Plastic floating in the ocean might not look like a bag or bottle. According to researchers and activists, microplastics – pieces no larger than 5 mm – are being found in mass quantities in rivers and lakes, and carried by weather patterns.
Plastic Free Peninsula (PFP) is dedicated to eliminating single-use plastics in Southport, Boothbay Harbor, Boothbay and Edgecomb. The group held a public discussion May 22 at the Rotary Club of Boothbay Harbor. The event was to feature the documentary “The Smog of the Sea,” but technical difficulties prevailed and audience members were encouraged to seek it online at home.
Indivisible-Boothbay’s Barbara Burt introduced a panel of PFP members who spoke on the group’s work since PFP’s inception in March. Panelists were Nancy Adams, Helen Meserve, Abby Jones, Star Perkins, Doreen Dun, Dr. Peg Helming and Bonnie Ginger.
“We've come a long way … from 100 years ago when there used to be a joint cup or a community cup at water fountains that everybody used,” said Helming. “We have to make changes and they're not easy because plastic is everywhere.”
Adams said PFP’s name is sort of a misnomer because there is no way to get rid of all plastics in a region driven by an industry demanding quick, inexpensive consumption. “However, we figured we could at least address the three worst litterers and that is what we are doing.”
While it is important to recycle more and to reuse more noncompostable and non-biodegradable products, it does not answer the problem, Helming said.
“The answer to the problem is to eliminate single use by all of us and it is extremely difficult. Any organization you are a part of … talk to them about what they're doing to use sustainable products. Every little thing that we do makes a difference.”
To work toward abandoning the three worst littered items – single-use plastics, cigarette butts and polystyrene – PFP has a plan: testifying for state bills and lobbying local representatives; initiating local ordinances in the face of a state bill or referendum's failure; educating the public and staying current with research as a group; and recognizing businesses that have taken action to eliminate single-use plastics.
“Whether we want them or not, things are going to be happening and (local businesses) have a lot that they're going to have to do to get ready for that. So, we want to make this as positive an experience as possible,”Adams said. She said PFP has started a dialogue with Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce.
Perkins believes that with testimony to the legislature on the need to ban single-use plastic bags, the state measure will pass, as did the ban on polystyrene. The Natural Resources Council linked with Maine Grocers and Food Producers and the Retail Association of Maine to support the bill, because with a sprinkling of towns and cities throughout Maine having passed similar local ordinances, businesses are seeking consistency, Perkins said.
Meserve shared the group’s first opportunity to educate the public: A month ago, PFP had a table at Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library’s Earth Day Festival.
“... We had Abby (Jones) with her display showing people how to make bags out of T-shirts,” said Meserve.
Adams learned about this idea from the National Resources Council of Maine and PFP had instructions on hand with “tips to help you break up with the bag.”
It is one of many small steps toward achieving sustainable practice in the region and beyond, said Jones. Meserve explained The Harbor Theater, which she and her husband Hamilton help run, is trying to eliminate its use of plastics.
“I went and bought all cane sugar plates and palm dishes and wooden spoons and forks and wooden straws and now we are almost there … There are a few problems in doing this, but it's coming along.”
Dun cited a 2016 contract Boothbay Region Refuse Disposal District (BRRDD) signed with Maryland-based company Fiberight which will soon be putting its waste-to-energy plant in Hampden online.
“This new facility is introducing a whole new system to take care of garbage … The bottom line is that all of this garbage is going to be recycled and repurposed and then sold once it has become cellulose pulp, plastic fuel, briquettes, bio-gas pumped into Bangor's natural gas pipeline, and recycled plastics and metals.”
Dun said the $70 million facility plans to accept 150,000 tons of trash every year from municipalities all over Maine, and the long game is for Fiberight to accept hospital and commercial refuse. The company has also promised to reduce solid waste by 85% for the municipalities it serves, Dun said.
Locally, Helming said many businesses are already increasing environmentally sustainable practices. Among them, Helming listed China By the Sea, Newagen Inn, Congregational Church of Boothbay Harbor, The Thistle Inn and Restaurant, Shannon's Unshelled, Oak Street Cafe and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.
Panelists concluded, every little action taken on the peninsula, and every habit changed, will help make a difference.
Said Jones, “It's better when they ask you 'plastic or paper' to say 'neither' and say you have your own bag.”