Friday, March 13, 2015

The Great Pacific garbage patch, and a spot of hope

Years ago, I read about a great big trash patch, a place in the Pacific Ocean where much of the floating plastic goes. Estimates on the size of the patch vary, from the size of Texas, to twice the size of the US because the particles are too small to see from a boat or satellite. Particles big enough to see from a boat deck are uncommon.

Where does it come from? Coastal populations with poor waste management. Estimates show that the bulk of it comes from China, with Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Thailand running a distant second place. Some estimates suggest that human pollution will only increase with time until contributing countries get a handle on the pollution.

When I think of the plastic in the ocean, I also see in my mind, the plastic on the side of the road. My policy is that nothing gets out of my car unless it's going to the trash bin or the kitchen (like groceries). We will keep it in the car for as long as it takes to get it to the trash, thank you.

From time to time I think of that trash vortex when I'm driving to work. I see us driving around in shiny cars, hoping not to hit anything. I see us, working to achieve some sort of status or goal, oblivious to what is going on around us. Some of us wear new clothes, a gold watch, or new shoes. Some of us are in nice homes with a family and friends. Some of us are well to do, with money in the bank and time to spare. But most of us are not thinking about where our refuse goes.

Is there any hope for mankind? Yes, actually, there is. At least a spot of hope. There is The Ocean Cleanup project. It is a foundation running as a business and the primary goal is to clean up the ocean. The Ocean Cleanup is developing a way to automatically clean up the ocean while allowing the winds and the currents to bring the trash to it. The machines used to collect the trash are solar powered and automated. This is the only way we're going to be able to do it.

The other half of the work is prevention. That means getting all coastal countries on board with collecting their trash before it goes to sea. Sure, there are treaties that regulate pollution of the sea, like this one, but public awareness of the problem will do more than any treaty can do.

I also find it interesting that in the few searches I did today, I didn't see any billionaires spearheading an effort to clean up the oceans. There are no major government funded programs to clean up the oceans, either. This suggests that we're not really that serious about cleanup yet. Perhaps we will have to wait until the public consciousness makes the connection between human health and ocean health.
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