It is interesting to note how many of the world’s NGO’s are focused on spending their funding on education about the environment, not to throw out trash willy-nilly, especially plastics that end up in waterways, which also lead these plastics into our oceans. Those who live on the coast or near ports, or walk on the beach, will testify as to how staggering the addiction to plastic has become.
While the various NGO’s continue to educate people to be responsible citizens, many of these people in developing countries have other priorities of living day to day which in many cases is hand to mouth and whose focus is on survival, rather than being ‘responsible’ civil citizens. While we may think that it is only the developing world that pollutes, especially in the East, in fact the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is located off the coast of California.
Meanwhile, numerous organizations including the U.N., EU, National Geographic, WWF, Greenpeace, have put out a great deal of information on the amount of deadly floating plastic that continues to plague our oceans, having already created 5 major Gyres. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Gyre is reported to be twice the size of Texas. For those not familiar with the size of Texas, it is about 695 thousand square km, which means this gyre alone, covers an ocean surface of about 1,39 million square km. Think about it! And this, is just one of the 5 Gyres!
Image of the 5 Gyres
While trying to control the influx of plastics entering our oceans, it is clear that various groups such as Greenpeace, WWF and others do not have a united or co-ordinated strategy. Even within their own organisations, each region works on its own, with its own ‘limited’ finance and resources. Imagine what they could achieve if they had a coordinated strategy to pool their resources, yet alone IF the NGO’s decided to work together. That, would be a powerful group voice indeed!
While education of the masses is laudable, existing Gyres continue to expand, with an increasing volume of plastics entering our oceans which continues unabated, along with a growing world population.
Education is essential and must be continued, but while this education of the masses continues, can one really ignore the fact that this policy/strategy by the various NGO’s is a losing battle. One has to ask, how long has this sort of education by the NGO’s and others been going on? How successful has it been so far? Frankly speaking, it has to be called a failure, not because it is not a valid strategy, but because the Gyres continue to grow unchecked along with population growth, it seems that progress is one foot forward two steps back.
Eight of the top 10 countries with mismanaged plastic waste are in Asia
Despite the notion that developing countries’ poor lack in areas of social responsibility, it is the United States that has cracked the top 20 polluting countries, with a higher rate of waste generated per person: 5.6 pounds per person over China with 2.4 pounds.
According to EcoWatch, the average American throws away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year- including 35 billion plastic water bottles. (source: Brita) The United States ranks behind Europe (30 percent) and China (25 percent) in recycling, the study found.
One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. These include 44 percent of all seabird species, 22 percent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), it is unknown how much of the eight million metric tonnes of plastic waste entering the marine environment each year also lies on beaches, as discarded items or broken-down micro plastics.
“A whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled” according to National Geographic journalist Laura Parker.
“The study was launched two years ago as scientists tried to get a handle on the gargantuan amount of plastic that ends up in the seas and the harm it is causing to birds, marine animals, and fish. The prediction that by mid-century, the oceans will contain more plastic waste than fish, ton for ton, has become one of the most-quoted statistics and a rallying cry to do something about it.”
A new study by Science Advances stated that, of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes that has been produced since the late 50’s, 6.3 billion metric tonnes has become plastic waste. Of that, only 9 percent or 747 million metric tonnes has been recycled. The rest 7.6 billion metric tonnes of the plastic waste end up in landfills or in our oceans.
The humongous amount of plastic waste, is impossible to imagine by the average person, needs to be addressed with the objective of having a dual track; first is to educate people, with a massive indoctrination educating via television, radio, social media. The second is focusing on an equally gigantic co-ordinated approach to ‘start’ removing the existing floating plastics in the meantime.
Forty-six percent of plastics float, whereas plastic convergences in the oceans make up about 40% of the world’s ocean surfaces, where we obtain our food and other resources. It damages the ecosystem and marine animals, contaminating our food supply. With marine life ending up ingesting various forms of plastic, which in turn leads to many medical issues, other than the fact that we are poisoning ourselves, as plastic interacts with the juices in the fish’s stomach. The chemicals come off of plastic and are transferred into the bloodstream or tissue of the fish. Fish on a marine plastic diet are also more likely to have tumours and liver problems which we eventually ingest. There is no way of knowing whether the fish we eat has itself ingested plastic.
This endeavour to clear the Gyres, IF and when it is finally attempted, will take years, if not decades to deal with. Should we admit that this sort of pollution has become a never ending story simply because it is out of sight and hence out of mind?
So long as governments do not legislate plastic-making industries to contribute to the removal of the damage that is caused by the plastic industry, no action will take place. By 2020 the plastic industry is expected to be valued at $654.38 billion – Grand View Research Inc. Surely these industries from the feed stock to the final product need to be held accountable and be socially, environmentally & financially responsible in the clean-up of the mess that has been created by the introduction of plastics into our environment.
According to Doug Woodring of Ocean Recovery Alliance in Hong Kong, Taiwan places a surcharge on plastics sold on a company level which pays for the sorting, capture and cleaning and recycling. It is shocking and appalling that so many of even the developed countries such as the United States and the Europe Union among them, lack adequate infrastructure for waste management and recycling.
The discourse about cleaning up the Gyres gets diluted with the talk of a logistics chain. This logistics chain needs a joint effort, not just how put a boom out, but to collect the deadly floating plastic from the Gyres, as well as how to dispose of it in an environmental friendly way, or to convert it to an environmental-friendly by-product in recycling what is collected.
So far, there has been a lot of talk, media attention, studies by a host of entities, including universities, but little has been done to actually remove the plastic from the Gyres.
One company headed by Boyan Slat, managed to obtain financing from Boskalis and the Dutch Government on the concept of having a boom to ‘capture’ the floating plastic located in the 5 Gyres. Via a TED talk along with an elaborate demonstration, left large gaps in the presentation and did not demonstrate that the boom would be able to withstand the forces of nature in our oceans. A boom is not something new and has been standard equipment in oil spill response, as a matter of course.
The use of a boom however, with the ability to deal with gigantic rolling waves in the Atlantic and Pacific is untested. To ‘anchor’ the boom, which would also need to be extremely long and deep is questionable. With very large rolling waves, Beaufort 10+ winds or hurricanes and strong currents, this concept of a boom has been challenged by those who are familiar with what mother nature is capable of doing. The vast ocean basins, with an average depth of 3.5 km or 11,480 feet below the ocean’s surface is even more challenging.
The other aspect sorely missing in the TED presentation was how to collect the deadly floating plastic, even if the boom proved to be successful.
One equipment in the logistics chain, is the ORCA (Oil & Refuse Cleaning Apparatus) this technology is able to attack three environmental issues plaguing our oceans.
Initially the ORCA was developed, tested and sold to clean up oil spills. However, during its R&D phase it became clear that by adding innovative features, such as its unique “cyclonic” design the ORCA is ideal for many other critical – and growing — environmental issues, such as deadly floating plastic and debris as well as invasive algae.
The ORCA comes with its own hydraulic power pack, a winch to raise and lower a flotation device, its own Cyclonic Cylindrical tank for collecting up to 30 cubic feet (0.85 cubic m) of waste material, however, more interesting is the Universal Hatch CoverTM which enables the ORCA to transfer the product into a containment tank or container with as little as 3-4 PSI.
There is no machinery between the intake hose and the containment unit, making it a clean, virtually impossible to clog or jam as other existing skimmers do, causing a lot of down time.
Key advantages of the ORCA
The ORCA is a marine and land environmental cleanup machine, is self-sustained, and stand-alone once it is at a work-site providing clear advantages over other equipment used in waste recovery.
• It is virtually clog-proof, pulling oil, tar balls, floating plastic, debris straight up its hose and directly into a receiving tank, without passing through any machinery.
• Its Universal Hatch CoverTM enables the ORCA to handle large volumes without frequent and costly stops to empty and replace receiving tanks.
• The ORCA is fast: it can lift a 62lb (28k) bag of sludge 100ft (30m) vertically in four seconds.
• The ORCA is able to retrieve 500 to 1,600 barrels per hour depending on the type of oil and prevailing weather conditions.
• The ORCA is a self-contained unit, with a power pack that fits inside its cylindrical “belly” for compact transport by boat, truck or helicopter.
The ORCA technology has been vetted by ABS (American Bureau of Shipping) as well as Lloyds Register Type Approval.
The ORCA is an economical technology while existing skimmers sit in the warehouse waiting for an oil spill, the ORCA can be put to use in other applications mentioned above. A 5-minute video explains the concept www.orcaclean.com/video.