The Largest Ocean Cleanup in History

If you’re like me, going to the beach and enjoying the sound, smell and feel of the ocean is something I look forward to every summer. The beauty and strength of the ocean is at times overwhelming, until you realize it too is susceptible to human destruction. I remember this as plastic rubs against my skin amongst the waves.

We all agree that plastic pollution is harmful to our environment and is overwhelming. It is detrimental to our planet on every level, from its non-biodegradable properties to the toxins that end up seeping into our waterways.

Yet, despite this being a qualifiable problem, rectifying the situation and cleaning our oceans has been deemed impossible due to many challenges. A standard ocean cleanup would consist of a boat, travelling through the water collecting debris with nets.

This method is impossible for any type of large-scale cleanup due to a number of issues:

  • The vastness and multitude of the areas where plastic is dispersed in the ocean. In addition, due to ocean currents, the large deposits of ocean plastic are constantly in motion.
  • In a conservative estimate by the Office of Response and Restoration, cleaning up just 1% of the North Pacific Ocean over the course of one year would cost nearly $122million – $489million.
  • To launch a large scale operation to clean up the entire ocean would take up to 80,000 years.
  • The CO2 and other emissions that would arise from such an operation could further damage the environment.

But there are solutions, and as Napoleon Bonaparte says: “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.” One of the solutions comes from Boyan Slat, the 20-year-old Dutch founder of The Ocean Cleanup.

But first, let look at how bad plastic pollution is and what it is doing to our oceans:

THE PROBLEM

Worldwide we throw away up to 280 million metric tons of plastic annually. After this plastic gets disposed of, what happens to it?

Plastic is non-biodegradable, meaning that every bit of plastic ever made still exists! And out of the 280 million metric tons of plastic that gets “disposed of,” roughly 8 million tons of plastic enters our oceans. Here’s how plastic ocean pollution affects us:

  • Our Health

Plastics absorb toxic chemicals, many of which when entered into the human body, have been linked to cancer, malformation, and fertility problems. They enter the food chain when animals consume the plastic, accumulating toxins until they ultimately end up on our plates and therefore in our bodies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly all of the participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 2003-2004 had detectable levels of BPA (Bisphenol A) in their systems. These results clearly indicate that plastic chemicals inevitably seep into our bodies whether it is through the food we consume or the water we drink.

  • Our Ecosystem

Plastic pollution affects wildlife in a number of ways. Fish, turtles, birds, and marine mammals ingest plastic, damaging their stomachs and ultimately leading to their deaths. Other animals often get tangled up in plastic, leading to suffocation or other injuries. In an estimate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), marine debris kills over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 mammals worldwide each year.

  • Our Economy

Plastic pollution costs the U.S. at least $13 billion each year, affecting the fishing, shipping, and tourism industries. In California alone, $107 million is spent yearly to clean up plastic bag litter. The health costs are even more staggering. A study done on two beaches in California show 74,000 cases of bodily distress linked to swimming in polluted waters total nearly $3.3 million each year. This isn’t an isolated issue. Plastic pollution affects every waterway, sea, and ocean in the world.

THE SOLUTION

Enter Boyan Slat, the 20-year-old Dutch founder of The Ocean Cleanup, an organization that designed the first feasible ocean cleaning technology, The Ocean Cleanup Array. The Ocean Cleanup is dedicated to developing technologies that will extract, prevent, and intercept plastic pollution. 

The Ocean Cleanup’s message is pretty straightforward:

Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup states: “Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today. Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts, but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time.

The Ocean Cleanup Array extracts plastic pollution through floating barriers that passively catch debris by working with the currents, creating a quick and cost effective method for reducing plastic waste in our oceans. This method was developed based on research conducted by a team of 100 scientists and engineers, over the course of a year to test the feasibility of such a process. The results found that most of the plastic pollution in the ocean is found in the top two meters of the water. The overall findings concluding that the Ocean Cleanup Array, launched on a wide scale, could reduce ocean pollution by up to 40% in the course of only ten years. Their pilot program is launching in 2016 off the coast of the Japanese Island, Tsushima, with full government cooperation. Learn more about The Ocean Cleanup’s mega expedition here.

So what does this has to do with you? Here’s how you can help:

REDUCE: Proactively purchase products with less plastic packaging or look for products that are packaged from renewable materials. Choose products made from glass, stainless steel, wood, paper or ceramic instead of plastic.

REUSE: Reusable bottles, plates, dishes, and other dining ware reduce the need for disposable products that will only end up damaging our ecosystem further. Plastic bags in particular are low in density so even when they end up in landfills, they often float into our oceans. Reusable shopping bags are a convenient and eco-friendly solution to this problem.

REFUSE: Say no to disposable plastic. This includes water bottles, plastic bags, and utensils.

RECYCLE: It can be difficult to completely refuse using plastic products. If you find yourself using plastic, do your best to reduce the amount, reuse it and recycle it.  At the very least, plastic waste can be recycled and given new life so that it doesn’t end up sitting in landfills.

Most importantly, spread the word! We can only reduce plastic pollution as a collective effort. Find out more about plastic pollution and how your can help The Ocean Cleanup by visiting their website (http://www.theoceancleanup.com/) and following them on Facebook and Twitter.

And while you’re at it, we’re giving away free Great Eastern Energy (GEE) tote bags to do our part. Email us at geegreen@greateasternenergy.com with your name, email address, and home address and we’ll send you one!

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can live more sustainably, check out our new Sustainability webpage

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Sarah Kelly is Director of Marketing and Customer Experience for Great Eastern Energy. Sarah is responsible for overseeing Great Eastern Energy’s Client Services and Marketing teams. She is an industry veteran with over 15 years of experience in deregulated energy markets. Most recently she was Agera Energy’s VP of Marketing and prior to that she managed their Contract and Data Services team. Mrs. Kelly previously established Sunwave Gas & Power, a Canadian based company, as an energy supplier within several deregulated markets within the United States. Additionally, Sarah has held various operational and marketing positions at HOP Energy, U.S Gas & Electric, Gateway Energy, Hess Corporation and Select Energy. She holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

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