Since the advent of man-made plastics in the mid 19th century, the world has seen the rise of plastic products in almost every industry. Everything from milk cartons to cars to the International Space Station include plastic on some level. Incredible advancements in medical technology are owed to the simple existence of this miracle material. People make use of it every day, particularly in ‘single-use’ applications like straws, plastic bags at grocery stores and packaging material.
But plastic doesn’t biodegrade in any feasible time frame. In a landfill, plastic can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. A plastic water bottle alone needs 450 years to break down. And with the ‘single-use’ plastic products so widely utilized today, we now face a major ecological issue.
Merchant ships, private boaters and even whole countries began dumping trash into the oceans beginning in the Industrial Revolution and continuing to today. In 1975 it was estimated that a whopping 14 billion pounds of trash were being dumped into the world’s oceans every day.
But plastic doesn’t break down and soon scientists began to see elevated levels of man-made plastics, even microscopic particles of it, particularly in the Pacific. Deemed the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is made up of an undetermined area between California and China. Despite its scary name, the Patch is not visible in the traditional sense. It is merely a part of the Pacific Ocean where currents have caused the plastic and plastic macroparticles to gather into a somewhat cohesive mass.
In recent years, there have been many people who have attempted to come up with ways to clean the plastic from the world’s oceans. Among the inventions and ideas that have been presented is the SeaBin (designed by two surfers from Australia), a simple bucket and water pump system. This invention is employed in only a few marinas around the world and is still in its development stages, but plans are being made to build larger scale models that could tackle larger areas.
Let’s not forget to mention the Ocean Cleanup project, started by an determined teen in the US, which has raised more than $30 million dollars to develop a system to clean the Patch.This apparatus consists of V shaped floats that ‘sweep’ up debris floating on the surface as ocean currents push it along. This project was officially launched in September of 2018 off the coast of California and claims that it will clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in its first 5 years.
Amidst these wonderful new technologies to begin cleaning our precious world oceans, there are also new ways to keep plastic from entering the oceans to begin with. Turning plastic waste into useable products again is just one way to tackle the ecological disaster that we now face. Even movements like banning the use of plastic bags in some states in the US have gone a long way toward creating a cleaner environment for our marine life and the future inhabitants of Earth.