Updated May 2018
The Problem: Plastic pollution is out of control. The consumption and poor management of recyclable resources has created a planetary problem. Plastic, a man made substance, has found it’s way to virtually every know location on our planet. This substance behaves like a rock in the fact that physically, it only breaks down into smaller versions of itself.
The Reality: There are no REAL solutions in existence to solve the current problem. Organizations like 5 Gyres and Pangea Explorations have been mapping the levels of plastic pollution in our oceans. However, there have been many an inventor and idealist that has come up with methods and concepts of collection and cleaning. Unfortunately, each of these have one fault – a lack of a business plan. The concept of cleaning up beaches or the ocean are fantastic goals, but they require volunteer time and passion. The process of manufacturing and reclaiming plastic for reprocessing is something that is sorely lacking in the United States, and in most places around the world.
If you look at the United States as a primary driver of processes in the “Global North” you will see issues that have gotten out of hand. There are not effective national systems of standardized recycling education and processes. In 2017, the problem became so bad China set bans on the quantities of contamination that would be accepted from US plastic waste. Now, America like much of the world is coming to the hard reality that we must do things differently.
My Original view from 2014: There are a plethora of existing technologies that when combined can bring about the working and profitable solutions. Currently, the thesis of these ideas are under construction as I have returned to school to understand the science behind the technology. The essence: plastic is oil, oil has value, all plastic can be returned to oil and used again. Lets make a boat with a processing system on it that can travel to massively polluted areas, collect all the plastic, processes and either sell the oil or convert it to fuel. This is, in theory, a simple idea. Fortunately, there are companies already working on using this oil, commonly known as syngas. In February of 2014 major oil company Shell Oil filed a patent for taking syngas and turning it into Jet Fuel. This shows me that there is potential for what I propose. Even if it was collected, separated and sold, all this plastic has a cash value. PET #1 plastic (soda bottles) can sell for as much as $900 a TON!!!
From 2015 through 2017 I lived in the South Pacific nations of Fiji, Samoa, and the US territory of American Samoa. I lived knee deep in the garbage issues. I met with government agencies, toured landfills, spent thousands of hours cleaning human debris from beaches, coastal roadsides and coral reefs. I experienced the absolute lack of understanding and education programs in schools and churches as well as government agencies who looked at these responsibilities in drastically different ways. In some countries, there is real concern, in another – aloofness that is chronically unjustified
Long story short, there’s money in that plastic. It needs to be cleaned up and reprocessed into new manufactured goods. This process is being tackled by a global consortium call Precious Plastic. Here is a look at some of their work.
I hope you will continue to follow the process, as both my ideas and writing grow!