Oceanic plastic pollution, an overdue change of heart
We live in a world made of consumers and producers, in the era of the consumer society.
Plastic is the material which symbolizes this new lifestyle because it’s cheap and practical.
We make more than 300 million tons of it each year now (or twenty times more than we did in the wake of the Second World War) and production is forecast to double over the next 20 years.
Plastic has become an important source of pollution and a danger to mankind. We have to find solutions to reduce the ocean’s plastic pollution.
A big environmental problem
– 95% of plastic is not recycled and 32% is rejected into the world.
– 80% of the ocean’s plastic pollution results from terrestrial activity : wind, rivers, sewers, …
– 8 million tons are dumped in seas and oceans each year. That represents one 15 ton truck every minute.
– 150 million tons of plastic can be found in the ocean. In 2050, the mass of plastic found there will surpass that of fish.
– Plastic takes 1000 years to break down.
– Only 10% floats on the surface. The rest, nanoparticles or microplastics, are submerged. It’s a big obstacle on the path to cleaner oceans.
The plastic decomposes in the sea due to the action of the water, the sun and the waves. What was originally a single piece becomes thousands of smaller pieces. It is impossible to get them all back. There are 100 times more of these than there were 40 years ago.
These nanoparticles cause millions of deaths amongst marine wildlife, some species ingesting them involuntarily.
They contain endocrinal disrupting material which then penetrate the food chain.
All of us eat thousands of nanoparticles when we consume seafood.
Plastics are moved by marine currents and form oceanic gyres (a large area where plastics congregate: a sort of soup of plastic). There are 5 oceanic gyres and the biggest is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, situated in the North Pacific, boasting a surface 7 times the size of France. Some have called it the 7th continent.
No State has tackled oceanic plastic pollution because the gyres are situated outside of both national waters and exclusive economic zones.
Solutions are starting to emerge
A change in consumption :
– Reducing plastic production rates.
In France, the single-use plastic bag is forbidden since July 2016.
– Improving recycling and the circular economy,
– developing bioplastic, as well asbiodegradable and compostable plastic bags (usually plant-based : thistle, seaweed, …),
– Reducing overground sources of pollution : by channeling and cleaning rivers and sewers, avoiding open-air discharges, …,
– changing minds : make sustainable products instead of disposable products.
Private projects to get macroplastics back out of the ocean :
Ocean Clean Up
This project, backed by the Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, is a 2 kilometer long floating dam which uses marine currents to catch all plastic located between a millimeter above the surface and a 1,5 meter depth without using energy . The waste is collected and stored in a big rubber ring.
It is currently being tested in the North Sea, near the Dutch coast, with a smaller version spanning 100 meters.
Slat wants to clean up the gyres between Hawaii and California with a giant dam of 50 kilometers in the future.
La Manta :
It’s a boat with a large harrow (72 meters) created by the French navigator Yvan Bourgnon and his non-profit, « the sea cleaners ». It can collect 600 cubic meters of compressed plastic.
This boat, costing somewhere between 10 and 15 million euro, will be energetically self-sustaining, thanks to the photo-voltaic panels on its sails and will be equipped with a system of sound transmission, which will scare away animals to avoid capturing them.
The objective will be to operate a fleet of 100 ships dedicated to cleaning the oceans, seas and maritime outlets during missions lasting anywhere between two weeks and two months.
Trashcan developed by two Australians surfers which sucks up water contained within harbors to catch macroplastics.