Recuperating Long Lost Plastics

Uninhabited CityIt was only a few short months ago that, while reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, I first learned about these extremely large pools of plastic bits floating around in the Pacific. I always new that plastics in the oceans were an issue, that fish and other creatures died in plastic snares and ate a little too much of the stuff. What I didn’t know was that there were pockets within the Pacific that had a a motion to them that kept the bits in a set area. That the bits, over time, became smaller and smaller and posed and constantly growing threat.

Here’s a rich and detailed description of this area by Charles Moore (please read the full article here…)

What we saw amazed us. We were looking at a rich broth of minute sea creatures mixed with hundreds of colored plastic fragments-a plastic-plankton soup. The easy pickings energized all of us, and soon we began sampling in earnest. Because plankton move up and down in the water column each day, we needed to trawl nonstop, day and night, to get representative samples. When we encountered the light winds typical of the subtropical gyre, we deployed the manta outside the port wake, along with two other kinds of nets. Each net caught plenty of debris, but far and away the most productive trawl was the manta.

There was plenty of larger debris in our path as well, which the crew members retrieved with an inflatable dingy In the end, we took about a ton of this debris on board. The items included

  • a drum of hazardous chemicals;
  • an inflated volleyball, half covered in goose-neck barnacles;
  • a plastic coat hanger with a swivel hook;
  • a cathode-ray tube for a nineteen-inch TV;
  • an inflated truck tire mounted on a steel rim;
  • numerous plastic, and some glass, fishing floats;
  • a gallon bleach bottle that was so brittle it crumbled in our hands; and
  • a menacing medusa of tangled net lines and hawsers that we hung from the A-frame of our catamaran and named Polly P, for the polypropylene lines that made up its bulk.

So there’s the bad news. Today I read some good news about the issue (the first good news I’ve come across concerning this issue). Electrolux has a plan to recoup a large amount of these plastics and make vacuum machines out of them. Now I’m never one to be applauding large corporations and I’m sure Electrolux is doing this with a keen eye on their bottom line but the idea is just terrific. Who cares if it was conceived by the marketing department – it’s still a great idea. I first learned about this from Interior, the complete story from them can be found here..

Electrolux has recently embarked on a unique challenge: through their new project, Vac from the Sea, they hope to collect the floating plastic debris from the infamous gyres and islands in the ocean (the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being the best-known), and turn the discarded flotsam and jetsom into a new line of 6 vacuum cleaners. Each vacuum will represent a body of water: the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Baltic Sea, and the North Sea.

Of course – this doesn’t even begin to touch on the more serious issue of the vast amount of very small particles that are found in all our seas but it does shed light on the issue. Hopefully other bright folks will put some brain power into this problem and come up with an ingenious vacuum to suck up all the bits. Until then we’ll keep the issues alive and in the news.

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