Once Upon A Planet

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In the previous article we saw how big a problem plastic garbage is. We will now see if there are any good solutions to get rid of this mess.

A new solution?

Some of the classic clean-up method is to get a series of boats out to sea and dragging nets to collect the garbage. This process is however very long, expensive and inefficient. It would basically take centuries before cleaner waters are achieved.

Another idea has been put forward a couple of years ago by Boyan Slat from The Ocean Cleanup project: instead of going to the garbage, why not let the garbage come to us! We can basically use the gyre currents to bring the plastic litter to a funnel from which the litter can be collected in a much more efficient way.

In the current proposal, the funnel consists of a 100km long floating barrier anchored to the seabed. This is made of 2 to 3m deep solid sheet (rather than net) to avoid trapping wildlife. In the centre of the funnel lies a semi-submerged processing platform that is collecting and storing the rubbish. The plan is to empty it with a boat about every month and a half.

Computer-generated aerial view of the barrier filtering the rubbish and of the processing platform in the centre (Author: The Ocean Cleanup, Source: TOC press pack)
Computer-generated aerial view of the barrier filtering the rubbish and of the processing platform in the centre (Author: The Ocean Cleanup, Source: TOC press pack)

 

The processing platform is powered by renewable energy (solar) and is designed to work for a decade in an autonomous way.

The Ocean Clean-up project has just completed a feasibility study, and is now looking for funding the next stage through crowd funding. This is a massive project. If it goes ahead, it could be one of the biggest off-shore structure in the world!

…with some challenges

This proposal to clean up the ocean has received a lot of enthusiastic feedback but also criticisms. Here are a few key points:

  • The impact on some marine species is unknown. The barrier is designed not to trap wildlife, but the vicinity of the processing platform remains dangerous for sea animals.
  • The efficiency of the collection may be over-estimated depending on the wind and wave conditions. Also micro-plastics can't be captured with this method.
  • The resistance of the structure, especially the mooring, is extremely challenging.
  • The cost of the endeavour may be bigger than the profit (from selling the collected plastic to recycling) due to the potentially poor condition of the plastic.

 

Will it work? We don't know, at least until someone tries.

The challenge in the next stage for the project team is to address the concerns above (and others). One can only hope that the community at large will provide constructive criticisms, and that the Ocean Clean-up team will take these on board to improve their design. Whilst searching this subject I have seen some nasty (i.e. derogatory and not constructive) criticisms, and this isn’t helping anybody.

Regardless of the outcome, it is good to see people coming up with new ideas on how to meet environmental challenges, and putting passion and commitment in seeing these through. Many of these ideas will fail, but some with succeed. However one will never achieve anything if one doesn’t try first.

The wider picture

Let’s imagine that the solution is working well, and that the majority of the existing large plastic rubbish can be removed from the ocean in 10 years.

There is still the issue of new rubbish hitting the ocean every day. There is little point mopping the floor if you still have a leak in your water pipe! Rather than having to clean up the ocean perpetually, by far the most efficient and cheaper option is not to throw stuff in the first place.

This is true for land as well as the sea. The best practice when it come to waste is (in order of preference):

  • Avoid. Let's not create the waste in the first place. This is either not producing/buying unnecessary things, or limiting the amount of packaging for example.
  • Make it last longer. Sometimes a repair will cost nearly as much as a replacement, but it has many ecological advantages (supporting the local trade, limiting transport and the use of natural resources).
  • Re-use. Typically your supermarket plastic bag can be re-used for carrying other things. A plastic bottle can be re-filled with tap water many times.
  • Recycle. Once the product can't be re-used, it can be recycled into another product. This work well for paper/cardboard, plastic, metal or glass
  • Dispose in a responsible manner if recycling is not an option. Don't throw stuff just anywhere: there is no fairy coming after to make it magically disappear.

 

So what can you do?

You can't change the whole world at once, but you can influence the world around you:

 

I believe that to sort out a lot of the issues that humanity created we don’t necessarily need to carry out great deeds. The important thing is to do your little bit – consistently – and win the support of those around you.

 

A few resources:

What this is

 

One never baths twice in the same river, one never climbs the same mountain again. Everything is constantly flowing through time, evolving, and therefore unique.

This is the gift of life that we each have a unique experience of the world. Every moment needs to be appreciated, treasured. Through photography we clumsily attempt to extract that tiny slice of life, that magic moment, and put it in a square box before it flies away.

This site is a testimony to what happened once ... upon a planet

What we offer

 

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    Because nature has given so much to us, 10% of the profits from the site are given back to a range of environmental charities. The remaining is invested to capture more of the magical world.