The Great Pacific Trash Vortex…
Something definitely in the” Things I don’t like…” category today.
I’m ashamed to admit that I only recently became aware of The Great Pacific Trash Vortex (or Garbage Patch), an area of floating rubbish whose size is difficult to assess, but is estimated to be at least 250,000 square miles (i.e. the size of Texas), possibly up to as much as a mind numbing 6 million square miles (or roughly 1/10th of the entire pacific Ocean) and which contains an estimated 3.5 million tons of rubbish, reaching a depth of between 10 and 30 meters below the surface.
There are five of these huge floating rubbish tips, one in each of the ocean gyres, a natural phenomenon connected to the Coriolis effect and the oceans currents, where the sea forms a huge slowly circulating body of water that despite its circular motion, remains relatively static in terms of where it is. Although the Pacific rubbish tip is the largest of these accumulations, between all five of them, it’s estimated that they might cover upwards of 30% of the surface of the sea (although that can’t possibly be right can it?)
Approximately 90% of all the rubbish in the seas is plastic based. Not as you may think as recognisable bottles and bags etc. but broken down into billions and billions of tiny granules that are not only undetectable by planes and satellites, but are often invisible to the human eye. Which explains why these huge areas of rubbish weren’t much known about until the late 90’s, especially after being discovered and publicised by the American yachtsman Charles J. Moore.
Some facts that we would all do well to remember :
- Plastic never totally biodegrades. It breaks down into ever smaller pieces through photodegradation, losing colour and form along the way, until the polymers become almost microscopic and small enough to be ingested by organism’s like plankton and krill at the bottom of the food chain…
- A single 1 litre plastic drinks bottle will break down into enough fragments to put one on every mile of every beach on the planet.
- More than 60% of the plastic in the sea is 1mm or smaller.
- 70% of all plastic that ends up in the sea sinks to the bottom.
- It is estimated that over 1 million sea birds and upwards of 100,000 marine mammals and turtles die each year from deaths related to plastics, usually ingestion or entanglement.
- Apart from any that has been burnt, every bit of plastic that has ever been produced since its invention about 120 years or so ago, still exists.
To end on a more positive note (although I accept that it won’t make the impending disaster go away), I came across this interesting architectural proposal that suggests a way to deal with these floating continents of waste.
Designed by three young architects from Serbia, and entitled Lady Landfill (although I can’t work out why) it was an entry into a 2011 Skyscraper competition and received an honorable mention.
To radically summarise the key aspects of the scheme, these huge, self-sufficient systems are floated to the areas where the rubbish accumulates whereupon they set to work vacuuming it out of the sea. The islands can move around to enable all areas to be covered, and as the facility fills up with rubbish, any additional weight is offset by pumping air into and out of the structure to keep the habitation zone at the top at the correct height above the water. All the rubbish that is collected is then transformed into energy via a number of on board and inbuilt methods (including conversion into plasma)…
I don’t know much about plasma, but I’m guessing that some of the technologies in the proposal are not currently practical, not least building the Eiffel Tower sized islands in the first place. Still it’s a very neat idea, elegantly presented and very worthy of recognition.
It’s also a big step in the right direction in terms of raising awareness of this fundamentally critical issue, one which we should all do our best to address, no matter how small the gesture feels…
RECYCLE OR DIE (as my good friend Waitey is always telling me)