A startling statistic recently published in the Sciences Advances journal revealed that of the estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced since 1950, 6.3 billion tonnes has ended up as plastic waste. Taking over 400 years to degrade, nearly all of this non-recycled plastic still exists in landfills and, the final catchment, our oceans.
Every year, between 8 -12 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans. Transported by the world’s oceanic circulation systems, much of it ends up in one of our five major Oceanic Gyres in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. The most famous of the world plastic resting grounds is the great North Pacific garbage patch.
Ongoing scientific studies have found the garbage patch to be much larger than previously thought, now estimated at twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. The effect on our marine ecosystems is becoming more and more prevalent, with over 30 kilograms of plastic found inside a sperm whale that washed up on the coast of Spain.
So, what’s being done about it?
The good news is there are some fantastic initiatives already going to work to tackle the gargantuan challenge of Ocean Plastic.
The first step in tackling any challenge is understanding the problem you need to solve. One man leading the world’s most extensive study of ocean plastics — The Ocean Cleanup is Boyan Slat. At the age of 16, the young Dutch innovator and entrepreneur decided to dedicate a school project to creating a passive boom system that uses ocean currents to filter plastic from our oceans.
Last year, they led the most advanced study of the Pacific Garbage patch, utilising 30 boats, 652 surface nets, and two flights over the patch to gather aerial imagery of the debris. The study found the patch today covers over 1.6 million square kilometres and is made up of over 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. Having now raised over $30 million to support the cleanup project in 2018, Boyan hopes to clean up half of the Pacific Garbage patch with 5 years.