Ship Spills Recycled Plastic on Maine Island, Residents Help Clean Up

The material bound for the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in Orrington fell into the sea during an offload

NBC Universal, Inc.

For days, Sears Island in Maine has been a destination for professionals and volunteer cleanup crews trying to help after a mishap at a nearby ship terminal.

Spilled recycled plastic and other byproduct packed for delivery to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company has been washing up on the island in Searsport.

Recently, the material bound for the energy plant in Orrington fell into the sea during an offload.

According to the plant's manager, Henry Lang, the material is from Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom and is part of a first-time shipment of its scale to PERC.

"We were pretty horrified," Lang said.

He explained that he heard some of the arriving material which was "unrecyclable tailings from a commercial recycling program," had ended up on the island this past Wednesday, though PERC does not oversee that offload.

Ships in Searsport are offloaded by Sprague Energy which operates the terminal there.

In a statement emailed to NECN and NBC10 Boston, Shana Hoch, a spokeswoman with the company confirmed that "during transit, some of the cargo was damaged and that damage was realized when the cargo was lifted from the ship to the dock."

According to Hoch, two bales of material fell into the water "and the materials dispersed."

Hoch also said that Sprague has hired a professional cleanup team from a company called CleanHarbors, which has since been on site since the mishap.

On Friday, dozens of students from the Maine Ocean School in Searsport, a public magnet high school for kids interested in careers in fields like marine biology or merchant marine shipping, arrived to lend their gloved hands to the effort as well.

"The town manager from Searsport called me on Wednesday with this offer for our local kids to get involved with the cleanup and be of our curricular ties it seemed like an obvious fit," said Kylie Bragdon, executive director of the Maine Ocean School.

For about two hours, students from the school sifted by hand through seaweed stretched all the way down some of Sears Islands' beaches looking for sizes of shredded and sliced plastic and some paper, most of which were the size of small coins.

"The pieces are a lot smaller than I anticipated," said Noah Hall, one of the Ocean School students who was making his way through some of the seaweed piles.

While the work was tedious, Hall and other students said they did not harbor any ill-will towards anyone in particular and had no qualms about spending a day on the beach cleaning up a mess they did not cause.

For them, more microplastics getting into the sea is a serious problem they wanted to prevent from getting worse, regardless of how much effort they had to expend.

"It doesn't matter whose fault it is, it's going to get into the ocean," Hall said.

Some parents of the students who joined the cleanup said they agree.

"I think we forget sometimes to give young people the credit of wisdom and there's not a lot to be gained by blaming but there's a lot to be done by fixing," said Susan Kjellberg, one of the parents on Sears Island on Friday.

"It's easy to give in to despair but giving into despair is not going to move us forward," she said. "Every little bit well make a huge difference."

According to Hoch's statement, "Sprague will be requiring air bag bladders," on ships that make future voyages with the recycling byproduct should they happen.

In total, 8,000 bales were taken off of the ship that arrived at the port.

The company has also committed to keeping CleanHarbors on site until the company has completed its cleanup work which could be Sunday or Monday, depending on weather conditions.

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