Blog August 2019

Ocean Cleanup Device Is Being Redesigned

Posted On: August 19, 2019

An ocean cleanup device was recently designed with the sole intent to clean up the ocean's plastic problem. This device is a huge floating barrier that collects plastic and was initially placed in the Pacific Ocean, with its target being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Gyre contains an estimated two trillion pieces of plastic that is spread out over an area that is twice the size of Texas. The cleanup strategy is to concentrate the plastic into the device so it can be removed more easily by boat pickups.

It was placed in the water last year, but had middling results until eventually fracturing. The meant it needed to be removed from the water and redesigned for a sturdier frame. On top of the fracturing, it also moved at the wrong speeds to capture plastics. Sometimes it was too slow and sometimes it was too fast. By taking it out of the water, the team can also target that issue for its next deployment.

To fix the speed, the team plans on placing a parachute on it that would slow it down and allow it to consistently catch plastics. During testing, it was consistently catching the plastics and concentrated it by a factor of around 10,000, according Boyan Slat, founder of the nonprofit. "If we could do the to the whole patch, we'd take the plastic distribution down from twice the size of Texas, to one-tenth the size of the city of Houston," Slat wrote in a recent blog post. 

Out of all the plastic ever made, only around 9% has been properly recycled and one estimate has as much as 150 million metric tons of plastic may have ended up in the ocean. This is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with and soon. Even if we magically start recycling better and stopped using less plastic, the plastic in the ocean would still exist.

Slat is optimistic about the future and this technology, despite recent setbacks. The Ocean Cleanup team plans to keep moving forward as quickly as it can to get to a system that works. The ultimate goal of this project is to get a fleet of these devices into the ocean. But for now, it is just the one that needs to be perfected.

If you find this interesting, you can check out the article here. Also, please check out their website for more information about the Ocean Cleanup project.


Microplastics Found in the Arctic

Posted On: August 15, 2019

According to the New York Post, scientists say they have found an abundance of microplastics in the Arctic snow. This is newsworthy, because it is a clear indication that these tiny plastic particles are being sucked right into the atmosphere and then carried very long distances. Distances that span the far corners of earth.

The researchers gathered and examined snow from the Arctic, as well as northern Germany, the Bavarian and Swiss Alps, and the North Sea island of Heligoland. They expected to find microplastics, but the "enormous concentrations surprised us," said Melanie Bergmann, who is a researcher in Germany.

Maybe you are asking, what are microplastics? They are created when man-made materials break apart and are defined as pieces of plastic that are smaller than 5 millimeters. And this isn't the first time microplastics have been found and studied. Previously they were found in Paris, Tehran, and Dongguan, China.

This new research suggests that the fragments may become airborne, similarly to dust and pollen. There is a growing concern about the impact microplastics have on the environment, but scientists have yet to determine to what effect, if any, the particles have on the wildlife or on humans.

The high concentrations of microplastics may be partly attributed to the methods the researchers used in gathering the data, according to Martin Wagner, who is a biologist, but was not involved with the study. He raises this point, because this study allowed for microplastics as small as 11 micrometers to be included, which is less than the width of a human hair. So, very thin. "This is significant because most studies so far looked at much larger microplastics," Wagner said. "Based on that, I would conclude that we very much underestimate the actual microplastics levels in the environment."

Wagner also points to how snow may be an important reservoir for storing microplastics and releasing it during snow melt, which has not been looked at before. This is something to keep in mind, since snow caps around the world are melting and potentially releasing microplastics into the air.

If you find this interesting, you can read the whole story here.