The Ocean Cleanup (Project)- Why are so many scientists skeptical?

Beach-polluted-with-plastic-bottles-Cap-Haitian-Haiti

Plastic pollution can be found on beaches globally.

Three years ago, I began writing and sharing about the problems of plastic pollution in our planets waterways.  Personally, I first heard about the problems of plastic in our ocean as part of a Biology class at my community college. The Midway Atoll – an example of Plastic’s Destructive Power was inspired by the information I began studying.  As I was in the process of continuing my education, I focused my studies on Environmental Science,Waste Management, Water and the processes of laws and environmental protection.  Additionally I began utilizing Social Media like Facebook and Twitter to begin watching the active efforts of those in the field.  These activists have stood united in several areas.  The first area is that consuming less plastic means less plastic waste.  The second is that capture at consumption points is the key to eliminating the growth of plastic in the ocean.  Then a few years ago, comes this Ted Talk and the resulting Clean Oceans Project – convincing many people that we have a solution to the problem of ocean plastics.

This prototype image uses a small station to collect captured surface plastic but will not capture sub surface plastics (Image: The Ocean Cleanup)

What I found out through these efforts to network with activists and scientists in the field, as well as through my own cleanup efforts is that there is not one single solution but a bounty of solutions that combined will make a global effort more realistic.  The needs to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are laid out in this order for a reason.

In my adventures I have been able to meet fantastic people like Marcus Erickson of 5 Gyres and Stiv Wilson, now of The Story of Stuff .  Additionally, I follow many scientist’s work online.  In conjunction to my readings, I took to the field, leading a student group which I was president of my senior year partnered with Denver Park District to begin student led efforts to mitigate plastic and other forms of human consumption from our local waterway in downtown Denver, Colorado.  This last year they participated in a local contest to attempt to design ways to mitigate trash from the water.

These efforts have led me to learn a few things.  The first is that humans are messy destructive forces on nature.  Our consumption practices have deteriorated with time and the impact is everywhere.  Fortunately we have 1000’s of community groups fighting the problem.  Awareness campaigns like those held by 5 Gyres, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Activist Abby , Earth Guardians, and more show the simple fact that plastic pollution is everywhere.  Education and active practices with others in our community are the keys to eliminating wasteful habits that wreak havoc on our planet.

Defending Our Oceans Tour - Hawaii Trash (Hawaii: 2006)

Photo of a Greenpeace cleanup

 

I want to talk about  The Ocean Cleanup project.  Somewhere over the last 4 years as I began my campaign to do my part to educate about and eliminate wasteful plastic consumption this young man from Greece, Boyan Slat who in 2012 had a TedX talk that went viral.  After this effort, dozens of my friends sent me links to his work.  Some even made reference that this guy has solved the problem and my own little efforts are no longer necessary.  But lets not move on that belief to fast.  Fast forward 4 years, this month – a prototype of Boyan’s concept to clean plastics directly out of the ocean is being deployed.  Four years of recruiting, press, research and development have occurred.  According to the website, over 40 people have joined this team.  In terms of effort I say good for them, some people doing some good for the world.

Unfortunately, this is the part where truth begins to take an important role over fiction.  From the beginning, many people have asked questions.  Key scientific experts have offered their assistance, technical know how and experience.  For the average reader, much of this may be to technical so I’ll try to keep it simple.   Many groups are saying that their technical and scientific commentary has been ignored or rejected.  Whats worse is that the common person often perceives that this project, still in development mind you, means that the problem is solved and personal behavior practices don’t matter.

Why are there problems with cleaning garbage in the middle of the ocean, I mean isn’t cleaning trash a big deal?  Yes it’s a big deal, and eliminating pollution in the first place is one of the key aspects to a cleanup as noted in this 2013 blog.  Regardless of how much you pick up, humans keep making more.  This is the primary argument of both cleanup and sustainable living entities.  One of the biggest answers is LIFE.  There are 1000’s of forms of life that exist in the ocean and any time you build a new structure, it impacts the local lifeforms.  Impacts such as attracting new ‘life zones’, leaching of chemicals from introduced manufactured goods and localized collection.  But wait for it there’s more.

The key thing to understand is that only a portion of plastic floats.  Many plastics, as they break down due to photo-degradation, combined with surface layering of contaminants – can cause plastic to sink into various depths.  In all recent photos of the new prototype including video from the groups website, floating plastic is used.  However, this important PDF from Precious Plastic (Floating properties plastic ) we see that only 1/2 of plastics actually float!  So the key concept of this device to remove plastic from the ocean is starting out with a 50% loss ratio right off the bat!

There are many scientist and environmental groups who have tried to offer additional input on the project- as outside sources with no bias.  According to many, this outreach has been ignored and the concerns passed over when relating the project to the general public.  One of the biggest concerns for many is that this idea of cleaning plastic from the ocean ignores both the need to reduce consumption and the impacts of plastic particles like those consumed by aquatic life and found in the bellies of many animals.

Understand that the ocean is a huge place, 70% of our planet is ocean.  Utilizing the ocean currents to collect trash is a cool idea.  But if you’re in the middle of the ocean constructing a foreign structure, there are other logical items to consider, like visibility and location.  While the Oceans Cleanup project seems to be targeting location, unfortunately, according to this picture – visibility wasn’t as important of an idea.

Image from The Ocean Cleanup Media Department

Oil Spill booms with logo printed on them are being utilized in a trial setup.   Again note – these will only collect surface plastics.

The most important aspect of cleaning ocean plastics are preventing them from getting there in the first place.  By refusing to consume single use plastics, or not purchasing them in the first place, we all can have a direct impact on the amount of plastic in the ocean. Recycling and up cycling are the second part of the solution.  Supporting enhanced manufactures responsibilities like deposit programs and bottle bills helps ensure that the manufacturing loop is closed.  This type of deposit should apply to everything from beverage containers to televisions and automobiles.   Other ways you can reduce pollution are saying no to plastic straws, carrying your own beverage containers – even filling up at a soda fountain instead of taking the to-go container, and always carrying your own shopping bag(s) when you leave the house.

If you find that the amount of pollution on the ground and in the water in your neighborhood is a problem, you can always start your own community clean up group.  There are some excellent tips found here.

Partial list of Sources / Further reading:

http://www.theoceancleanup.com/updates/show/item/engineering-an-ocean-cleanup-barrier-from-scratch/

http://www.deepseanews.com/2013/03/the-ocean-cleanup-the-newest-of-the-new-plans-to-remove-marine-plastic/

http://www.deepseanews.com/2014/07/the-ocean-cleanup-part-2-technical-review-of-the-feasibility-study/

http://www.deepseanews.com/2016/06/the-ocean-cleanup-deployed-a-prototype-and-i-honestly-have-a-lot-of-questions/comment-page-1/#comment-19075

Three facts (and a lot of questions) about The Ocean Cleanup

http://inhabitat.com/the-fallacy-of-cleaning-the-gyres-of-plastic-with-a-floating-ocean-cleanup-array/

http://www.theoceancleanup.com/milestones/north-sea-prototype/

 

Employees Describe Slipping Into Homelessness While Working at REI

Is this the response to $15.00 an hour minimum wage and mandatory medical benefits for employees? Maybe one sign of a coming trend. Unfortunately, this comes from a company I love the most, for what I believed to be supportive of values I hold near and dear.

South Seattle Emerald

by Kelsey Hamlin

(Updated 7/14/16 12:21am)

REI is known as a place of good-heartedness and quality, so it might come as a shock to hear that many of its employees are either on food stamps, working multiple jobs, or both.

When it comes down to it, REI may have bucked their principles as a co-op for a large corporate trend: Expansion at the expense of its workers — the co-op itself is creating a $2.3 billion campus in Bellevue, according the Puget Sound Business Journal. This came to light at a public forum for REI workplace rights yesterday evening, hosted by Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. In an email to the Emerald, a representative for REI  said the company has not disclosed how much the campus will cost, but that the amount will not be in the billions.

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The Roberts-Stabenow Dark Act – an effort to hide clarity in food labeling

July 1st has come and gone, and the specifics of this date are extremely important for food labeling activists around the united states.  Specifically, this date has induced the first national Genetic Engineering Labeling Law in the United States.  This law is plan and simple, and it requires companies to put in plain English if the food product within the packaging has ingredients that use Genetic Engineering.   Much more can be read at Vermont’s Right to Know GMO site.

Like California laws regulating emissions and toxicity of fibers or chemicals that can cause cancer,  Vermont’s Label law is significant in a federal way.  The specific reason is that it fills gaps in regulations and laws that congress has not preempted or superseded.  However, on the heels of this victory – there is trouble brewing in the air.  This trouble is the “Roberts-Stabenow ‘Dark Act'”.  What is this act, why is congress so intent on making their own regulations and what could happen if they don’t make their own food labeling laws – are the 3 things I want to look at today.

To begin with, the Roberts-Stabenow act is a food labeling act attempted to be implemented by congress.  This would be the first labeling of Genetically Engineered foods at this level.  Currently there are no existing regulations on this type of food product at the national level.  There are roughly 50 state led efforts of varying degree.  The most successful of these is the Vermont law, which went into effect on July 1, 2016.  This law, simply put, requires all companies to put a simple statement if any of the ingredients are genetically engineered.

In the Federal system that we Americans live under, there are essentially 50 plus governments that create a standard of rules for the entire federal system.  This is because each state has sovereignty within it’s own borders.  Due to this sovereignty, there are existing situations where, either for the methods of prosecution or based on the will or need for safety of the people, individualized regulations have been created.  Such laws such as Cannabis regulation are an example of such sovereignty.  Truth in Food Labeling is another.  While states have rights to create their own regulations within their borders, these can not be in direct negation or conflict with the federal regulations.  States can for example, enhance requirements on air pollution locally that are stronger than say – EPA regulations.

This is especially true where Federal regulations have not set up regulations in their place.  When a state does come up with regulations that are more stringent or fill gaps that congress has not, it is possible for the states to step in and fill the role on a localized or even national level.    Have you ever seen on games shows like The Price is Right or Wheel of Fortune where they give away cars and the announcer says “this automobile meets or exceeds California Emissions Standards”?  As we can see in this New York State Government Website, California Emissions Standards are being adopted by multiple states around the nation as they were more stringent that those enacted by the federal government.  In order to sell their cars to the largest single US market, manufacturers had to meet the California Standards.  Instead of making separate autos for the rest of the states, these standards have become part of national automobile sales by default.

Why is this important?  According to the American Jurisprudence 2d – Constitutional Law ( available at most libraries by signing in through their web systems):

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