Boyan Slat, the Ocean Cleanup and plastic soup. How can the pollution in our oceans be stopped?
Dutch student Boyan Slat has appeared frequently in the news of late. That’s because he has a plan to ensure that the oceans are cleaned of the massive amounts of plastic pollution – a very well-thought out plan that has excited many people. But a range of oceanographers have said that it would not have the desired effect, as it contains a number of imperfections. And even if the plan was perfect, it would still not solve what is a global problem. At present it is estimated that there are 100 million tons of plastic in the seas, and at the current rate another 8 million tons is added annually.
Our oceans are the victims of pollution. Plastic soup and global pollution must be dealt with internationally
It is clear that something has to be done to stop the pollution of our oceans, the plastic soup. And of course to stop pollution round the world. Aside from these mountains of trash, the seas are also suffering from overfishing thanks both to quotas not being enforced and to destructive fishing methods. And then there is also the global warming that is acidifying the oceans and causing a great many hazards for its inhabitants. In summary, the seas are facing major challenges and cleaning up the trash that’s drifting in them is just one of the solutions, albeit one that we will need.
Dutchman Boyan Slat wants to contribute to the Ocean Cleanup to get rid of the plastic soup
Dutch student Boyan Slat presented his idea of an ‘Ocean Cleanup Array’ for cleaning up the huge zones of drifting zones of waste within a decade. His concept involves nets stretching from dozens to hundreds of kilometres in length across the major sea currents. A floating boom would be located in the middle of the nets for collecting the plastic and removing it from the ocean.
On paper this is an excellent idea, but in practice the forces of nature would render it almost impossible. This is because of issues such as fouling, which involves the growth of algae, seaweed and other life forms. Then there are the powerful currents and storms and the creatures that will become entangled in the nets. And one cannot forget the human factors – who would be responsible for it, where will the money come from, what will happen to the waste? A great idea, but sadly not a very feasible one.
What exactly is the plastic soup? Drifting gyres of waste require an Ocean Cleanup
There are quite a number of misconceptions when it comes to the floating garbage patches, or plastic soup. One would not suddenly encounter a huge patch of trash in the middle of the sea, where all the rubbish has collected. While there are a number of places where this has happened (five in all, with one in each current), the oceans hold a great deal more pollution than that, and it is not visible on a satellite photograph. The largest collection of trash in the oceans is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is estimated to be in the region of 900,000 square kilometres in size.
The biggest part of the plastic pollution in the seas is made up of very small particles, often less than 10 mm in size and lying beneath the surface of the ocean, up to 150 m below. Then there is also plenty of plastic on the ocean beds. These are problems that were not fully considered when it came to the Ocean Cleanup.
Oceanographers and organisations that study plastic pollution in the oceans believe that prevention is the cure – simply preventing more plastic from ending up in the seas. Plastic production is still rising, which means the oceans will have to accept a great deal more of it if nothing is done.
How to combat the plastic soup? Combating microbeads and our plan for stopping plastic pollution
One of the problems is microbeads. These are small plastic spheres that are primarily contained in bodycare products that pollute the environment and damage nature and sea life. A global ban on microbeads would be a great start.
A change in attitude is a second requirement – cutting down on disposable products such as plastic bags, bottles and packaging. The third step involves installing more sieves and filters so that we can remove a lot more junk from the water before it pollutes our oceans.
Plastic does not only end up in the oceans, it also washes up on our coastlines. And more plastic is constantly introduced, which means that if it is not cleaned up our beaches will likewise be littered with waste. Some 75% of trash found on the beaches is plastic in origin. Cleanup campaigns are regularly held to get rid of this trash, and cleaning the beaches also means cleaning the floating garbage patches in a little way. If everybody was to play a part and be more conscious of the consequences and the impact upon the environment, then we can contribute to a healthier environment for humans, animals and plants.
What can I do to combat plastic pollution?
Becoming aware of the problem is of course the first step, but there are many other things you can make a part of your daily life in order to reduce the ecological footprint of your plastic waste. A few tips:
- Avoid products that contain microbeads
- Avoid these 8 plastic disposable items
- If you do have plastic bags, it is best to reuse them as much as possible. They are also great for holding fruit and vegetables – remember to always select fruit and vegetables that are not packaged in plastic.
- If you can, always go for environmentally friendly and organic products. They are better for our earth and they use as little plastic as possible.
- Don’t chew gum. All chewing gum is made of a synthetic rubber and is actually a type of plastic.
- Buy liquid products in cartons rather than in plastic bottles.
- Diapers are a major source of waste. It is estimated that 7.6 billion pounds of diaper trash is thrown away annually. Rather use cotton and washable diapers – not only healthier for the environment, but for your budget too.
There are naturally many other options for cutting plastic use. If you’d like to know what else you can do or find out more about the oceans and our impact on them, then see all our articles on Save the Sea or visit the Sea First Foundation website.