Collecting and Transforming Ocean Plastic
Plastic debris in the ocean is an emerging global environmental issue, with densities up to 580,000 pieces per square kilometer documented and high concentrations found along the coastal margins near plastic sources and in convergence zones. Global plastic production is increasing exponentially, doubling roughly every 11 years. Over the next ten years, humans will make as much plastic as the entire amount manufactured from the 1950s through 2016.
Although plastics originating from land-based sources make up most of the marine debris in the oceans, there are some sea-based types of plastic debris that can have significant impacts on marine habitats. Waste Free Oceans (WFO), a foundation based in Belgium, has developed a creative answer to the issue. Using “trash catchers” that can be attached to fishing boats, WFO’s partners collect ocean plastic floating on the water’s surface and then transform the collected waste into new products.
Where is the ocean waste collected?
Waste Free Oceans collaborates with fishermen to collect waste, as they are present in the fishing areas all year and play a major role in environmental surveillance of their regions. Their familiarity with local water conditions as well as necessary technical knowledge and tools make them an ideal fit as partners.
The Trash Catcher can be towed, or if the body of water is a river, it can be statically placed in the current where it can rest unmanned until the net needs to be emptied. In developing the Trash Catcher, care has been given to minimize the extent to which aquatic fauna will be caught or otherwise affected. The trawl net extends only 28 inches into the water column (with the rest supported above the water line) in order to keep out aquatic life.
Special trips for the collection and recovery of marine litter will only take place in predefined hotspots of ocean debris. Therefore, fishermen avoid consumption of fuel in the search for marine litter, optimizing the efficiency and environmental friendliness of the trawl collection system. Additionally, fishing vessels operating the trawls operate at very slow speeds with an average of six knots. Waste Free Ocean’s intention is to distribute the technology in coastal regions with accumulating waste in hotspots around the world – coastal cities, waste-polluted rivers and regions with high inflow of waste.
Transforming the trash into sustainable products
The world is ready and waiting for products offering environmental solutions rather than more challenges. People are demanding sustainable choices – and are ready to pay for them. Plastic collected in oceans can be combined with other recycled material to create new goods.
WFO joins hands with companies big and small who would like to send a clear message of environmental responsibility. Collected trash is sent to a local recycler for sorting, cleaning and turning into polymer pellets. A converters combines the pellets with other polymers and then creates a new product. The brand develops the final product and brings it to market.
The green cleaning brand Ecover used the launch of its Ocean Bottle washing-up liquid to highlight the long-term dangers of dumping plastic in the sea. Ecover worked with manufacturer Logoplaste to combine plastic trawled from the sea with a plastic made from sugarcane and recycled plastic, in what was hailed as a world-first for packaging. Plastic can take thousands of years to degrade through the combination of salty seawater and the sun. The variable quality of plastic retrieved from the sea and analysed by Ecover's scientists meant it had to be blended with other recycled plastic material to make it robust enough for a household cleaning product. In the initial trial, 10 percent of the plastic in the new bottle has been retrieved from the sea.
About Waste Free Oceans
Mobilizing fishermen and brand owners, WFO collects floating marine litter, which is then upcycled to create new products. Partnering with multinationals, recyclers and converters, we know that driving change requires all stakeholders to join hands. What makes us unique is our broad network of plastic material experts, enabling us to not only remove it from waters, but make optimal use of the valuable resource that ocean trash is. For more information, visit https://www.wastefreeoceans.org/.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.