Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Syria update... there's more to do!

Dear Friends of Syria-

An overdue update. I just checked and our first container is due to cross into the Mediterranean tomorrow and the second one is just leaving Rhode Island on route across the Atlantic after picking up her final cargo.

Two weeks ago, we sent out our second container to Syria, successfully loading an estimated 45,000 lbs of donated humanitarian and medical supplies in roughly 3 hours, thanks to an incredible turnout of motivated volunteers of literally every age. 
























And here's a great image of the CHRHS band room before and after.































FROM EMPTY TO OVERFLOWING IN UNDER 2 WEEKS
That photo is deceiving though because the donations have not stopped and we have the best kind of problem right now. Piles of donations, from hygiene products to clothes to stuffed animals and strollers all overflowing from the Mechanic Street porch. We also have a few residual things left on 64 Bayview Street (like an amazing maternity bed and some random medical equipment) and there are at least 9 exam tables and other equipment waiting for pickup in various places. Oh yeah, and we need to move our loading dock from the high school (the one we built).

NO CURRENT PLAN FOR STORAGE, but we're not quitting!
Here's the rub.... WE NEED SPACE. The current backup plan is to buy a 53ft storage trailer (about $2000-2500) and find a good place to park it (we're waiting to hear back from the American Legion Post on Pearl Street). We'd pay a fee to park the container somewhere and use a church, school, business, or home for bi-weekly one day sorting sessions and then move everything back into the container. We'd also love to share the wealth and expand the operation by partnering with a church or organization that helps local people. We already lend crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs, but we'd love to do more of that.

THE VISION FOR THE FUTURE
There is so much opportunity to turn this project into something EVEN BIGGER. I know it seems daunting, but we never imagined we'd get this big and reach so many people and the opportunities to save life saving equipment and materials from scrap metal, landfill, or the incinerator, is still bigger than we can absorb. That's right, the offers for donations are coming in all the time and things are still being wasted. Spend a day at the transfer station in Rockport and watch what goes into the hopper and scrap metal, and then remember that the SWAP SHOP isn't even open on Saturdays or the winter. What if we could accept an even broader range of things and be in a position to respond to all kinds of requests from local organizations. We could furnish apartments for veterans or people leaving homeless shelters. We could be a resource for local teachers and social workers. There is so much generosity out there and so much need, but we need a better system for making sure all of these resources are helping as many people with the greatest need.

Check out the www.thewishproject.org for inspiration if you're interested in helping our project grow. 

When I began this process, I was deeply moved by the realization that all of our little efforts matter and add up to something much bigger than we imagine. I've spoken to so many of you who I know have been inspired too. We are not done yet and we either need to raise more money or find more space. This is the number one thing holding us back. 

Anyway... here are a few more photos from the second container:
Other assorted photos:
A huge thank you to all the amazing donors, lifters, sorters, thinkers, and cheer leaders. Thanks to you, there are many people in Syria who will know they are not forgotten and our shipment will provide hope and tools that will literally save lives. It doesn't get better than that.

















Nothing quite like knowing you've given someone a little hope.

-Alison


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Don’t burn your trash. We can do better - PenBay Pilot

ATTEND YOUR ANNUAL TOWN MEETING to VOTE NO to BURNING YOUR TRASH
Dear Friends and Community Members : There is an important meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, May 24, at 6:30 p.m. in the Washington Street Conference Room in the back of the Camden town office. This will be a public hearing and informational session on the issue of solid waste which we will be voting on at town meetings this year in Camden, Rockport, Hope, and Lincolnville. 
Having spent an enormous amount of time researching this issue, I am very concerned that the Board of Midcoast Solid Waste Corporation (aka the dump/transfer station), is recommending an option that is not only going to be more expensive but also carries a much heavier carbon footprint than the alternative.
Trash is a complicated issue, believe it or not, and it takes extensive research to understand all the factors. Jim Guerra (transfer station manager, lifelong composting enthusiast, and pioneer recycler) has been very patient with me, explaining the intricacies of anaerobic digestion and the climate benefits of converting our trash to biogas rather than burning it to make electricity. 
However, our boards have not done the extensive research that many other municipalities have done and have failed to listen to experts like Jim in our own community. They are choosing to drive our trash almost twice as far away out of an unreasonable fear that the newer and much more environmentally friendly facility won't work properly, even though there are hundreds like it in Europe. It will be the first of its kind in the United States and has been extensively vetted by everyone from private investors to independent engineers. And did I mention it will actually cost us less? It's a rare and exciting opportunity.
Anyway, please consider attending the meeting tomorrow. For those who want to learn more, below is a letter I wrote to Select Board members from the 4 towns, detailing my reasons for opposing the continued incineration of our trash.  
Also, the Belfast City Council just voted unanimously to go with Fiberight. The archived video is a wealth of information for anyone interested. Here is the link. Scroll to item 10B. 
And in case you're still reading this far down, here's a free press article by Andy Obrien detailing the issue: http://freepressonline.com/Content/Special-Features/Special-Features/Article/Towns-to-Vote-on-Whether-to-Burn-Their-Trash-or-Convert-It-into-Biofuel/52/78/44736 
*************
Dear Members of the Boards,
We have a big decision facing us about where to send our trash after 2018. I write to you as a Camden resident, as an advocate for the environment, and as an engaged member of the community. I serve on the Camden Budget Committee, the Camden Conservation Commission, and volunteer maintaining the town Facebook page... so I know it's a busy time of year for you all. There have been an overwhelming amount of meetings lately, and if I feel a little weary from all of them, I can only imagine how you all feel. I appreciate you hopefully taking the time to read this. Who knows, maybe it will save you some research. 
I've been attending Mid-Coast Solid Waste Board meetings for the past two years. I've only missed a couple, and feel I have a good understanding of the factors that were considered in the lead up to the MCSWC board recommendation to go with Ecomaine. I've also been attending meetings of the Hampden Citizen's Coalition and volunteering to maintain their website (the group of citizens that was formed to advocate for the rights of Hampden residents living near the now closed Pine Tree Landfill). You might say that solid waste has become a bit of an obsession for me and I actually began this process quite opposed to Fiberight out of a concern for the people of Hampden. But, as a Mainer and as an environmentalist, I know that Maine is in dire need of regional solution for waste disposal other than landfilling. I've spent many hours attending DEP meetings in Hampden and questioning and arguing with Jim Guerra, our representative to the MRC, and I've come to feel as enthusiastic about the possibility of Fiberight as he is. Jim is a lifelong environmentalist who worked closely with the other members of the MRC to come up with an option that is for once both the cheapest and the most environmentally friendly.  I've learned enough to know that we have a long way to go, and there are no easy answers or silver bullets, but for the first time in many years, we have choices and what we decide matters. This is why I believe that sending our trash to Ecomaine and withdrawing from the Municipal Review Committee and the 186 towns we now partner with is the wrong decision for the Midcoast, for Maine, and for the environment. 
Although the MCSWC board took this effort seriously, and I know it was a grueling decision for them, I don't think there was enough time or public participation to fully consider the options. There are a few things that I don't think were fully discussed by the MCSWC board, or perhaps misunderstood. I've broken my thoughts  down into a few different areas to make it easier to digest...  
BASIC OVERVIEW:
PERC is an incinerator that uses our trash to make electricity. Our contract with PERC has been overseen by the Municipal Review Committee for 25 years. The MRC is a group run by a volunteer board of directors, all municipal representatives elected by the member towns (our elected member is Jim Guerra). The problem with PERC is that they sold the electricity at above market value and now that the subsidies are running out, their business model doesn't work. The MRC has spent the past 5-7 years anticipating this issue and working on alternatives. They vetted many different proposals and eventually chose Fiberight, a company that uses mechanic biological treatment and anaerobic digestion to create biogas. Their process first pulls out as many recyclable materials as possible (things that still make it into our trash despite our best intentions). Then they use a special system for digesting the leftover material to create biogas which is sold on the open market. Member communities will be entitled to rebates based on the profits, which are expected to be significant. The MCSWC has voted to recommend that we break our ties with the MRC and go with Ecomaine instead, based largely on apprehension about the technology being new to the United States. Ecomaine is also an incinerator, although with a slightly more efficient and environmentally friendly business model, some would say.

INCINERATORS ARE THE PAST, ANAEROBIC DIGESTION IS THE FUTURE
Much of the discussion at the MSCSW board level has centered around apprehension that the Fiberight process won't work. It's understandable that they would feel this way. It has taken a lot of energy for me to understand it over the past two years and read about the similar things that are going on in Europe. But the reality is that Fiberight's biggest investor is Covanta Energy, the biggest waste-to-energy (incineration) company in the country. The biggest incineration company is investing 80 million dollars in a trash to biofuel plant. They have vetted the Fiberight technology and are funding the building of the plant because they know that it will work and they will make money from it, even if it takes a bit to work out the glitches. Yes, there is a risk. As critics have pointed out, Maine will be the first to use this exact process on such a scale, but since when have we been afraid of going first? Anaerobic digestion is not new, and across Europe, the process of turning waste into biogas is a well established part of the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here are some of the main benefits I see for the environment:

  1. Anaerobic digestion is like composting without oxygen under controlled conditions. Much of our waste stream is made up of organic material. Separate collection of food waste in a rural state like ours may come with a big carbon footprint, and some people still won't want to do it. Food scraps do not burn well in Ecomaine's incinerators but Fiberight's process will use anaerobic digestion to turn this portion of our trash into biofuels. 
  2. Displacing fossil fuels: Biogas is generally considered to be a carbon-neutral source of energy because the carbon emitted during combustion was "new" plant based carbon that was already in the atmosphere, as opposed to the combustion of fossil fuels which burns carbon that had been sequestered for millions of years, and releases it into the atmosphere. Thus, replacing fossil fuels with biogas cuts down on GHG emissions associated with energy production.
  3. Fiberight's sorting facility will add to existing recycling programs by pulling out and baling the recyclable materials that people are still throwing away. Watch a video of the process at work in the demonstration facility.

CARBON FOOTPRINT MATTERS
Although I'm thrilled to see that the debate is centering around which choice is the most environmental, by a great project that was the best choice for Portland, and not for us. Environmentalists have long been critical of incinerators, and while they've improved, no one would argue that they are an efficient way of producing electricity. The air emissions they create are still the subject of much concern (considerably greater than any air emissions from Fiberight). Here's a link explaining some of the issues: https://www.ecocycle.org/files/pdfs/WTE_wrong_for_environment_economy_community_by_Eco-Cycle.pdf To think that we would be willing to pay extra money and increase our carbon footprint with the longer hauling distances for the environmental benefit of incineration is a bit laughable from an environmental perspective.
I've attached a proposal from Fiberight which spells out how we can partner with them to create a carbon neutral recycling/transfer station (see attachment) 
ECOMAINE IS NOT A REGIONAL SOLUTION. THERE IS REAL POWER IN BANDING TOGETHER WITH OTHER TOWNS TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS.
Ecomaine is a facility currently operating at capacity. They take in mostly municipal waste from their member towns and also about 40,000 tons of commercial waste. They've been hit hard by the diminishing price of recyclables. Revenue is down about 3 million dollars, and for them, it makes sense to replace as much commercial waste as they can with municipal waste.  They can charge a higher tipping fee. The MRC towns represent about 180,000 tons of trash annually and the Fiberight facility needs about 150,000 tons worth of trash to operate profitably. This means that if Ecomaine succeeds in getting 40,000 tons worth of towns to sign up with them, it may mean the Fiberight facility can't be built. This will reduce the options available to the whole region. By sticking with the MRC, we maintain municipal oversight that protects our interests as they always have and we invest in a solution for sustainable waste to disposal in our entire region. 
FIBERIGHT WILL SEND THE SAME AMOUNT TO THE LANDFILL AS ECOMAINE, WITH MUCH LESS AIR EMISSIONS
Ecomaine often mentions that they reduce the waste they take in by 90%, only landfilling 10% of waste by volume. The key here is that they refer to volume whereas the rest of the solid waste calculations are always done by weight. 10% by volume translates to 20-25% by weight, which is about the same as the Fiberight process. The big difference is that Fiberight will have a fraction of the air emissions that an incinerator has. 
COST OF HAULING EXTRA DISTANCE
The bottom line is that it is going to cost us more to go to Ecomaine. It is considerably farther away, and with the hauling rates we've been quoted, it will be about $80,000 in additional fees annually. The trouble is that gas/diesel prices are quite low right now. These hauling fees will only increase. When oil prices rebound, so will our hauling costs.
EDUCATION PROGRAMS NOT REALLY FREE
One of the things the MSCWC board was impressed with w​ere​ the education programs from ecomaine that we can hopefully use to help educate the community and reduce our waste. I too loved the model that is working well for Portland. However, the education programs rely entirely on us switching to single sort recycling. This may end up making sense for us in the long run, but it is going to be cost us, and it will cost us more with ECOMAINE than with FIBERIGHT. Currently, we actually make money some years on our recycling program, but Ecomaine will charge us $38/ton to process our recycling. That doesn't include the cost of hauling the material which is $32/ton. Current Ecomaine member communities deliver their recyclables to the facility for FREE, but they will charge us the private hauler rate. Essentially, we will be subsidizing the Portland area waste disposal program. We are of course free keep doing what we do with recyclables, but ecomaine's education programs won't be useful to us. 
WE DO NOT NEED ECOMAINE TO DO EDUCATION PROGRAMS
There are education program curriculums widely available and we could implement them for without going through Ecomaine. Here's a link to a proposal from the Maine Resource Recovery Association, an organization that is already doing education programs in Maine that supports the Fiberight proposal. They have worked with us for years helping to market our recyclables. They are the go to resource for recycling in Maine and have programs available to boost participation no matter what direction we decide to go with our recycling (single sort vs staying the way we are).
WE SHOULD BE INVESTING IN A SOLUTION FOR OUR CONSTRUCTION DEBRIS. OUR LANDFILL IS FILLING UP FAST AND IT'S EXPENSIVE
The conversation about where to send our trash centered around all the waste reduction we could implement if Ecomaine comes and trains our communities how to recycle and compost. It's a nice idea but the options that have worked for Portland to reduce waste have been single sort recycling and curbside composting, and those may not be our highest priorities. Composting is great, don't get me wrong, but we have very limited space here at the transfer station and it's hard to imagine a curbside compositing program taking off in our rural areas. People do this at their homes and that makes lots of sense. This is something people are willing to pay for in urban/suburban areas only. Where we should be focusing our energy is on reducing what goes into our own landfill. We should be composting our yard waste, not allowing it to rot in our landfill and produce methane. We should dedicate a space for sorted construction debris so that reusable lumber and other things can be sorted and perhaps even marketed. Our landfill is going to close eventually and we'll have no where for construction debris to go. At the same time, it will continue to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for pumping leachate and a variety of other things due to the environmental hazards it presents. We should be investing extra money in things like this, not in trucking our household waste extra distance to Portland. 
IN THIS CASE, WE SHOULD TRUST THE EXPERTS AND STICK WITH THE GROUP. 
As a community group that cares about the environment, I hope that we will look beyond our own little bubble and see ourselves as part of a larger state that needs a regional solution for our waste. Sure, we could pay the extra money so that Ecomaine will take our trash and kick out the commercial trash we'll replace to the nearest landfill, but if we all make decisions like this, where does that leave Maine? 
I appreciate you considering these things as you make your recommendation. Here are a few links that may be of interest to you:
Here's an example of an MSW facility in Europe with similar technology:
South Thomaston voters just decided not to go with their Solid Waste Board's recommendation of Ecomaine. Convincing residents to pay more for something has to come with very clear environmental benefits, in my opinion. This article explains some of their reasons for choosing to stay with the MRC:
Profit sharing information on MRC:
Thanks to all for your time and consideration. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Maine shouldn't have to take trash from other states

My interest in the Maine waste stream began a couple years ago when I read an article about cancer cases among some Hampden residents who live near the now closed Pine Tree Landfill. It made me realize that many of us on the coast have gotten used to sending our trash inland and letting someone else live next to it, and I felt a little embarrassed. No one has ever proposed a state owned landfill or incinerator in Camden or anywhere close to us. In Camden, we busy ourselves fighting against ambulance stations and rehab clinics for the rich and famous, while in Hampden they fight against mountains of trash (some of it ours), and the leachate, odor, and uncertainty that goes along with it. We have it pretty good here on the coast and I decided the least I could do was start to educate myself whenever possible about responsible waste management in Maine. I've attended meetings, argued at board meetings, read articles, studies, and proposals. I've learned enough to know that we have a long way to go, and there are no easy answers or silver bullets, but for the first time in many years, we have choices and what we decide matters.

For about two years, ever since I read that article about Hampden, I've been attending meetings of the Hampden Citizens Coalition, led by Bill Lippincott, and I volunteer to maintain their website. When I met them, they were focused on making sure that Casella properly monitored the landfill that Hampden residents had fought against for 25 years and we all assumed that it would be some other town's turn to receive the region's special waste, construction debris, and incinerator ash. It seemed like a cruel joke when the Municipal Review Committee proposed Hampden as the site for Maine's new waste-to-energy partnership with Fiberight, a company that proposes turning Maine trash into biofuels.

As a friend of Hampden, I believe these folks have served their time and I don't like the idea of sending our trash to them again, which is why I was prepared to oppose the new facility. But, as a Mainer and an environmentalist concerned about our carbon footprint, and after much research and criticism, I've come to feel hopeful about what Fiberight can accomplish. I agree with other experts in the industry that the technology stands a good chance of reducing our carbon footprint, displacing fossil fuels, and keeping a higher percentage of useful materials out of our landfills. Yes, there is a risk. As critics have pointed out, Maine will be the first to use this exact process on such a scale, but since when have we been afraid of going first? Anaerobic digestion is not new, and across Europe, the process of turning waste into biogas is a well established part of the plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The alternative is business as usual, and as a Mainer (and an environmentalist) I don't like that this means a system where other states send their trash to Maine to be burned or buried.  I suspect I'm not the only Mainer who doesn't want Massachusetts sending its trash here, but few Mainers realize that this is exactly what has been happening. Some of it just gets buried in state owned or commercial landfills because companies like Casella have found creative ways of making this legal and profitable, but some of it comes here because we need it, or at least our incinerators do. For almost 30 years, a group of 187 Maine towns, represented by the Municipal Review Committee, has been locked in a contract with the Penobscot Energy Recovery Center, an incinerator that turns our trash into electricity. The problem is that we don't make enough trash for PERC to operate profitably, so they have to import about 100,000 tons a year from out of state.

Yes, it sounds awful, but this system has actually served us fairly well. Financially, it was a good choice, and from an environmental perspective, it was certainly better than the alternatives at the time, since almost everyone agrees that incinerating our trash is better than landfilling it.  

But technology has changed and so have our choices. We now have a chance to do something new and better. Our contract with PERC is expiring at the same time as some important subsidies. The incineration of our trash creates electricity that is sold at artificially high rates, keeping our waste disposal fees relatively low. The MRC, which is controlled by an elected board of volunteer directors, was the entity that negotiated and monitored the agreement with PERC on behalf of the towns. As the end of the subsides drew near, they worked hard to find a way of making PERC a sustainable option. This is a group of 9 volunteers who oversee a couple employees. They are busy people who already have demanding jobs in municipal government. It certainly would have been the easiest thing for them to simply go along with PERC, but it became clear that there were less expensive and more environmentally friendly options available, and the MRC ultimately selected Fiberight.

Here in the Mid-Coast, we are lucky to have a representative on the MRC who is both an environmentalist and a seasoned expert with a lifetime of experience in waste management and recycling. Jim Guerra, who currently serves as the facility manager at the MCSWC transfer station in Rockport, has a background in chemistry, and was a pioneer in the recycling industry long before the rest of us thought it was cool. Jim, along with other volunteer board members, has spent hundreds of hours reviewing, proposing, tweaking and presenting the best options available for our towns. They have made these decisions and recommendations in meetings which are open to the public and have been soliciting the input of experts and stakeholders since they began several years ago. Each step has been well documented and communicated on the website. Jim is the only one I know personally, but many of them have been volunteering their time, after hours and on days off, for much longer than Jim, trying to do right by the towns that elected them. They deserve our appreciation for doing a job that is more important to each of us and to our planet than we tend to acknowledge. I imagine that most people who study new proposal carefully and alongside the alternatives will agree.

Here are my top reasons for supporting the Fiberight plan, but take a look for yourself.

  1. No more importing out of state waste. To run at capacity, PERC’s 25 megawatt incineration plant needs more trash than the MRC's 187 Maine towns produce, so they import about 120,000 tons of waste (or 40% of the total) from out of state. As a Mainer and as an environmentalist, I believe we can do better than a strategy that requires us to truck trash in from Massachusetts and burn it here in Maine.
  2. Anaerobic digestion is like composting without oxygen under controlled conditions. Much of our waste stream is made up of organic material. Separate collection of food waste in a rural state like ours may come with a big carbon footprint, and some people still won't want to do it. Food scraps do not burn well in PERC's incinerators but Fiberight's process will use anaerobic digestion to turn this portion of our trash into biofuels.
  3. Displacing fossil fuels: Biogas is generally considered to be a carbon-neutral source of energy because the carbon emitted during combustion was "new" plant based carbon that was already in the atmosphere, as opposed to the combustion of fossil fuels which burns carbon that had been sequestered for millions of years, and releases it into the atmosphere. Thus, replacing fossil fuels with biogas cuts down on GHG emissions associated with energy production.
  4. Fiberight's sorting facility will add to existing recycling programs by pulling out and baling the recyclable materials that people are still throwing away. Watch a video of the process at work in the demonstration facility.

*** I am trying to get back in the habit of updating this blog about the humanitarian work I do, but I've been busy! You can follow our efforts at Facebook.com/mainesyriarelief and be sure to check out www.nudaysyria.org ... I am very proud to serve on the board of directors of this incredible organization that has inspired me beyond words. For now, I needed somewhere to publish this article which deals with a considerably more local topic. Resource management, recycling, and responsible waste disposal is another topic near and dear to my heart. There will always be a connection between alieviating human suffering and managing what we reuse and throw away. Waste less, give more.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Introduction to salvaging shrink wrap for temporary shelters.

This blog entry will be completely overwhelming and way too detailed for most of you. I apologize to anyone subscribed to this blog who may not want such a detailed explanation of how to use recycled shrink wrap for refugee shelters. This is intended as an informational post for my volunteers and for others interested in replicating the project...

As many of you know, I've been following the crisis in Syria for the past several years, and thanks to an organization called NuDay Syria, I've been able to translate my feelings of horror and frustration into a few meaningful acts. For the first time in my life, there's a way to send physical items to people living through the worst humanitarian crisis we've seen in a generation. In my mind, the ability to see the horrors unfolding in real time on social media combined with the ability to actually send things that I've touched with my own hands... well, it eliminates every excuse that might justify our failure to act. It has also catalyzed a certain obsession with trying not to waste anything that might be useful to Syrians. And that's where the shrink wrap project came from. I won't go into all the details of how I got started... you can watch the videos for that, but it's enough to know that we are throwing out massive amounts of highly durable plastic every year. Plastic that does an incredible job protecting fancy yachts all throughout the harsh Maine winter. When it comes off, the vast majority of it is still in very good condition and can easily be turned into temporary shelters for people. All it takes is a quick google image search for "internally displaced tent syria" or something similar and it becomes abundantly clear how useful shrink wrap could be for people, especially those inside Syria who can't get to one of the nicer refugee camps in Jordan or elsewhere. 

I'm in my second year of the project now and I'm getting lots of great feedback and interest from people who want to help, which is great because I need a LOT of help, but I'm running out of time when it comes to explaining the process to everyone. What follows is a somewhat detailed tutorial of the process I use to sort,  fold, and prepare the recycled shrink wrap for shipment. 

For those who want a little more background on the project, you can check out these videos and links.

Video that Josh Gerritsen made about the project:

Short video that I made when I first started this which explains my rationale and basic process:

Here's a recent press release that the Dr. Shrink Company sent out to their customers, encouraging them to donate the ends of their shrink wrap rolls our to our project:

If you want to follow my efforts on Facebook, become of a fan of Maine Syria Relief .... It's basically just an extension of NuDay Syria's page for people that live in Maine. You can find NuDay Syria's official facebook page here. It is updated regularly and is a good way to follow all the amazing things that the organization is doing, but more on that later. I use my house as a drop of location for everything from shrink wrap to medical supplies, gently used clothing, food, diapers, etc... NuDay Syria has a warehouse in New Hampshire and the containers leave from there. 

OK... this is what I'm going to have people read before helping process the shrink wrap at my house, and it may be useful for others interested in expanding the collection in different areas. 

SUMMARY
  1. Check for holes and thin spots.
  2. DRY
  3. Clean
  4. Cut off overly hardened and bulky ends
  5. Rolled as TIGHT AS POSSIBLE.

It's useful to think about where the shrink wrap comes from. Every piece will be slightly different. The bow and the stern often have overlapping parts that get shrunk and melted altogether, making it take up a lot of space in the container. Other parts, depending on the shape of the boat, might be too distorted and oddly shaped to be very useful for shelters in Syria. Each piece should be evaluated, but you can often tell by looking at the covered boat itself, whether or not the shrink wrap that comes off of it will be good quality. All 3 of the above boats look pretty ideal. 



Most of them will have this nylon strapping/rope welded into the bottom edges. This is what helped secure it to the boat. I leave all of this. The rope is extremely strong and in some cases the entire boat cover, complete with these ties in places could be used as a rain cover for an existing tent at an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp in Syria. Even if they decide to cut the plastic to be better suited for a certain design, they can salvage all of this super strong rope. If you look at pictures of temporary shelters online, you'll see that rope is always an important part. Try not to cut this rope any more than you have to. 

 This just shows you what the edges look like on the other side. 

This part at the end should be cut off so that it's easier to roll it up very tightly. 

 This is a zipper door. Many of the covers have them because they allow access to the boat during the winter for repairs, etc. I leave them in place. In Syria, they can always cut them out and relocate them to different places on the tent if they want. 
 These are vents that get slipped into a small cut made in the plastic. They are extremely helpful and important because they allow for ventilation. Otherwise, condensation forms on the inside of the plastic and can be a bit of a tropical greenhouse... very wet. Even if these fall out, they should be collected and sent along with the covers. 



Next comes folding/rolling. I double it over in half lengthwise, and then fold it again, and roll it up as tight as possible. The tighter you roll, the less space it takes in the container which is enormously important! Every inch that is taken up by wasted air and loosely packed plastic is an inch that can't be used for something that may save someone's life, whether that be food, medical supplies, a blanket, or more shrink wrap. 

We cannot send dirty, moldy, wet plastic on a container. It runs the risk of creating a moldy environment for the rest of the container which could be disastrous. Sometimes it's worth it to clean off the shrink wrap, but sometimes not. Don't waste a bunch of time cleaning and drying this if you have a whole pile of good clean stuff. If you just need to dry it, the best bet is usually a bunch of towels and it doesn't take as long as you might think. The picture above is an example of something that is probably not worth our time. 

Another thing you have to watch out for is shrink wrap that has these darker grey patches. Often times, these areas are paper thin due to the plastic being "over shrunk" with the blow torch heating tool. If there are a bunch of areas like this on a cover, it's not worth it to send. We want to only send plastic that will last a long time. If it has a couple holes, but the rest of the cover is really good, I repair it with donated shrink wrap tape. Amazing stuff that is used a lot by the people who put these covers on.

At the end, the rolled up plastic can be tied off with a little of the nylon strapping/rope that will inevitably be littering the area. 



These photos are just for fun. I love making test shelters trying to experiment with different prototypes and designs that might be useful for Syrians. They also work well to keep the shrink wrap dry between shipments. 

One of the many test shelters I've built..... also works well to store the shrink wrap because I have to dry it before it goes on the container ship.

scenes from last summer





Recycled shrink wrap, repackaged and on the shipping container.

Some of the pieces are REALLY big and we always lay them out, repair any holes, and dry them. Occasionally, I decide the overall quality is too low and the plastic is too thin or too distorted to bother with. I don't want to send anything to Syria that isn't useful.

The covers usually come complete with vents and often zipper doors. It's fun to make test shelters on my lawn and then I even have a place to store my shrink wrap between shipments.

Another test shelter.


This is how it often arrives.



​Shrink wrap being used as hospital walls in Northern Syria and a special thank you note they taped to the wall for me.


​Shrink wrap being turned into a shelter at a new refugee camp in Northern Syria.