Turning the Tides on Plastic Pollution

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plastic

The world has a complicated relationship with plastic. It’s almost everywhere: from plastic wrappers and bottles to basic consumer items, cosmetic products, disposable bags and containers—plastic is the foremost ingredient of modern consumption. Plastic may even be in your toothpaste. We cannot get enough of it.

Plastic, most shockingly, is also in our oceans—about 5.25 trillion pieces of it. A small part of that, roughly 270,000 tonnes, floats on the surface. Per square kilometer, some four billion mircoplastic fibres permeate the ocean’s depths.[1]

In a 2015 report on ocean pollution, the US-based organization Ocean Conservancy estimates that approximately 8 million metric tonnes of plastic leaks into the ocean ever year. Without significant interventions, the ocean could contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of finfish by 2025.[2]

Moreover, the harm done by plastics is well documented. Ocean debris causes at least $13 billion in damage every year to the fishing, shipping and tourism industries; sea mammals, giant turtles, and large birds become regularly entangled in ocean trash or perish from plastic materials that obstruct their stomach or digestive system. Microplastics that absorb ocean contaminants such as pesticides are frequently ingested and enter the ocean food chain.[3]

So how do we clean the ocean of such colossal amounts of plastic? Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski, founders of the Seabin Project, just might have a way.

 

One Marina at the Time

 

The Seabin is a relatively simple, low-maintenance, and effective way of removing ocean debris and plastics from the water. It is small, unobstructive, and unlike existing ocean cleaning methods, it does not cost much and runs around the clock.

Here is how it works: the Seabin is located in the water, fixed to a floating dock or structure. Using a basic water pump, ocean water is sucked down into the bin, bringing any floating trash or debris with it. The debris is then caught in a large fiber cloth bag, while the pump continues to draw the water out through the bottom of the bin and returns it to the ocean.

Once the bag is full, the trash can be easily removed and discarded responsi

bly on land. The Seabin even has the option to attach an oil/water separator onto the pump system.

Located in Palma de Mallorca, the central hub of Europe’s marine industry, Turton and Ceglinski designed the Seabin to be used primarily at marinas, ports and yacht clubs. Not only do these locations provide a relatively controlled environment for the Seabin to operate, free of large ocean swells, but ocean currents also routinely circulate floating trash towards open ports where it can be collected.

By promoting Seabin use amongst private clubs and marinas, ocean-related facilities can become greater participants in the management of their own waste, and promote collective responsibility for their shared enjoyment of ocean waters.

In the future, the duo plans to build subsequent Seabins out of their own captured plastics and ocean debris.[4]

 

One Piece to the Plastic Puzzle

 

plastic 1

Click to enlarge

Although Seabins are a relatively simple invention, they are only one part of the solution to an extraordinarily complex problem. Ultimately, reducing the amount plastic and other pollutants in the ocean will involve considerable social and behavioral change. That is why, Turton and Ceglinski hope, that Seabins might also be educative.

Much of the problem exists on a global scale. Many developing countries, recently benefiting from significant increases in GDP and improved quality of life, have now produced an explosion in demand for plastic consumer products without a commensurate investment in waste management infrastructure. According to Ocean Conservancy, coordinated action in just five emerging economies—China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam—could reduce the amount of global plastic leakage by approximately 45 percent over the next ten years.[5]

Alternatively, there are many things that we can do individually. Roughly 33 percent of plastic products are used once and then discarded—recycle, or reuse it. Pay attention to packaging, and look for secondary and tertiary ways to utilize plastic as an otherwise valuable resource.

Participate in local coastal cleanups: the Ocean Conversancy collects and records millions of pounds of trash from international coastal beaches every year, and reports their findings to aid further research and awareness about ocean pollution.

And finally, advance and support the Seabin Project. For more information, visit their website.

For bonus material, watch this video.

 

 

[1] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150109-oceans-plastic-sea-trash-science-marine-debris/

[2] http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/mckinsey-report-files/full-report-stemming-the.pdf

[3] http://www.gesamp.org/data/gesamp/files/media/Publications/WG_40_Brochure_Microplastic_in_the_ocean/gallery_2191/object_2404_large.pdf

[4] https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/cleaning-the-oceans-one-marina-at-a-time#/

[5] http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/mckinsey-report-files/full-report-stemming-the.pdf

 

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Brendan O'Driscoll

Brendan O'Driscoll

Brendan is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada.

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