Tag Archives: Plastic

Cleaning Up the Oceans’ Plastic

The Ocean Cleanup making a difference
Source: GoPro

Through industrialisation, modernisation and technology, the human race has been polluting natural environments for hundreds of years. There are far too many examples of this, and we are continuously learning about the price we might have to pay, in the form of serious geological disasters.

Our oceans have been hit very badly, with the World Economic Forum recently predicting that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Around 12.7 tonnes of the stuff are washed into the sea every year, where it seriously disrupts ecosystems, chokes marine life, damages shorelines and wrecks all kinds of other havoc.

The good news is that there are initiatives that are trying to improve the situation. One such organisation is The Ocean Cleanup (TOC). This Dutch NGO was founded by Boyan Slat in 2013, when he was just 18. Their ambitious goal is to use advanced technologies to remove plastic from the world’s oceans. And they are closer than ever to their first sojourn into doing just that.

Eliminating Pacific Garbage

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which floats on the currents between Hawaii and California and is roughly twice the size of France, is as terrible (in the true sense of the word) as it sounds. Sadly it is not the only garbage patch in our oceans (there are five) but it is the largest of these literal vortexes of trash.

TOC aims to have removed 90% of it by 2040, using a system of floating booms and support vessels. Essentially, natural currents will be used to corral the plastic into a system that is shallow enough (in theory, though this remains to be seen) to allow fish to swim underneath it and exist as normal.

The plastic will then be collected and recycled, creating new products that can be bought to support TOC. Collecting the material while it is still in large pieces is important, because once it has broken down into microplastic particles it can absorb toxic substances, and then travel up the food chain. So time is definitely of the essence here.

An ocean full of trash
Source: Maryna Uchuvatova

The Trial Phase Has Begun

TOC has just launched System 001 from San Francisco Bay, as a test-run before a full fleet is deployed. Being much closer to the shore, it will be easier to monitor, make adjustments, and test the floating boom system before heading off to the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific.

The tests to be conducted include how easy the floating system is to assemble and get into place, how fast the vessels move and the ability of the system to right and re-orientate itself when there are changes in the wind or currents.

If System 001’s objectives are achieved, System 002 will set sail to undergo more assessments. When everything’s approved, a fleet of 60 Systems will head off on the clean-up mission. The hope is that this is just the beginning, and that other Garbage Patches can be tackled in the future.

Time on System 001 is expected to consist of long periods where nothing really happens, along with a few short bursts of excitement. But it is very necessary, and crewmembers will just have to keep themselves entertained by reading, playing at a casino online, or engaging in some other pastime.

Because although we need to be moving quickly, TOC is also eager to not make any mistakes. The entire project costs more than 21 million euros, so any errors would be financially as well as environmentally costly. And with Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Peter Theil (PayPal’s co-founder) and Marc Benioff (Chief Executive of Salesforce.com) lending support, the pressure is even greater.

Starbucks Gets Rid of Straws

Starbucks gives the environment a hand
Source: Pixabay

In July 2018, Starbucks announced its plans to eliminate single-use plastic straws by 2020. The coffee giant, who currently hands out more than 1 billion of the tubes a year, is to begin the transition in the fall of 2018.

Stores in Seattle and Vancouver will be the first to see the new regime. Many people are applauding the retailer’s decision and say it will be of great benefit to the environment, but some are not so sure.

Starbucks’ Goal is Sustainability

Chief Executive and President of the coffee chain, Kevin Johnson, has commented that the plastic straw phase-out is an important step in his company’s long-term aspiration to offer coffee that is produced and served in sustainable ways.

The no-straw movement has been gathering momentum for some years, and gained mainstream attention in 2015 thanks to a viral video of a sea turtle with one of the offending implements stuck in its nose. The fact that these straws can cause damage to marine life, via ingesting or getting strapped in them, is undeniable. As the plastic breaks down, harmful chemicals can also be released.

Erin Simon, Director of Sustainability Research & Development and Material Science at the World Wildlife Fund, welcomed news of the strategy and said she hoped other corporations would follow Starbucks’ example. Director of the Trash Free Seas programme at Ocean Conservancy, Nicholas Mallos, made similar comments.

Focusing on Eco-Friendly Solutions

The problem of plastic straws
Source: Wired

Under the new strategy, single-use straws will be replaced with lids that allow drinks to be sipped directly from the cup on all tea, espresso and iced coffee beverages. For Frappuccinos, tubes made of alternative materials will be used. This material could be made from compostable plastic of paper, and would be designed to be completely biodegradable.

Starbucks is the largest retailer to commit to this elimination so far, but it is by no means the only one. Hyatt Hotels plans to stop offering plastic tools to their guests, and McDonald’s will start using paper versions in outlets across the United Kingdom and Ireland in 2019.

All around the world businesses are focusing on going green, and whether it’s swapping driving to a land-based casino for playing online Roulette, recycling, or ditching the straw, it’s never been a better time to give the environment a helping hand.

Single-use straws have also been banned in some Walt Disney World theme parks, as well as Smithsonian Institute museums. And many local governments in the United States have passed laws restricting their use and distribution.

Bio Straws Still Problematic

Making the biodegradable tubes will cost more – and not only in terms of actual money. Their production is at least 5 times more expensive than their plastic counterparts, but the real issue here is that it also takes more fossil fuels and electricity to create.

The harmful effects of conventional straws are avoided, but more is taken from the earth, and more potentially polluting bi-products are created by going this route. In addition, paper products are not as recyclable as plastic ones, so more will have to be created.

A better idea, say some environmentalists, would be to focus on proper disposal. Everyone agrees that these plastic tubes must stop finding their way into the oceans, but care must be taken not to create more problems in solving this one.

Starbucks and other food and beverage retailers are, it could be argued, more interested in the response of their customers than in the long-term impact they are having on the earth. They know that their efforts to reduce single-use straws will be well received, which is expected to help generate more sales.

Whether or not biodegradable drinking tools are more sustainable, as the coffee giant claims is the main goal, remains to be seen. Rather than just changing the products we use, it seems human beings also need to look at changing their behaviour – and making sure they dispose of straws correctly, or buying non-disposable ones for personal use.