Tag Archives: Plastic

Innovative Cleanup Techniques – Boyan Slat

We are all familiar with the impending issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. The exponentially growing dilemma is approaching levels of no return and without positive human intervention, we could witness the ocean fall victim to catastrophic collapse. Plastic is a dangerous pollutant because it takes a REALLY long time to degrade; the very first piece of plastic ever created is still in existence today and will be for another 1000 years. Plastic in our ocean is broken down by the sun into microscopic pieces that are so small, that our smallest oceanic organisms (plankton) can ingest them. What does that mean? That means that most of our marine organisms like whales, tuna, turtles, anchovy, seagulls, and even humans. Yes, humans have tested positive for trace amounts of polyethylene (most common plastic) in our blood. Enormous levels have been found, today we have roughly 5 trillion pieces of trash drifting around in our oceans, massing roughly 250,000 tons. That’s scary. But there is hope. There is a large group of young, inspired leaders lining up to solve this problem. Leading the charge is 22-year-old Boyan Slat, a Dutch innovator that is developing a system that will attempt to solve this plastic problem.

The Ocean Cleanup is Slat’s project, an enormous engineering/social hybrid experiment that is working on installing systems that float around and collect large quantities of plastic. Slat is convinced that his system can remove half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years, an ambitious claim with research to back it. The project uses what look like giant floating barriers to capture debris at the surface as if it is an artificial coastline. Slowed by an anchor, the drifting systems will travel slower than the plastic and allow the plastic to catch up. These barriers concentrate the plastic in the center where it will remain until collected. Although simple, this project seems effective and could quite possibly work. However, there are plenty of sceptics, most with valid arguments. The most common critique is that it is hard to imagine this simplistic system withstanding huge waves, strong currents, and high winds that come with intense Pacific storms. With prototypes already in the water, it will not be long before we find out how effective Slat’s project is.

In the meantime, we cannot sit back and watch. It is our duty to continue thinking, creating, and acting to solve this global dilemma. Slat’s project is just one way to contribute to the ocean cleanup, however, we also need to stop producing plastic to halt the constant flow of pollution into our ecosystems. It is up to us and there is hope. If you have any ideas, big or small, that could contribute towards winning this war, share it with us. Comment below and share this story, you never know who it could potentially inspire!

Written By: Nick Smilie


Single-Use Plastic or Not

Single-use plastics are any plastic products that are used only once before being discarded. Humans have long cherished these one-use-wonders for their convenience and affordability, but when we look beyond the momentary utility, it’s strikingly clear that these plastics have a dangerous impact on our oceans.

plastic bottle

© ChristopheLaunay – http://www.sealaunay.com/

By an overwhelming margin, plastic products are the most common form of trash in the world’s ocean. From cigarette butts (with their plastic filters) to plastic bottles and their respective plastic caps to bendy straws and plastic bags of all varieties, the amount of plastic in the seas is beginning to rival that of fish.


The Ocean Conservancy – 2016 International Coastal Cleanup

But why is this such a problem? It’s just a piece of plastic. It couldn’t hurt anything, right? WRONG!

Every year, millions of animals, including fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and turtles, die because they accidentally ingest, become entangled in, or are chemically affected by oceanic plastic. This monumental negative impact that plastic has on marine life can be attributed to one characteristic: its longevity.


Plastic does not decompose like most other forms of trash. Whereas microbes are able to break down paper, cardboard, and food waste into smaller, simpler compounds (a process known as biodegradation), plastics can only be broken down by the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. This is called photodegradation, and it is painfully slow. Whereas biodegradation operates on a scale of months and years, photodegradation of plastics takes decades and even centuries. A single plastic bag can take over 500 years to decompose! This means that a plastic bag that a human used for 12 short minutes has over 500 years to find its way into the stomach or around the neck of some helpless marine organism. This is the unfortunate and ironic truth of plastic waste.

But what can we do? The very structure of our society seems built around single-use plastic. Our actions won’t make a difference, right? WRONG!

Viable alternatives to single-use plastic are all around us! Carrying around a reusable water bottle is one of the easiest ways to reduce reliance on bottled water and keep plastic bottles out of the ocean. At restaurants, just say no to plastic straws and stick to the classic lift-cup-and-tilt-the-liquid-into-mouth approach to hydration. When shopping, reusable bags, including reusable produce bags, are an easy alternative to harmful plastic bags. Packing up for lunch? Skip the small plastic bags and transport your midday nourishment in reusable containers.

plastic bag

plastic box

These are but a few tips on how to reduce dependence on single-use plastic. If you have other ideas on how to keep the oceans clean of deadly plastics, please tell us in the comments! Together we can make a difference!


  1. http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/expect_more_bag_less/facts.html


One Man’s Trash another 9 Mens’ Lifetimes

Here at CIMI, we’re seeing red! We’ve had two sudden invasions of bright red, shimmery, buoyant things just offshore in our coves. The first is pelagic red crabs, Pleuroncodes planipes, that swarmed northward from warmer waters as El Niño brought an unseasonable winter to the tropics. Can you guess what the second is? Just a few days after Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped Mylar balloons are showing up everywhere! Unfortunately, a gift to surprise a sweetheart for just one day can take many years to degrade in the ocean. So how long do other household objects take to break down in the sea? Check out the charts below.

Image Credit: World Ocean Review (http://worldoceanreview.com/en/wor-1/pollution/litter/); NOAA (http://thehigherlearning.com)

As you can see, oil-based products take by far the longest to degrade, with fishing line, plastic bottles, and 6-pack plastic rings predicted to take as long as 600 years to break down fully. Keep in mind, we’ve only been using plastic for about 100 years at all!

Microplastics, Mega Problem!
Once these plastics are subjected to prolonged sunlight, waves, currents and tides, they are broken into tiny fragments thinner than a human hair, called microplastics. Being so small, these particles can easily enter the food chain through filter feeders such as shellfish. Many cosmetics companies also put small beads of plastic in products such as exfoliating soaps, until recent research reported that enough of these microbeads to coat 300 tennis courts were entering watersheds and oceans daily. These findings, combined with more recent research spotlighting the harmful effects of accumulation of microplastics in sediment, the water column, and the tissues and bodily fluids of marine animals, has led President Obama to sign a microbead ban, preventing these companies from using this ‘indestructible confetti’ in their products. Many plastics contain chemicals such as solvents and softeners, and could cause severe poisoning effects in marine food webs, including humans.

Image Credit: ecowatch.org

A Gyre Situation
Due to large-scale circular wind and current patterns called gyres, much of the ocean’s trash ends up concentrated in specific places. The largest of these is a giant “soup” of trash in the Pacific Ocean northwest of Hawaii, known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” (GPGP) or the “Pacific trash vortex.” A great majority of this trash is actually tiny micro plastics, making the water look cloudy in satellite imagery. Many of the larger items, including sneakers, electronics, and larger plastic items, may have sunk underneath the Texas-sized floating island.

Image Credit: NOAA (http://marinedebris.noaa.gov)
Creative Clean Up

Since the GPGP is so large and so far from any nation’s borders, no one government is willing or able to provide the funding and labor needed to clean it up. However, the scale of the problem has inspired many organizations and individuals to launch expeditions and brainstorm creative ideas for cleaning it up or preventing it from growing. Boyan Slat, a crafty 19-year-old from Holland, is currently collaborating with aerospace engineers to design a floating robot to collect the larger pieces of trash, while others propose introducing plastic-eating bacteria or other marine microbes to begin to break down the plastics of all sizes. In 2010, a team of explorers at Adventure Ecology built a 60-foot catamaran called the Plastiki using 12,500 recycled plastic bottles. The Plastiki‘s crew voyaged from California to Australia to raise awareness about the durability, usefulness, and permanence of used plastic products.

TT5 (1)
Image Credit: The Ocean Cleanup (see link below)

Image Credit: Australian Museum Blog (http://australianmuseum.net.au/blogpost/science/plastiki-a-solution-to-waste)

Be an Ocean Hero!
Here are some easy ways you can be an ocean hero and make sure our trash doesn’t outlive us!

  1. Reduce, reuse, recycle, especially plastic products!
  2. Take a reusable bag to the store instead of getting plastic grocery bags…
  3. and if you do, reuse them for something in your home like trash bags!
  4. Pick up trash you see on beaches, streets, and in waterways — but don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards!
  5. If you go fishing, make sure you pack out all the gear you packed in — especially nets and lines!
  6. Cut the rings on plastic can holders before you discard them so wildlife can’t get stuck in the openings!
  7. Look for cosmetics with natural alternatives to microbeads!

and finally, on Valentine’s Day, birthdays, and other special occasions…

  1. Skip the Mylar balloons, and SAY IT WITH CHOCOLATE! We’re not sure about you, but around here, it’s gone in about three seconds!

Want to learn more about microbeads? Check out the Story of Stuff’s website at http://storyofstuff.org/plastic-microbeads-ban-the-bead/.

To learn more about current estimates of quantities of trash in the ocean, and see an awesome 3D animation of how plastics break down in detail, check out National Geographic’s story here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150109-oceans-plastic-sea-trash-science-marine-debris/.

To learn more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and play with an interactive map of other places trash converges, check out http://education.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/great-pacific-garbage-patch/.

To learn about Boyan Slat’s cleanup robot design, check out this story on TakePart: http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/06/12/ocean-clean-machine-invented-19-year-old-could-pick-half-pacific-garbage-patch.

To learn more about the voyage of the Plastiki, check out Adventure Ecology’s website at http://theplastiki.com.


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