Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Plastic vs. Ocean Cleanup Array

"Argh! Ocean Pollution!"~Trapped Seal
When I first learned about The Ocean Cleanup Array, I was also made aware of a few other things. One, that despite my best efforts at recycling plastic, a very large amount (32 million tons of plastic waste in 2012 alone, according to the EPA) is generated and not recycled. Two, this waste does not just sit in landfills, or continually bluster around the semi-empty parking lots of run down malls, but ends up in the oceans. In fact 90% of the trash floating around the ocean is plastic. This plastic gets caught up in the ocean currents, and currently has created 5 great garbage patches across the world. 

5 Gyres

Let me preface this next part with a more thorough definition of "Garbage Patch." According to the National Ocean Service, these are not patches in the sense that they are islands of plastic (yet a quick Google search reveals such trash heaps do exist) but rather have a more 'soupy' consistency, as the plastic begins to break into smaller pieces, it still remains but as smaller chunks circulating around. Okay, now that a more accurate image is in your head, let us continue.

The garbage patch most talked about is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which resides roughly between California and Hawai'i. Plastic builds up due to circular moving ocean currents called Gyres, that overtime draw in plastic waste until it reaches the clam center of the Gyre where the plastic builds up as it cannot leave once drawn in. Obviously, this is terrible for marine life, and has large repercussions for coastlines as it engorges with more waste.

Pretty 'Great' isn't it?

All of this begs the question, besides recycling all of the current plastic in use, how the heck does one go about cleaning up this disaster of a mess? Well that was the purpose of my post, dear friends. This brings me back to The Ocean Cleanup Array.
The "Manta-Ray" Like Ocean Cleanup Array
I stumbled across this concept while watching a very excellent TED talk given by the inventor, a then 19 year old Boyan Slat, who described his giant manta-ray-like device designed to carefully collect these plastic bits, without collecting the wildlife that somehow still manages to live within the waste. This idea completely blew me out of the water (pun intended). Not only does this device carefully collect the plastic, it doesn't ensnare wildlife with nets or filters, and, perhaps most important to some, it can turn a profit, as all of the plastic it collects is recyclable.

So, if it is so awesome, why don't we have fleets of these things cleaning up our oceans? For one, it is still being tested. According to their website, they should have a preliminary report of how effective and 'feasible' this project is by the end of this year. For two, they are in need of some added brain power to this already well-endowed brain trust. If you or a friend's brain is available, they highly encourage you to apply. Thirdly, despite many estimates from other qualified brains, we really don't have a good idea of exactly how much garbage has built up over the years. How deep is it? How dense? We don't quite know, which poses a little bit of a problem when trying to create a plan in cleaning it up. Regardless, the Ocean Cleanup Array is by far the best plan that I have encountered (besides everyone doing their part to recycle at home) and I just really wanted to share it.

Hopefully, in the future I will have a follow-up post about the feasibility report that is anticipated to be released come the end of 2014.