Over the past decade, we have produced more plastic than during the entire 20th century, and now our oceans are suffering for it. Each year, it is estimated that approximately 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in our oceans. This is predicted to double over the next ten years. There are currently five massive patches of garbage floating in the oceans; they are located in the Indian Ocean, the South Pacific, the North Pacific, the South Atlantic, and the North Atlantic.
How Does Plastic End Up in the Oceans?
Plastic litter gathers in places where waste management is lacking or places where it is dropped off or left behind. Even when plastic is collected and taken to landfills, it is at risk of getting blown away and ending up in the oceans. Plastic is non-biodegradable, so it’s not going anywhere. Until now.
Wilson is On a Mission to Clean the Oceans
In October 2018, the Ocean Cleanup organization began the world’s first ocean cleanup mission to eradicate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge island of plastic waste floating between San Francisco and Hawaii. The patch is the largest of the five ocean garbage piles and is currently twice the size of the state of Texas.
To clean it up, the organization has employed a 2,000-foot-long floating pipe nicknamed Wilson. The u-shaped pipe is attached to a 3-meter deep net which is designed to catch the floating plastic from beneath the ocean’s surface. Wilson has satellite pods that allow it to communicate with Ocean Cleanup’s Dutch headquarters and to allow it to share its location with other boats. It has two cameras in the center of the device, which can be controlled remotely.
A boat will sail out to the garbage patch every few months to remove the debris, bring it back to shore and recycle it. This type of ocean waste disposal has many benefits: from helping climate change to increasing the safety of sea life.
The Netherlands-based Ocean Cleanup team have been searching and testing Wilson for five years. In 2013 the project raised more than $2 million by means of crowdfunding and since then has raised more than $30 million. The team hopes that Wilson will be able to collect up to 50 tons of trash by April 2019 and that by the year 2040 it will be able to clean up 90 percent of the world’s ocean plastic.
What the Sceptics Have to Say
Not everyone is optimistic about the impact Wilson will have on the oceans’ garbage patches. Some experts have expressed doubt that the device will be able to make much difference. Wilson has also faced criticism because it is unable to capture small pieces of plastic debris and because it is possible that some sea creatures may become trapped inside. Wilson’s critics also claim that if the device breaks down, it will create an even bigger garbage problem.
According to Eben Schwartz, the marine debris program manager at the California Coastal Commission, the amount of plastic debris that can be captured and transported from the garbage patch is too small to make a significant difference. In his opinion, it would be better to concentrate on reducing trash on land. He explained that it’s more cost effective and preventative to stop garbage from getting into the ocean in the first place. As an example, he said that in three hours his group of volunteers collected up to ten times as much as Wilson is hoped to capture by April 2019.
Perhaps the best approach would be to use Wilson to help clean the ocean and also keep cleaning up on land as well as raising people’s awareness of recycling.
Other Attempts to Clean the Ocean
There is another invention designed to take the trash out of the ocean. It is called the SeaBin. Created by two Australian surfers, the device is a bucket attached to a pump and filtration system. It is designed to suck the garbage out of the ocean from any dock or marina. The device will also have an optional filter which can separate oil and water. The inventors are still working on their prototype, but a few SeaBins have been installed in various marinas around the world and are proving to be helpful.
Do Your Part to Support Plastic-Free Seas & Keep Plastic Out of the Ocean
Here are some ways in which everyone can help to keep plastic out of the ocean:
- When you shop, use reusable bags
- Reduce or eliminate single-use plastics from your day-to-day life
- When you order a drink at a restaurant say no to straws
- Avoid cosmetics and cleaning products that contain microplastics
- Use a reusable water bottle
- Don’t purchase balloons, and by all means, never release them into the sky
- Dispose of fishing line responsibly
- Look for alternatives to plastic, like glass
- Go plastic-free at the dry cleaner
- Take your own to-go containers if you’re dining out