Why cannot we just clean up all plastic in the oceans?
Full-length article and recording
Managing Plastic Waste and Mitigating the Garbage Patches
Thanks to the Earth Engineering Center for making this knowledge sharing possible
Katrina Mitchell (Co-founder, be Waste Wise)
Which organizations need to be involved in the plastic pollution solution and why can’t we just clean up all plastic in the oceans?
Dr. Nicholas Mallos (Ocean Conservancy): Well, I think the short answer is that everyone has a role to play. Plastic is a pervasive issue that starts at the very top of the chemical industry all the way down to us as individual consumers making choices to buy plastic. So, all of us have a role that we can play in intervening.
Certainly, we as individuals as we touched on earlier through our buying habits can send messages to those companies that might be doing the wrong things as well as to those companies that are being rewarded for doing the right things. At the state and national government level, looking up policies that address the systemic plastic issue and make producers responsible for the end of life impacts in recovering those materials and then at the industry themselves changing their manufacturing processes, changing the actual materials they are using so that at the end of the day by chance there is potential products enter the marine environment there is no possibility for negative impacts. I’ll pass it over to Bill in a second but essentially trash PC is an alliance, it is an entity that ocean conservancy found a little over a year ago that brings together industry members, government members and other nonprofits that are out there to the same table to really address the issue of plastic in packaging in trying devised innovative solutions that will actually have a demonstrable impact on the marine environment in our ocean.
Dr. Bill Francis (Algalita): When I get asked that question I answer it in a couple of different ways. But it would be kind of sifting the Sahara desert by using a kitchen strainer and having one person go out and do that. The oceans are so huge. Unless you’ve been far out at sea as Nick has or on an island a remote island even like Hawaii where you have to travel over those thousands of miles of nothing but water in order to reach land, do you get a perspective for how much water there really is on this planet. Unfortunately plastic breaks down in a very small pieces and is carried with water, currents and winds throughout the ocean and so the concentration and the distribution of this is so widespread and the particles are so small that to try to clean it up is just not practical. The concentration I mentioned earlier, a tenth of a gram per cubic meter would probably not even be enough for a gold mining operation to set up. And the economics when you look at the price of gold as you know might be a thousand dollars an ounce (or some huge number). With plastics you are probably looking at hundredth of a cent per ounce for recovered plastic. So there’s no economic stimulus to recover plastic there.
Book: Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (buying options)
Websites: Plastic Pollution Coalition;