(EnviroNews World News) — There can be little dispute: the world is in a plastic conundrum — and the oceans are being hardest hit. Being filled with plastic bags, water bottles, lighters, milk cartons, and countless other plastic consumer items at a flabbergasting pace, things aren’t looking good for the oceans — or the birds, fish and other countless critters contained therein.
An analysis released only last month by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in the World Economic Forum, displayed horrifically that if humanity continues on its current course, there will be more plastic than sea-life by volume in the oceans by 2050.
Furthermore, a study carried out by 30 trolling boats last August, discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” is much bigger than originally thought. The new data suggests the swirling mass of plastic between the West Coast and Hawaii encompasses some 1.4 million square miles — an area about five times the size of Texas.
That study was carried out by The Ocean Cleanup — an organization founded by 21-year-old Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat — and he says he’s got a technology to clean up all this trash.
The scariest thing about having massive amounts of plastic in the sea is not only that it can kill large creatures like birds, whales and turtles on the spot, but that it breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments over time — eventually disintegrating into “microplastic” as it is degraded by the elements and the sun’s rays.
After breaking down to microbead size, it is now known that zooplankton actually ingest this plastic — unable to distinguish it from various algae they consume as food. The plastic-eating plankton is at the bottom of the food-chain, and so the cycle of plastic poisoning begins.
The plankton is in turn gobbled up by large fish, who are already ingesting larger pieces of plastic as well. Small fish are eaten by larger fish that are then eaten by even larger fish that are then eaten by humans, birds, or other animals — animals also eaten by people.
The toxins contained within much of the plastic consist of carcinogenic and mutagenic substances, of which some of those are estrogen-mimicking in nature. Those chemical estrogen mimickers, in addition to causing cancer, can also lead to reproductive harm and malformed or underdeveloped genitals in boys. The chemicals are cumulative and bio-concentrate their way up the food-chain to humans who then often consume them on a repetitive, ongoing basis.
Many of the substances in plastics also have substantial half-lives and remain lodged in tissues where they perpetually roll out damage in the body over time.
One would think grim facts like those just mentioned above would have prompted an all out, all-hands-on-deck plastic cleanup moonshot by the international community by now — and that human ingenuity, coupled with today’s advanced technology, would have provided a way out of this grand mess already. Unfortunately, the international community has mobilized no such effort where this full-blown oceanic plastic crisis is concerned.
“There’s a lot of talk, and not a lot of action in the world of plastic pollution,” Slat told NBC News. “What we’ve doing here now has never been done before.”
Next year, Slat wants to build the largest floating barrier in history — a massive plastic-collection array that would be chained to the ocean-floor, and designed to gather up the toxic mess from the Pacific.
The concept is based on the fact that all this plastic has congregated in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and four other massive gyres, because swirling ocean currents carried it there. Slat plans to strategically place his barrier where the naturally occurring currents will carry the trash directly to the array where it will be trapped, collected and later lifted from the water.
While it’s important to stop allowing waste to enter the ocean, “that’s not a solution for the plastics already trapped in these offshore gyres,” Slat told Huffington Post. “Most of the plastic right now is in the big stuff, so it hasn’t yet fragmented down to those microplastics, which means it’s actually easier to clean up than we thought it would be, and we can still clean it up before it goes into these very dangerous microplastics,” the young inventor continued.
The Ocean Cleanup says it would take current efforts underway 79,000 years to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while maintaining Slat’s innovative array will be able to do it in 20.
The group says it plans to launch a 100-meter-long pilot project 23 kilometers off the coast of the Netherlands in the second quarter of 2016 to test a prototype in open waters for the first time.
After Slat gave a Ted Talk in 2012 at only age 18, the video went viral, and so did Slat’s Kickstarter campaign, raking in over $2.27 million. The project has since picked up funding and philanthropic support in Europe as wells as Silicon Valley, including from Salesforce.com Chief Executive Marc Benioff, who has now ponied up behind the technology.
Slat also got a lift from Academy Award-winning Hollywood megastar Jared Leto, where he was featured in the actor’s series Beyond the Horizon.
While not everyone agrees Slat’s concept will prove viable or will ultimately be the best method of removing plastic from the sea, it would seem The Ocean Cleaup is onto something. At least it is working on an idea that can get this poisonous crud out of the ocean, and away from sea and bird life, in a timeframe faster than 79,000 years. Yes, faster than 79,000 would be nice indeed.
MORE ON PLASTIC IN THE WORLD’S OCEANS BY ENVIRONEWS
FILM AND ARTICLE CREDITS
- Emerson Urry - Journalist, Author