``For so long, so much of what we dumped in the ocean was degradable, whether it was tin cans or paper products or whatever,'' says Flis Schauffler of the Maine Coastal Program. ``But some of these plastic items we're throwing away out there are going to be around 400 years from now.'' For that reason, she's particularly pleased that a new international treaty banning plastic dumping went into effect on December 31, 1988.

Known as Annex V of the MARPOL Protocol, the treaty prohibits all dumping of plastics, including garbage bags, household items, synthetic ropes, and fishing nets, in coastal or offshore waters.

It permits the dumping of:

Floating, packing, and lining material 25 miles beyond shore.

Paper, rags, glass, metal, bottles, crockery, and food beyond 12 miles.

Paper, rags, glass, or food particles smaller than 25 millimeters beyond 3 miles.

Maine Coastal Program officials acknowledge that the act will be difficult to enforce. One value of the coastal cleanup project, they note, is that it allows officials to map areas of concentration and perhaps find ways to trace debris to its source.

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