This coming May, the first fully operational Ocean Cleanup system will be deployed in the Great Pacific Ocean. The system has been developed over five years of trial and error by Boyan Slat and his team at The Ocean Cleanup. Their first objective will be for the system to establish itself within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and collect vast amounts of plastic.
It is estimated that a whopping 8 million metric tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year. As an effect, at least 100,000 sea mammals and millions of sea birds and fish are thought to die each year from plastic ingestion or entanglement.
Plastic disintegrates faster in the ocean than on land because the influence of salt water and the sun’s UV-rays contribute to the decomposition of plastic. Tragically, small bits of plastic of 5mm or less that make up 1% of the total plastic waste in the ocean, cannot be gathered by the Ocean Cleanup system. This percentage will increase exponentially if no action is taken. What’s more, when plastic decomposes it releases potentially toxic bisphenol A and PS oligomer into the water, causing additional pollution.
The ramifications of plastic waste and water pollution are out of control. To regain control over the oceans and to create a sustainable ecological footprint, we will have to come up with alternative solutions for plastic packaging. Asia seems to struggle the hardest when it comes to recycling their plastics, as an estimated 86% of all plastic waste can be contributed to the continent.
Inventors like Boyan Slat, the youngest winner of the United Nations Champions of the Earth Award, are celebrated for their continuing efforts in nature protection. In order to solve the issue of plastic waste we will have to invent more cleaning systems that can become operational in areas where the Ocean Cleanup system will not work. Therefore, this project should be seen as the beginning and not an end for ocean remediation.