. I was reminded of that when I read Martha Cooley’s blog about coming upon a beggar along an upscale shopping street of Milan, Italy. Her thoughts turn from the beautiful merchandise to the beggar, to what happens in the end to all the beautiful merchandise and the plastic retail bags they were carted home in. Floating in the Pacific Garbage Patch, is what. From beauty to trash, from coveted to disposed.

Here in Gloucester, our minds don’t have to wander to plastic, plastic rolls up on the shore every day, hand-in-hand with the beauty of the coast. Hurricane Sandy coughed up a few net balls on the beach recently, the twisted entanglements of fishing filament, nets, and whatever else, dead or alive, it can grab along the way.

Fifteen foot net ball or “slug”

Close up of net ball coughed up by Hurricane Sandy

This particular ball is more slug-shaped than ball-shaped, but they come in all shapes and sizes, all dangerous to sea life. They roll on the bottom of the ocean collecting more fishing line, more nets, sea turtles, crabs, lobsters, and other creatures of the deep. They often start out as a single net that has washed off a ship’s deck. These are called ghost nets, nets that go on fishing without us.

Close up of fishing line.

Sometimes when you study something long enough, no matter what it is, even a skin sore, it becomes interesting, even beautiful. I have to admit, the net balls have a certain beauty of their own. Beauty, danger and death, it has always been thus.




The Next Big Thing Project

Welcome to the Plastics and Water Don’t Mix blog. As a rule, I’ll be posting about just that, plastics in the oceans, a problem not just for the sea life, but for human life. But every now and then I’ll be writing about my upcoming novel, Float, which falls under that topic. Eventually, maybe everything will fall under it, but in the meantime, just as I was about to launch the blog, I was tagged for “The Next Big Thing” by fellow Benningtonian Susan Barr-Toman, whose book, When Love Was Clean Underwear, has the best title ever.  “The Next Big Thing” is a literary chain letter. Susan tagged me when she answered her questions about her current work, after she was tagged by Andrea Jarrell, so now I answer those questions and tag more writers. What fun! I don’t know what happens if anyone breaks the chain. Maybe the e-version of the book gets corrupted.

At any rate, I’m going to tag fellow Ashland Creek Press authors John YunkerMidge Raymond, & Jean Ryan.

Now the questions.

What is the working title of your book?

No longer just a working title, Float will be published by Ashland Creek Press in February 2013.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

 As with most of my work, the title came to me first, so I played around with the different meanings of the word float. Suddenly I had a character, Duncan Leland, who was sinking in his business and marriage, so I brought him to the water, thinking something float-like might occur there. What’s floating at the beach? Plastic. What washes up everywhere? Plastic. Seagulls are always at the beach too, so I put the plastic and the bird together, slipping a six-pack holder over the poor creatures’ head. Duncan saves the bird by removing the plastic, and I realized that was the book: The impact of plastics in the ocean on the natural world, of which we, and Duncan, are both part of the problem and the solution.

What genre does your book fall under?

 Eco-fiction, an emerging sub-genre where ecological consequences help move the plot along.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

 Colin Farrell for Duncan; Minnie Driver for his estranged wife, Cora; Meryl Streep for his crazy mom. Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Osbert, the mysterious financier, and Frances MacDormand for Josefa, the seagull rescue character. Will Ferrell for Slocum, the slightly deranged chef.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Float is the story of one man’s attempt to save his business (a fish dehydration plant) and his marriage (to a marriage counselor), while attempting to develop a jellyfish alternative to the plastics that are killing the oceans.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Two years. I worked on short stories, here and there during that time, but mostly wrestled with Float.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

 Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaason and A Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

The word Float. I wanted to explore the meanings. To float on water or on air. To float a loan or to float a check. Flotsam — debris in the water — is from French flotter, to float, and god knows there’s lots of floating garbage in the book. A float can be a glass ball used to suspend a fishing net and a float can be the flat, wooden part of a dock. In a psychological sense, to float through the day like a jellyfish is to have no direction in life (think Duncan). Floating can be a good thing, as in the ability to float over stress in order to survive.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

For those readers who suffer under the weight of a crazy mom, know that they are not alone. Duncan’s mom has not left her octagonal house in ten years, even as she controls his brother’s sailing career by the use of an elaborately painted floor, all the while sip, sip, sipping on her mulberry wine.