When renowned marine ecologist Andres Cozar Cabañas, who teaches at the University of Cadiz in Spain, and a team of researchers completed the first ever map of ocean trash, they noticed that there was less plastic than expected on the surface of oceans world over and began to dig deeper into the issue. Their observations showed that large loads of plastic fragments, sizes ranging from microns to millimeters, were unaccounted for in the surface loads, probably floating around in the depths of the oceans, modifying this enigmatic ecosystem over the years.
One answer to the missing-plastic mystery is that some of the tiniest bits of plastic are being consumed by small fish, which live in the murky mesopelagic zone, up to a kilometre below the surface. One of the most common mesopelagic fish is the lantern fish, which lives in the central ocean gyres. Because lantern fish serve as a primary food source for commercially harvested fish, including tuna and swordfish, any plastic they eat ends up in the food chain, i.e., in human stomachs.
People over the world are trying to battle this problem of ocean platic in their own ways. Most notable of them all seems to be 19 year old Boyan Slat who combines environmentalism, entrepreneurship, and technology to tackle global issues of sustainability.
The Clean Oceans Project (TCOP) is a non-profit in Santa Cruz, California that dreams of oceans free of plastic pollution. Their practical solution to plastic pollution assesses plastic debris concentrations, removes it from the environment with minimal impact and processes it into fuel to run the operation. Demonstration of plastic to fuel conversion provides a financial motivation to manage plastic as a valuable resource rather than discard it as a toxic nuisance, hence recycling ocean plastic into fuel, tackling two issues at once.
One environmentally conscious family picks plastic debris from a beach in North Carolina, which is then cleaned, categorized and stored to make art. Strongly affected by the information of North Pacific gyres rumoured to be twice the size of Brazil full of plastic waste, one year they collected approximately 4,000 pounds. Judith and Richard Lang claim to just be curating the beach, but they’re still doing more than what most of us can imagine. Watch the video to hear their story.
We might read labels on bottles saying they’re made of biodegradable material, but the oceans are too cold to promote biodegradability. That’s why we’re finding ships that sank at sea hundreds of years ago with their booty intact. Even 100% decomposable containers require commercial-scale, hot temperature-controlled composting to actually break down the product – a home or community compost won’t do the trick.
That’s why, in 2012. cleaning product brand Method debuted a new bottle made from a combination of recovered ocean plastic and post consumer plastic. Method’s ‘Ocean Plastic’ bottles are partially made from trash that has washed up on Hawaiian beaches, thus preventing more plastics from winding up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Students, NGOs, commercial brands, and private families have found their way to clean plastic trash out of the ocean. How about we step up and do our bit?
The Alternative is an online media publication focused on sustainable living and social impact.