Have you heard that a 19 year old has made a presentation about cleaning up plastic from our ocean? If you haven’t I have to tell you that this Ted talk is worth watching. If there is one thing I hope you walk away with from watching his presentation – its that you contribute to plastic pollution without thought or intentionality. His video a real problem for our planet. I hope that you are so moved by this young mans ideas that you begin to realize how big of a problem we have made by the thoughtless ways we are habitually destroying our planet.
Does Boyan Slat have a good idea? YES, YES he does. His idea is amazing, use the motion of our planet’s oceans to clean up the mess we have made. Sounds good to me. Is the idea to clean our planet in a manner of 7 years realistic? No, not really. The first and most basic reason is that the time to build his theoretical machinery could take a decade just to build. There are some concerns in how machinery could remove plastics that are known to be suspended up to 90 meters below the ocean. An additional concern for this particular project focuses on the dangers that occur when you add physical materials directly to the ocean that weren’t there to begin with. In the case of the plastics themselves, we already know that they leach chemicals into the ocean. How would a new material added to the ocean impact life? One answer is that life will begin to develop under and around the introduced product. We know this is true because there are multiple examples of efforts to build and grow habitats using man made structures. Below is one such example, from attempts to regrow corral reefs in Florida. This blog from the Scuba Divers Travel Network discusses many areas regarding the efforts of rebuilding the reefs as well as many global concerns for our oceans.
But the truth is, I don’t believe this solution is the end all be all to ‘saving our planet’ from ourselves. I don’t think that this well intentioned and idealistic man really intended to misrepresent his ideas as an end all solution to plastic pollution in our oceans. Unfortunately, this is what has been happening. Because I’m into telling people about plastic pollution in the ocean, I often feel that I’m the first person that people run to when they first hear of this concept idea.
The truth is, that it would take a massive fleet of ships, ones that are stationary – one that are actively moving about our gyres to clean them. If you have followed my posts you know that there are reasons for Plastic warriors to unite! The reality is that all of our planets oceanic systems are being clogged at the arteries with plastic and we are approaching a time when active remediation will be required for life to survive. These sad truths are represented in studies like this one by Dr. Jennifer Lavers, shows that birds are not only eating plastic, but that they are becoming weak from the leaching of contaminants into their bodies.
As a person who daily preaches the dangers of our addiction to plastic, I have been aware of the problems facing our planet and I communicate them regularly in all I do. I ask the waitress or bartender to not bring straws to the table, or to be used in a beverage delivered to the table. I bring my own bags to the store, or I grab used bags from the recycling bin. In fact there are many times that flat out refuse a bag, or specifically request paper bags.
But that’s my story about my personal activism. In my experiences, the majority of people don’t really think about how we consume, or what happens when this consumption is over and the materials end up outside in a rubbish or recycling bin. In an earlier blog I discussed the advantages of setting up a second waste can for recycling. Those who do find that this one act changes both their awareness and effective recycling rates!
Why do we want to change these rates? Because materials consumption is at a rate greater than anytime previous in our history. This poses problems as we are consuming materials at a rate greater than our planet can support. The cost of industry is pollution. This pollution comes in the form of CO2 emissions, foreign materials in our water supply, spills and fires from oil. This trend isn’t going to end any time soon. This is why it’s so important to recognize that each individual action we take today, impacts the ability for us to fix things in the future.