Overview: Ocean Gyres as Traps for Plastic
Gyres are patches in the ocean which are surrounded by regular ocean currents. As the currents rotate, they pull ocean debris into their center. Some of this debris is biomass, but much of it is plastic waste. Every minute of every year, approximately one truck-load of garbage enters the oceans, and this rate is only growing. It almost always ends up in one of the five main oceanic gyres. The largest and most famous of these gyres is in the Pacific Ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage
What Do People Think Are the Most Important Issues Facing the Oceans?
People all over know how serious the effect of plastic is on marine life and ocean ecosystems. Many even think plastic is the most important ocean issue. Activism is on the rise, in relation to the thirteenth UN sustainability goal, climate action.
Current Political and Social Action Concerning Plastics
One Potential Large Scale Solution
The Ocean Cleanup is a project spurred by young activist, innovator, and diver Boyan Slat. His idea is that a long floating tube with a net hanging 3 meters below it in the water will be propelled through the middle of the Pacific by currents. It should be moving slightly faster than the trash normally would, so it can collect it. Because it is relatively shallow, marine life will be able to pass under it. This eliminates most bycatch. The other factor of the project is to recycle the collected plastic into reusable items which can be sold at a profit.
The full idea is presented in this ted talk.
Although his idea seems to be failsafe, at least according to scale testing, the real thing, dispatched in September 2018 is not working exactly as planned. Slat predicted that the system would move faster than the trash, and therefore be able to collect it. However, though it is traveling slightly faster than the current, it is not moving fast enough to actually accumulate ocean plastics. They have currently sent out a team to do some on the water fixes, which they hope will suffice, but if not they will have to move it to calmer waters. Their last resort will be to add a motorized propulsion system to it, but it is still a long way away from needing that.
This idea opens up many possibilities in collecting plastic. However, all this work will be for nothing if we don’t do our part and stop more plastic from replenishing what they extract from our precious oceans.
Companies Beginning to Do Their Part
Many companies are beginning to use scavenged marine plastics and other recyclables to make everything from clothes to kitchenware to carpets. Companies like Adidas recently released shoes completely made out of recycled plastic bottles. The company Swaggr is making socks out of recycled plastics. Many companies are making things like sheets and blankets. Plastic bags are commonly recycled and turned into reusable bags. A company called Rareform is making wallets. And the list goes on. However, it takes a lot of energy to recycle plastics, and in the process of recycling often more fossil fuels are burnt releasing greenhouse gases. Many companies like to stick to their original ways because of the cost of recycling. Until the incentive to recycle is higher many companies may not be able to justify the costs of recycled plastic conviences.
Local Solutions: A Focus on Rhode Island, The Ocean State
In 2013, Jen Long began a project called “The Whale Guitar Project,” which focuses on marine plastic issues in her home state of Rhode Island. She and her crew sing about climate and plastics on an electric guitar they built inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Transcript: “The hope of my project is that by appealing to the fans of guitarists, and fans can live anywhere, if they’re curious about this guitar is that a musician is playing, then we have a chance to reach them and talk to them about ocean issues. So it’s kind of like an interesting way to get somebody thinking about it who wasn’t expecting to think about it. They were just [like], that’s a cool guitar, I’m gonna go see what that’s about, and then we get a chance to talk about ocean issues.”
I communicated with Long over facebook, and I got some first person insight on her projects.
Small Scale Solutions: What Can You do to Help?
There are many options for ways that individuals can do their part. Beach cleanups, however small they may seem, can really make a difference. The simple act of picking up trash on the sidewalk and bringing it to a trashcan reduces the amount of trash that ends up in the ocean. Buying sustainable merchandise helps companies realize that their recycled products are in demand. There are also small household things which are relatively easy to do. Buying sustainable food, turning off the lights, and taking shorter showers are just some of the things you can do to help. If you have a bit more time on your hands, joining a local group or donating to an organization whose policies you agree with about marine pollution can make a larger impact. If anything, educate yourself about marine life to understand the enormity of the issues, and then focus on the ones you care about most. There are many other people out there you can join forces with to make an even bigger difference.