Plastic washes up on Maine shore from RDF bale

A bale of refused derived fuel (RDF), from a vessel carrying nearly 10,000 tonnes of RDF, fell into the water as it was being unloaded at Searsport in Maine, north-eastern USA, earlier this month.

The shipment was sent by Northern Irish waste management firm Re-Gen Waste, which said one bale of RDF was dropped into the water by the company responsible for unloading it. Re-Gen added that it has “worked diligently to mitigate” the consequences of the incident along with other companies involved.

The incident came to light after Material Research L3C – a “low profit partnership of researchers established in the State of Maine in 2019” – said residents had reported seeing “shredded plastic” washed up on shores. And, the incident has also highlighted the international export of waste for energy recovery, with the article being featured in the media in the United States and the UK.

RDF material on the shore of Sears Island (Picture: Ethan Andrews)

Penobscot

The RDF shipment was due to be processed at the state’s Penobscot Energy Recovery Company energy recovery facility in Orrington, a post from Materials Research on 11 December says.

The post adds that “some plastic bales fell into Penobscot Bay during the transfer, which local residents discovered washed up on the shores of Sears Island”.

A spokesperson for Re-Gen Waste said it was a “one-off, extremely distressing occurrence, which we have worked diligently to mitigate, alongside Sprague, Searsport Town Management and PERC.”

Basel Convention

Only a small amount of RDF has in the past been exported to the US from Northern Ireland. According to annual data published by DAERA, the Northern Irish Department for the Environment, only 74 tonnes was sent to the US in 2019, the latest dataset available. The load involved in the Seaport case sent by Re-Gen totals 10,000 tonnes.

Penobscot Bay where the RDF bale fell into the sea during a storm

Material Research says that shipments of plastic waste from Europe to Maine will be illegal under the Basel Convention as of January 2021. And, Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network (BAN), claimed the shipment would be illegal from January 1 2021 as shipments such as this are prohibited to countries which are not party to it, such as the US.

However this was disputed by Re-Gen, who said the waste to energy fuel is not ‘hazardous waste.’

“Therefore Jim Puckett’s assumption that this was ‘a last ditch dumping of waste before it becomes illegal under UK law’, is incorrect,” the company said. The company’s full statement can be seen below.

Re-Gen statement 

The Re-Gen statement in full states: “Re-Gen Waste delivered 8,000 bales (10,000 tonnes) of waste to energy fuel, onboard the MV Sider London cargo ship, to Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. in Orrington. The fuel provided to PERC, is intended to be blended with their local material to provide an optimal BTU (British Thermal Unit) value.

“The baled fuel is storable for times when they need additional fuel to stabilize operations, particularly to balance the deficit created due to nominal waste collection during the long winter in Maine. With a built treatment capacity across three facilities and resident population of 1.3 million, clearly a deficit exists in volume of feedstock available to meet energy commitments.

“One of the bales entered the water, the other was retrieved immediately onto the quay.”

Re-Gen Waste statement

“The offloading process was the responsibility of Sprague Energy Terminal, on Mack Point in Searsport. We understand that during a protracted storm which complicated unloading operations, two (one metric tonne) bales fell during the movement from vessel to quay. One of the bales entered the water, the other was retrieved immediately onto the quay.

“Subsequent to completion of unloading, we were distressed to learn that the unrecovered bale, driven by powerful winds, had caused most of the plastic to wash up on the northwest side of Sears Island.

“We have been active in the interim, working closely with Searsport’s Town Manager, Sprague Energy Terminal and Penobscot Energy Recovery Co., to ensure that every measure possible is employed, to redress the situation.”

Crew

The Re-Gen statement continues: “A crew from Clean Harbors Environmental in Hampden, was deployed to clean up the material that accumulated on the northwest corner of the Island and students from the Maine Ocean School, were mobilised to do a further sweep of the shoreline last Friday.

“The area will be monitored regularly, to ensure that if any additional material appears, it will be removed.

“For the last seven years, Re-Gen Waste has shipped 80,000-100,000 tonnes of WTE materials per annum into Europe and across the world and this is the first time an inbound port authority has experienced an offloading incident, with any Re-Gen deliveries. Ports across Europe have become accustomed to handling cargoes of bale fuels and operational techniques have been honed to prevent spillages occurring.

“This was a one-off, extremely distressing occurrence, which we have worked diligently to mitigate, alongside Sprague, Searsport Town Management and PERC”.

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