Solv­ing the plas­tic prob­lem

By 2050 there could be more plas­tic in the sea than fish. With Blue Planet II air­ing this month, we take a look at some ge­nius in­ven­tions that could help clean up our oceans

Focus-Science and Technology - - Contents - WORDS: JOSH GABBATISS

We in­ves­ti­gate the in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy that could clean up our oceans.

T here are over five tril­lion pieces of plas­tic in the world’s oceans. The float­ing is­land of rub­bish that’s sup­pos­edly found at the cen­tre of the Pa­cific Ocean, dubbed the 'Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch', has cap­tured the pub­lic's imag­i­na­tion, but even this doesn't do jus­tice to the prob­lem. In re­al­ity, if you stood on a boat at that site you would see no enor­mous plas­tic is­land, but rat her end­less tiny frag­ments float­ing on the sur­face of the ocean. Ac­cord­ing to one es­ti­mate, this plas­tic soup cov­ers an area twice the size of the con­ti­nen­tal United States. As plas­tic moves through our seas it breaks down into smaller pieces — the kind of pieces that can eas­ily be swal­lowed by ma­rine life. And the prob­lems con­tinue be­neath the sur­face. Sci­en­tists are in­creas­ingly find­ing de­posits of plas­tic at the bot­tom of the oceans, even as far down as the 10km-deep Mar­i­ana Trench in the Pa­cific. The facts are hor­ri­fy­ing, but many of the im­pacts that plas­tic will have on ocean ecosys­tems, ma­rine crea­tures and, by as­so­ci­a­tion, us, re­main to be seen. Sci­en­tists and en­trepreneurs are cur­rently work­ing on ways to halt the flow of plas­tic into our oceans, and get rid of the stuff that's al­ready there, be­fore the prob­lem gets even worse.

CAP­TURE IT

Per­haps the most to the plas­tic pro clean up what's course clean-up im­por­tant," says Thomp­son, head In­ter­na­tional M Re­search Unit at Uni­ver­sity, "and re­ac­tion as hum made a mess." St wildly in scale, cleans' to large projects launche The Ocean Clear The Ocean Cle ini­tially con­ceiv nat­u­ral re­sponse blem is to try to al­ready there. "Of is re­ally Prof Richard of the a rine Lit­ter Ply­mouth it's our first ins when we've ch re­ac­tions vary from lo­cal 'beach scale, high-tech d by the likes of up. anup was ed by the then

“If I were a rich phi­lan­thropist, I would be putting 99 per cent of my money into stop­ping the flow [of rub­bish], and 1 per cent into clean-up”

18-year-old Dutch en­tre­pre­neur $Q[CP 5NCV * KU JKIJN[ CODKVKQWU project aims to use huge bar­ri­ers to pas­sively trap plas­tic as it moves around ocean gyres – the large cir­cu­lat­ing cur­rents that keep the HNQCVKPI RNCUVKE KP RNCEG $[ CPEJQTKPI the bar­ri­ers in deep, slow-mov­ing wa­ter, the idea is that the sys­tem will move slower than the plas­tic sur­round­ing it, al­low­ing the de­bris to CEEWOWNCVG CICKPUV VJG DCTTKGT 6JG team be­hind the project es­ti­mates that de­ploy­ment of their sys­tems could clean up ap­prox­i­mately 50 per cent of the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch within HKXG [GCTU +VoU CP GZEKVKPI RTQRQUCN and one that has cap­tured peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tions, most no­tably ven­ture ECRKVCNKUVU NKMG 2GVGT 6JKGN YJQ JCXG fol­lowed through on this en­thu­si­asm YKVJ UK\GCDNG ECUJ KPLGEVKQPU + P VQVCN 6JG 1EGCP %NGCPWR JCU TGEGKXGF

O KP FQPCVKQPU UKPEG KVU KPEGRVKQP DCEM KP 6JG VGCO KU aim­ing to roll out a pi­lot study in the North Pa­cific around March 2018, and their first fully op­er­a­tional sys­tem YKNN DG NCWPEJGF NCVGT KP VJG [GCT

While it may be ap­peal­ing to the great and the good of Sil­i­con Val­ley, 6JG 1EGCP %NGCPWR JCU CVVTCEVGF KVU fair share of crit­i­cism from the UEKGPVKHKE EQOOWPKV[ %QPEGTPU JCXG been raised over ev­ery­thing from the vi­a­bil­ity of the pro­posed bar­ri­ers to VJGKT GHHGEVU QP NQECN GEQU[UVGOU Per­haps the big­gest is­sue raised, how­ever, is that glam­orous ini­tia­tives like Slat’s draw at­ten­tion away from the key prob­lem, which is the sheer SWCPVKV[ QH NKVVGT GPVGTKPI VJG UGCU p+VoU a lit­tle bit like you’re fill­ing the bath, you leave the taps on and go down­stairs to make a cup of tea,” says 6JQORUQP p6JGP [QW EQOG DCEM up­stairs to find the bath is over­flow­ing – do you start by mop­ping up the floor, or do you start by turn­ing off the tap?”

9JCV YQTTKGU 6JQORUQP CPF QVJGTU KU VJCV RTQLGEVU NKMG 6JG 1EGCP %NGCPWR over­com­pli­cate an is­sue that re­quires DCUKE YQTM VQ DG FQPG HKTUV p+ H + YGTG C rich phi­lan­thropist with money to in­vest in solv­ing the prob­lem, I would be putting 99 per cent of my money into stop­ping the flow, and 1 per cent KPVQ ENGCP WR q JG UC[U

Dr Matthew Sav­oca, who stud­ies the ef­fects of plas­tic pol­lu­tion on ma­rine NKHG CV VJG 01## 5QWVJYGUV (KUJGTKGU 5EKGPEG %GPVGT JCU C OQTG RQUKVKXG VCMG p#UUWOKPI KV FQGUPoV UEQQR WR more ocean life than plas­tic, why not IKXG KV C UJQV!q JG UC[U p*QYGXGT + VJKPM =6JG 1EGCP %NGCPWR? YQWNF DG most ef­fec­tive at or near the mouths of large com­mer­cial har­bours and at the mouths of rivers, since we know that’s how most plas­tic gets out to sea in the HKTUV RNCEG q 9JKNG VJKU KU PQV VJG stated aim of that project, a far smaller de­vice – the Se­abin – has been FGUKIPGF D[ VYQ #WUVTCNKCPU VQ ENGCP WR TWDDKUJ KP LWUV UWEJ CTGCU 7UKPI so­lar-pow­ered pumps, Se­abins sit at the sur­face of the wa­ter and suck in the de­bris that ac­cu­mu­lates around JCTDQWTU CPF QVJGT UGCUKFG UVTWEVWTGU

# PQVJGT UWIIGUVKQP HQT RNCUVKE EQNNGEVKQP KPXQNXGU WPFGTYCVGT FTQPGU 6JGUG CWVQPQOQWU XGJKENGU EQWNF

The bar­ri­ers that The Ocean Cleanup will de­ploy mea­sure 1-2km in length and aim to cap­ture larger plas­tics be­fore they de­grade

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