The U.S Navy is investigating how more than three
dozen clear plastic-coated disks of compressed trash, apparently from
one or more naval vessels, washed up on northern Outer Banks beaches in
Beachcombers were initially baffled about the source of the large – and
smelly – disks, but conveniently, one of them contained a document
clearly visible among the trash with a seal that read, “Commander Naval
Surface Force Atlantic.”
“These disks appear to be the same type of
compressed plastic disks Navy ships produce routinely as a means of
safely storing plastic waste aboard,” Ted Brown, installations and
environmental public affairs officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said in an email, responding to provided photographs of the mystery disks.
Personnel on Navy ships, he added, are prohibited from throwing the disks – or any plastic waste – in the ocean.
“Our crews are trained and instructed to separate all plastic products
for processing,” he wrote, “then retain the disks onboard until they
can be properly disposed of ashore.”
Brown said that a message would be sent to operating units to reinforce the policy.
“The Navy is committed to being a good steward of the environment and is currently investigating the incident,” he wrote.
At least 40 of the large disks were seen on the beach late last week in
Carova, an off-road beach community on the northernmost end of the
Currituck Outer Banks Another half-dozen or so were also found in late
April about 40 miles south in Kill Devil Hills.
Jeff Kelly, owner of Corolla Beach Music, said that
the tide was very high and rough when he first came upon the disks on
the Carova Beach shoreline Friday. In a span of about three miles, he said
he counted 26 disks, but he estimated there were another 15 or so
farther north. Later that day, the 20-inch diameter disks were
scattered all over the beach up into the dunes.
closely at them, Kelly said he could see that some of the plastic
covering was breaking apart. The disks appeared multi-colored – because
of their contents – and were partially melted. Kelly said he had never
seen such disks on the beach before, he said, and didn’t know what they
“I had no clue,” he said. “I could see that there was
trash in them, and I guessed they were from a ship, but I didn’t know
if it was a cruise ship or some other kind of ship.”
On the same day, four empty white plastic barrels with orange paint
markings, each about the size of a 55-gallon drum, also washed up,
Kelly said. Each had holes in it, as if shot at. Another such barrel
was found on the beach in Kill Devil Hills. It remains unknown
whether they are related to the disk spill or whether there is a Navy
Leidos, a “solutions-based” American defense company headquartered in
Reston, Virginia, has a contract with the Navy to provide the Plastics
Waste Processor service, according to the company’s
website. The technology compresses shipboard plastic waste and
incidental material, and uses a heat sealer to seal odor barrier bags
used to store the plastic disks on the ship.
With 17 of the disks stashed in the back of her pickup, Heather Cremia
of Kill Devil Hills bemoaned that her vehicle reeked of a dumpster.
Cremia, a self-described “avid beach cleaner,” said she wanted to help
solve the mystery of how such processed litter had ended up on the
Outer Banks beaches.
Cremia said that just the putrid odor alone proved that the plastic
coating on the disks was breaking apart, meaning all the trash could
have soon been loose in the environment.
“God knows how many are like that, dispersing into the ocean,” she
said, poking at the edges of trash sticking up from a disk. “I’ve seen
a lot of marine debris, covered in barnacles. This has no barnacles.
This hasn’t been out there for that long. And these float. How many of
these are floating out there?”
Most of the disks in her truck had been collected from Carova. Cremia
said she had found the most deteriorated disk on the beach in Kill
Devil Hills on April 27. She said she plans to contact the Navy
to show them the disks.
Looking at the labels visible inside the disks reveal that Navy sailors
have a taste for food that could be in any college dorm room cupboard.
There’s Welch’s Fruit Snacks, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, Cup ‘O’
Noodles, Crystal Light drink powder, gummy worms candies, Lay’s potato
chips, containers of coffee creamer, granola bars, plastic bottles and
“It’s all junk food,” Cremia said, laughing.