Friday, 23 August 2013

Have we solved the world’s biggest garbage problem?

Although it is widely known that our biggest garbage dumps are in fact in the oceans, only recently has serious consideration been given to solve this problem. We take a quick look at the why and how?

For a long time we have been aware that marine litter is harmful to biodiversity and us, primarily due to plastic not biodegrading, and finding its way into the food chain. Further, the tiny particles of plastic which do enter the food chain can soak up toxic chemicals, compounding the risk1.

It seems policy makers have woken up to these very real problems, and at Rio in 2012, a commitment to a “significant reduction” in marine litter by the year 2025 was made2. In Europe, marine litter has been recognised as a main threat to achieving ‘good environmental status’ by 20202. So it seems the stage has been set for real momentum to tackle this big issue, but how might we do that?

Well, a young Dutch student thinks he may have the solution. Boyan Slat, a 19 year old aerospace engineer, has come up with the Ocean Cleanup Array3. The idea involves anchoring ocean sifters to seabed, and letting ocean currents do the rest. The aim would be the filter 7.25 million tons of plastic over a five year period4. However, some potential issues have already been raised, including the hazard to marine biodiversity.

At the end of May we blogged about the Protei project5, another potential solution to the ocean garbage problem. The potential idea here is to combine the developed shape shifting sailing robot with the power of open source technology. Essentially meaning that anyone can pick-up the knowledge from this project and apply it to any suitable problem, including ocean garbage.

What do you think of the Ocean Cleanup Array? Do you think sailing robots might provide the answer? Are there any other potential solutions out there?


NOAA's National Ocean Service Flickr Account - CC by 2.0