Every fall, many boat owners protect the hulls and topsides of their boats with polymer plastic shrink wrap when the vessel is hauled out for winter storage. The shrink wrap creates a form-fitting, water-resistant cover that protects the boat against snow, ice and rain.
The following year, in late spring or early summer, the cover is cut away and the boat is re-launched so its owners can enjoy it during boating season. Then, come the fall, the cycle begins again.
Thousands of boats across the country that are stored outside every winter are shrink-wrapped this way. In addition, boat manufacturers shrink-wrap hundreds of new boats before loading them onto trucks to deliver to dealerships and customers, to protect them from dirt and debris on the road.
But what happens to all of that plastic shrink wrap after it is removed from the boat? Happily, not all of it is hauled away with the trash. Many conservation groups, boating communities, boat dealerships, and the shrink wrap manufacturers themselves have partnered with each other to develop recycling programs that ensure all this plastic will not end up in a landfill or worse, in a river or the sea. Instead, shrink-wrap can be recycled to make a number of different products, including decking material and outdoor furniture.
Do you shrink-wrap your boat? If so, here are six steps you can follow to recycle its plastic cover.
- Ask your marine service professional if it is possible to cut and remove your boat’s shrink-wrap cover in such a way that it could be used again next winter.
- If your boat’s cover cannot be reused, research organizations that can help you to recycle it. Here are some examples:
- Michigan holds a statewide annual Recycling Run for shrink-wrap boat covers.
- In the Cape Cod, Massachusetts area, Woods Hole Sea Grant partners with facilities that accept clean shrink wrap from April 1 – June 30
- Clean Ocean Access maintains a list of shrink-wrap collection centers in the Northeast.
- If you live in a community that is not served by one of these programs, contact your local recycling facility to ask if they accept used shrink wrap. You may need to identify the type of plastic film that was used to wrap your boat. For example, Dr. Shrink, one of the leading manufacturers of shrink wrap, utilizes #4 LDPE plastic film, which the company says is accepted at most recycling centers. The color of the shrink wrap also may be important; some locations only take white shrink wrap.
- Most recycling centers will not accept shrink wrap with any attachments on it. Once the cover is removed from your boat, cut off any zippers, doors, rope, strings, wood or anything else that isn’t shrink wrap and discard them separately.
- The shrink wrap also has to be clean and dry before recycling. Make sure there is no dirt, mud, leaves or other debris on the plastic. After rinsing it off, spread it out in the sun to dry on both sides before packing it.
- Fold the clean, dry shrink wrap into a width of between four to five feet. Then, starting at one end, roll the plastic up like you might a sleeping bag. Then, use a strip of shrink wrap to tie the roll. Never use rope or string. Alternately, Dr. Shrink also offers EZ-Fill Bags that hold approximately 800 square feet of plastic shrink wrap each. These bags make a convenient way to pack and transport used shrink wrap for recycling.
If you reuse or recycle your boat’s shrink wrap cover each year, you can help to keep dozens of pounds of plastic out of your local landfill. That way, when you’re out on enjoying the water during the summer, you can feel good about helping to protect the marine environment around your boat.