In November 2017, Camden residents passed an Unencapsulated Polystyrene Ordinance designed to eliminate the use of unencapsulated polystyrene in dock floats and buoys on Camden’s lakes, rivers, harbors and waterways.
Polystyrene (sometimes referred to as “Styrofoam” or “blue foam”) is a petroleum product that is often used in dock floats because of its buoyancy. However, it is not biodegradable, and when it is exposed to the elements, it fragments into unsightly, small pieces. These pieces can be found by looking along the shore of Camden’s lakes and rivers; they ultimately end up in the ocean, contributing to the deterioration of the ocean environment. Aquatic and land mammals, such as muskrats, and other organisms also hasten the fragmentation of polystyrene by forming nests in the material, both when it is in the water or when stored on land.
When ingested by birds and other marine life, the polystyrene fragments can block the digestive system, killing the animals through starvation.
To prevent this environmental harm, the polystyrene in dock floats is now encapsulated in a hard, polyethylene shell, usually black in color. Unfortunately, many dock floats today, including some of those owned by the Town of Camden, still contain the old blue foam. These floats continue to shed polystyrene fragments into the water, as is obvious from the pieces missing out of existing unencapsulated floats.
Camden’s polystyrene ordinance bans the use of unencapsulated polystyrene in new docks and dock repairs. By the end of 2022, all unencapsulated polystyrene must be removed from existing docks. The ordinance can be found on Camden’s website, by clicking on Town Government > Ordinances and Policies > Chapter VI – Miscellaneous Ordinances (Page 40-42).
For do-it-your-selfers, there are many sources of encapsulated polystyrene floats including Don’s Outboard Services in Lincolnville (e-mail: email@example.com), Hammond Lumber and some of the big-box stores.
Locally, Monroe & Goodwin Contractors (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) and Don’s Outboard Services do dock construction, modifications and repairs. Custom Float Services (www.customfloat.com) in South Portland also provides complete dock services.
New 4-foot long encapsulated polystyrene dock floats typically cost between $100 and $175, depending on their width and depth, as well as the quality of the float. The floats must be warranted by the manufacturer for at least 8 years (preferably longer) against cracking, peeling, sloughing, and deterioration from ultraviolet exposure and physical trauma. One difficulty with dock repairs is that the wooden supports of existing docks may need to be modified to accommodate the encapsulated dock floats.
Once the unencapsulated polystyrene floats are removed from the docks, they should be taken to Midcoast Solid Waste for disposal. They can be placed in the same bins as the yellow bags, and the cost should be no more than a dollar or two per float. If you have old floats or other pieces of polystyrene on your property, they should also be taken to Mid-Coast Solid Waste to prevent the continued shedding of polystyrene into the environment.
Roger Rittmaster is chairman of the Camden Conservation Commission