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07/05/2019

Lungs of the earth

The oceans can be referred to as the ‘lungs of the earth’, more so than trees. They produce between 50-80% of our oxygen and consume more than 25% of carbon, however, to do this the oceans are heavily reliant on a thriving marine eco-system.

Currently there is over five trillion pieces of plastic littering our oceans, this waste accumulates in five major ocean garbage patches – the largest being the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. This is located north of the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California and incredibly holds more than half of the world’s plastics in this one area. The United Nations have labelled the plastics in our oceans a “planetary crisis”.

[The Great Pacific Garbage Patch | North Pacific Ocean]

Plastic does not decompose. Plastic is made to last, and this is the one undeniable fact that is at the core of the problem.

Believe it or not, every plastic item that has ever been made, still exists today. Incredible. Whether this has been recycled into another plastic product, broken into thousands of micro plastics, consumed by marine life or lay dismally at the bottom of our oceans – the frightening fact remains the same – plastic is dangerous to us and the environment. It is estimated today that 67% of the seafood humans consume today, contains plastic. If you are a regular seafood eater that means you could be eating up to 11,000 pieces of plastic a year – an alarming thought I’m sure you will agree.

The cruel fact of the matter is that we have no need to create more plastic, so why do we continue to do so? We must learn to use the plastics currently circulating in our environment in a sustainable and responsible way by maximising recycling and minimising further production. It is time to understand the dangers of our unintentional negligence (ignorance is certainly not bliss in this instance), it is time to educate, and empower before it’s too late.

We appreciate plastic is critical for many safety, sanitary and health preservation’s around the world, however as ‘Alliance to End Plastic Waste’ rightfully says “they hold a place in our world but not our environment!”.

Our greatest natural historian world leader (and national treasure), Sir David Attenborough once said “The oceans are the richest, most diverse, most beautiful, most exciting, and the least known of the worlds eco systems”, so why would we want to continue to destroy this treasure and everything that lives within it.

We found one organisation’s story pretty inspirational ‘The Ocean Clean Up Project’, a non-profit organisation founded by Dutch Inventor Boyan Slat, which has worked to develop a new technology to rid the world’s plastics. With over 80 members of staff, they have carried out extensive research to find a long-term solution to address the global scale issue with a vengeance.

The Ocean Clean-Up Projects key facts:

Their story:

In 2011, 16-year-old Boyan Slat was on a family holiday when he decided to get his scuba diving licence. What he saw whilst he was underwater was more plastic bags than fish – this inspired him to ask the simple question: ‘why can’t we clean this up?’ Upon returning to school, Boyan took the opportunity to do some research into the evident plastic waste problem we faced. When on holiday in Greece, he experimented with ways of collecting plastics. Boyan wanted to help but didn’t quite know how to tackle the mammoth scale of waste present. He decided to contact several universities and after heavy research it was estimated that there will be 7.25 million tonnes of extractable plastics in our oceans by 2020 – to make matters worse, this is only the top layer, delving deeper would uncover even further horror.

Their Solution:

Innovation! Boyan and the team, at the Ocean Clean-Up Project came up with the basic concept of using long floating barriers that trap plastics from freely floating away.

The ocean currents are constantly in motion, causing the plastic to drift in circles. The team saw this as an advantage by not going after the plastic but allowing the plastic to come to them.

However, they quickly realised that their floating clean-up system and the plastic itself were both travelling at the same speed, therefore never actually allowing the waste to be caught. Their solution? Using different speeds between each water layer. Both the system and the plastic are carried by the current, however, wind and waves propel the system only as the floater partly sits above the surface. This enables the system to move faster than the plastic allowing it to be captured.

Effectively the company have created a coastline, where there is no coastline. A 600m long floater sits on the surface of the ocean and a three-metre skirt prevents plastics from escaping underneath. The plastic therefore becomes trapped and unable to float away due to the buoyancy. Marine life can also safely pass beneath the system due to the skirt creating a downward flow. It is designed to capture plastics ranging from millimetre’s in size up to large debris including discarded fishing nets. The system naturally adopts a ‘U’ shape with the current, which enables the plastic to concentrate towards the centre of the system, where it can be easily extracted and stored before transferring to land to be recycled.

The Ocean Clean-Up Project plan to deploy a fleet of 60 systems for five years, estimated to clean up 50% of the garbage patch. By 2040 the team plan to have contributed to an impressive 90% plastic reduction.

To put this into perspective it would take 79,000 years to achieve this statistic by simply using boats with netting, not to mention the millions of pounds spared and the removal of harmful netting trapping our beautiful marine life.

Once the plastic is collected it is taken to land where it is recycled into high value materials. The Ocean Clean-Up Project will partner with B2B companies and sell the plastics to be made into durable products. You can keep up to date and follow their story, here. 

If you’re feeling inspired by any facts mentioned, or Boyan’s story, remember you can enforce and enable positive changes in your home and lifestyle. Every little does help.

Refuse, Reuse, Recycle. 

Thank you,

Team WEL