As the policy director of the ocean conservation nonprofit 5Gyres.org, I can tell you that the problem of ocean plastic pollution is massive. In case you didn’t know, an ocean gyre is a rotating current that circulates within one of the world’s oceans – and recent research has found that these massive systems are filled with plastic waste. There are no great estimates (at least scientific) on how much plastic is in the ocean, but I can say from firsthand knowledge (after sailing to four of the world’s five gyres) that it’s so pervasive it confounds the senses. Gyre cleanup has often been floated as a solution in the past, and recently Boyan Slat’s proposed ‘Ocean Cleanup Array’ went viral in a big way. The nineteen-year-old claims that the system can clean a gyre in 5 years with ‘unprecedented efficiency’ and then recycle the trash collected. The problem is that the barriers to gyre cleanup are so massive that the vast majority of the scientific and advocacy community believe it’s a fool’s errand – the ocean is big, the plastic harvested is near worthless, and sea life would be harmed. The solutions starts on land.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written in response to a story published in 2013. As of 2014, Boyan Slat has conducted a feasibility study for the Ocean Cleanup Array and published a 530-page report that addresses criticism – check it out here.
If an outlier subset of the movement to end oceanic plastic pollution exists, it would be the proponents of gyre cleanup. These guys pop up now and again (make no mistake, Slat’s idea and drawings are not new), but for some reason his idea got big media attention. No serious scientist or policy advocate believes that microplastic gyre cleanup is a real strategy for ridding micro-plastics from the oceans—not even The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Industry often backs ‘gyre cleanup’ concepts because they give the impression that we can continue to consume more and more and good old human ingenuity will figure out how to solve all the environmental problems. The public, for their part, loves the thought of a quick fix and wants to believe that a ‘boy genius’ can come along and solve a problem that all the old crusty PHDs can’t.
It’s a great story, but it’s just a story. I find debating with gyre cleanup advocates akin to trying to reason with someone who will argue with a signpost and take the wrong way home. Gyre cleanup is a false prophet hailing from La-La land that won’t work – and it’s dangerous and counter productive to a movement trying in earnest stop the flow of plastic into the oceans. Gyre cleanup plays into the hand of industry, but worse, it diverts attention and resources from viable, but unsexy, multi-pronged and critically vetted solutions.
Slat’s project as it stands is in the fairy tale phase, which is where all the other gyre cleanup schemes out there are, too. So far Slat’s is not a ‘design schematic’ nor is it ‘engineered’ nor is there a business plan attached to it—a fact that Slat all of the sudden underscores in an update to the website, saying he’s just conducting a ‘feasibility study,’ and that his intention was never to suggest that it was presently viable. But that certainly is not what his website suggested before the media attention—and this is precisely why it got so much media attention. From the website: “Extract 7,250,000,000KG of plastic from the oceans in just 5 years per gyre, Contribute Now!”
Well, if Slat’s intention is to funnel the money into a feasibility study, maybe I can save him some money. Let’s look at gyre cleanup schemes from a vantage governed not by dreams, passion and media preciousness, but from something a little more effective and a lot more boring—reason.
The sea is cruel and it’s really really really big
The nonprofit I work for, as part of its mission, takes people other than scientists on expeditions to the gyres. Why? It’s simple; we want regular people, like Slat, to understand the scale of the problem and the vectors that contribute to the difficulty of solving it by being informed by a firsthand vantage. So far, we’ve taken one gyre cleanup advocate across the South Atlantic, from Brazil to South Africa. We had 22 days of storms with seas in excess of 30 feet at times. By the time we got to the other side, some 30+ days later, he’d abandoned his hope of cleaning the gyres once he realized how big a ‘place’ we’re talking about. What I find astonishing is that out of all the gyre cleanup proponents I’ve met, none of them have ever been to the gyres.
The ocean surface is 315 million square kilometers; 70% of the earth’s surface. Plastic isn’t just contained within the borders of the gyres, it’s everywhere in the ocean. Half of it, like Coke bottles and PVC pipe, sinks. What does a garbage patch look like? Imagine the night sky on a cloudless, moonless night. Now replace the ocean surface with space, and the stars with plastic; it’s dispersed and it goes on infinitely. Yes, humans have managed to create a problem on a degree of scale that’s nearly incomprehensible and so overwhelming we’re predisposed to like ideas like Slat’s because it has the appearance of near divine simplicity. Every time a gyre cleanup proponent has shown me a design for addressing the problem, the first thing I ask is, ‘do you have the money to make 20 million of those doo-hickies?’ They look at me with a puzzled look, and I just mutter, ‘The ocean is really, really, really, big.”
But beyond the size of the ocean, the sea is one giant corrosive force. Even on just a month-long sail across The South Atlantic, we tore our sails twice, broke some rigging, and utterly destroyed a wind-powered generator—all due to the force of nature. Any blue water sailor will tell you about how destructive the sea is to anything with moving parts. That’s why sailors say, ‘a boat is a hole you fill with money.’ Heck, outer space is less corrosive to machines than the ocean is.
But let’s look at a practical example. My home state of Oregon has been trying to create North America’s first offshore wave energy farm. The first test buoy that was launched, just about 2.5 miles offshore, sank after just a few months. That buoy had a ‘100 year survivability’ rating, and wasn’t just an idea on an Ipad. That was the result of an incredible amount of engineering and venture capital. The company, Finavera Renewables, has since abandoned their wave energy ambitions. Is it because Finavera lacked vision? No. Whether you like it or not, Finavera, like all for-profit schemes, is governed by profit and loss. What’s interesting is that Finavera actually had a product (energy) that was worth money, and still it didn’t pencil out. Eventually, because energy IS so valuable and wave farms are near shore, the technology will become more viable. Which leads me to my next point.
The economics of gyre cleanup don’t work – and a few notes on recycling
The two most common types of plastic in the ocean are polyethylene (PE- plastic bags, dispensing bottles) and polypropylene (PP- bottle caps, fishing gear). So, it stands to reason that these types of plastic would be what Slat’s machine would ‘harvest’ to sell to recyclers. Well, if the economic viability of Slat’s ocean cleaning device rests on his assumption that it will produce a product that will be sold in the market, he needs to better understand the market landscape for his product.
Plastics, chemically speaking, are polymer chains of monomer hydrocarbon molecules. Ultraviolet light weakens the polymer chains until they break, which is why you have the confetti-like micro-plastics found in the ocean. The number one barrier to a closed loop, cradle-to-cradle scenario for plastic is that recycling weakens the polymer chains and thus, the structural integrity of what you can recycle them into. Ocean-borne plastics are so brittle you can break them apart with your fingers, and they’re also saturated with toxic chemicals present in seawater. Another issue is bio-fouling. Life adheres to plastic, and for the most part, plastic can only be recycled if it’s clean or cleaned. Another issue is that plastics have to be separated by type, i.e. PP, PE, etc. In an ocean plastic scenario where all these bits are crazy small, this requires spectroscopic analysis that identifies plastic by the frequency of light it reflects. This is very expensive, even in an automated scenario. Another issue is transportation—plastic bags are hardly ever recycled because in most places, it’s more expensive to transport them to a recycler then the recycler will pay for them. So, from the market analysis standpoint in a gyre cleanup business plan, ocean plastics are about the worst possible feedstock for recycling imaginable, putting the product at a severe competitive disadvantage. Put it this way: Hiring people to climb trees in New York City to gather all the plastic bags in their branches would be more efficient and cheaper than ocean harvesting. Wait, do I sound crazy? Or visionary?
One company, Envision Plastics, has successfully managed to use ocean plastics, working with a company called Method to create a bottle with 25% post-ocean High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). But the economic viability of the product is the issue. Out of 67 products listed on Method’s website, only one is packaged in this type of bottle and it costs a dollar more than other products of the same volume in other types of recycled bottles. Envision Plastics does not advertise ‘Ocean Plastic’ as a wholesale product available on their website. The fact that Method’s ‘Ocean Plastic’ didn’t take off should be noted in Boyan Slat’s feasibility study. Slat seems at least cognizant of this problem when he says:
“According to current estimations – due to the plan’s unprecedented efficiency—recycling benefits would significantly outweigh the costs of executing the project. Although the quality of the plastic is somewhat lower than ordinary recycled plastic it could for example be mixed with other plastics to produce high-quality products. PR through an Ocean Plastics brand can further increase the plastics’ value, and would create awareness with the consumer.”
First up, there is no “plan” so it’s really difficult to vet its “unprecedented efficiency.” And “quality of plastic somewhat lower?” The word “terrible” is a better description. Though cool and innovative, Envision’s Ocean Plastic hasn’t taken off – and do you remember the massive PR around it just months ago? It’s gone.
Like the size of the ocean, the amount of plastic we consume is an issue of scale. In North America, the annual per capita consumption of plastic is roughly 326 pounds as of 2010. That statistic is up nearly a 100 pounds per capita from 2001. Of course, the plastics industry doesn’t like the idea of us consuming less because it means less plastic sold. They keep saying all we need is ‘more recycling.’ But despite even nominal gains in recycling, the sum total of virgin plastics produced in the world annually is going up, not down, which means the sum total of plastics entering the ocean is going up, too. I’m not anti-recycling; recovery is part of the solution, albeit small.
The problem is that the economics of most recycling are terrible, especially in the case of Polyethylene and Polypropylene. A growing single-use input for a market that has a sustained-use durable goods output means the input is always going to be greater than the output – that is – the supply will always exceed demand. Most plastics are very difficult to recycle not because we lack infrastructure, but because they’re not worth enough in a commodities market to incentivize venture capitalists to invest in more infrastructure to process them. Let’s remember that recycling isn’t the work of little green altruistic elves and fairies, it’s a business.
But even when plastics do get recycled, in the vast majority of cases, recycling only kicks the can down the road one generation by creating a product that can’t or won’t (because of economic constraints) be recycled again. In short, the vast majority of the recycling industry isn’t doing anything to solve marine plastic pollution, and for the most part, recycling is just creating a secondary market for waste. Even if the economics of Slat’s Ocean Cleanup Array didn’t further impede its viability, more plastic would still be entering the ocean than his device would pull out. Placing fees on producers of virgin plastics, and giving breaks to those who use 100% recycled content or are actively working towards it, would help to balance this equation out and would be great news for the ocean.
What about the science?
In the simplest of terms, anything floating in the ocean tends to be a ‘party barge’ for life. What I’d like to see for Slat’s design is a time-lapse of his structure at sea predicting how fast it would be colonized by sea life—colonization happens very quickly. I can personally attest to this from recovering tsunami debris at sea, just a year after the devastating wave hit Japan. Anywhere you have seawater you’re going to have havoc wreaking barnacles. Anywhere where you have a platform, you’re going to have dead squid and flying fish stranding themselves, which will attract sea birds, and thus, guano. All of this stuff, coupled with salt, makes moving parts seize.
Little sea life attracts big sea life. Big sea life means entanglement issues. And unfortunately, sea life big or small is notorious for not doing what designers assume it will do. Slat’s design depicts massive booms sticking out of the sides in a ‘V’ pattern thus corralling the floating plastic into some mysterious filter that will separate plankton and plastic. First up, life would colonize the booms, weight it down, and create their own current and eddies around it which would affect the ‘flow’ of how the thing is supposed to work. Fish, attracted by the littler life and the protection from larger predators tend to be voracious ‘munchers’ and thus, really destructive. Oh and storms? You can’t imagine the ferocity we’re talking about until you’ve sailed in full gale. The wind itself becomes audible.
Slat claims that 24 of his devices are all that is needed to cleanup each gyre in 5 years. How massively long are the booms, and how do they stay in a ‘V’ shape that Slat assumes is needed to gather the plastic? Where on earth does the 24 number come from? Slat mentions that these would be anchored to the seabed. That’s great, but it’s not currently possible to anchor anything in 4,000 meters of water (the average depth of the open ocean). The deepest known mooring is 2,000 meters. Even if you could anchor it, one big storm and his device is going to be ripped from its mooring. Ask NOAA about how many data buoys they lose to storms, even in shallow water.
Another technicality is bycatch. Slat suggests that plankton wouldn’t be collected along with the plastic, though he admits more research is needed on this. The definition of plankton is an organism that can’t swim against a current; plankton have no control where they go and the assumption that they’ll somehow avoid the current that is taking the plastic into the processing thinga-ma-jiggy is a bad one. After conducting 50+ surface samples myself, at least half of the material we get from the surface is biomass. Zooplankton is really fragile, and trying to separate it from plastic in most cases is going to damage these critters beyond survivability, especially on an industrial scale. Plan B in Slat’s concept is to centrifuge the critters out—that would rip off their antennae and feeding apparatus. Scientists, when collecting zooplankton, use live catch nets and are very, very careful so as not to damage them. Plankton biologists, needless to say, are skeptical. Though zooplankton certainly isn’t the most charismatic fauna out there (and probably wouldn’t draw the ire of PETA if Slat’s device killed them), let’s remember that all life in the ocean depends on plankton at the base of the food chain. And if one endangered sea turtle was caught up? The fines that Slat would face would bankrupt his project in a second.
Perhaps one of the worst assumptions evident in this design is that the plastic will be on the sea surface. Researchers have shown that plastic suspends in the water column at 100-150 meters due to wave action and sea state. Not only does this mean that Slat’s design wouldn’t capture this plastic, it shows that his estimates of how much plastic is out there aren’t correct and thus, his five year timeframe to clean a gyre becomes even more unrealistic. For more analysis on what the premiere scientists working on the issue think, go here.
Why so bitter?
I absolutely love human creativity, especially when it’s channeled for a greater environmental good. But why I have such an adverse reaction to Slat’s concept is the naiveté with which he proposes it. And sure, maybe I’m a bit jealous that this tale of how solve the problem went viral when so many of my colleagues working on real solutions go unnoticed and uncelebrated by the media. But I also smell an arrogance here—an arrogance that flies in the face of everything we know about the ocean and the problems with recycling. If Slat were just simply floating a design concept, that would be one thing, but that’s not exactly how he portrays it–and all the ipso facto disclaimers working in concert with a fundraising scheme are really troubling. Slat’s facebook page feeds this in its tagline: “The first realistic ocean clean-up concept?” Seriously? Maybe he has the best intentions, but I find this gyre cleanup stuff to be a major distraction from the real solutions to the problem and as such, counter productive. To me, quite frankly, he’s selling snake oil even if he doesn’t know it yet. Remember what William Blake said about good intentions?
The good news
Here’s something that will blow your mind—to clean the ocean of floating plastic, you don’t need to go out and get it, it will come to you. Yep, that’s right. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbsmeyer, author of, Flotsametrics describes a rarely talked about phenomena that occurs naturally in the ocean called Gyre Memory. Gyre Memory demonstrates that upon each orbit of a gyre, the gyre will spit out about half its contents. These contents will then either enter another current or gyre or wash up on land. As this repeats, it means that eventually, all the plastic in the ocean will be spit – out which is why you find plastic fragments on every beach in the world. Beach cleanup is gyre cleanup.
The solution to this problem isn’t elegant, and there exists no silver bullet. The first step in solving the problem is to personally lower your plastic consumption. The next steps are to get involved in cleanups, get involved in campaigns to eliminate problem products, and demand that companies take responsibility for their products post consumer. There is a lot to be hopeful about, even if the real solutions don’t appear real sexy. But with engagement, en masse, there is light at the end of the sewer pipe. Unfortunately with Slat’s idea, I see only wasted resources and more ocean garbage in the making.
This article was written and submitted to Inhabitat by Stiv J. Wilson, Policy Director, The 5 Gyres Institute
This article is the internet equivalent of ocean plastic. You have absolutely no business writing about this subject. Here's your 2 step solution: 1. Outlaw/tax plastic. 2. Use the taxes for ocean cleanup. How hard is that to write? Instead you spend 3000+ words babbling like a mush-mouthed hipster about nothing whatsoever. Just because the kid didn't design it properly, that doesn't mean the concept will never work. That's why you do trial and error through multiple iterations. Find the dimensions of the plastic thing. It's approx ~1,400,000 metres in diameter. So you need don't need 20 million filters.. you need 1400 filters of 1000 metres each. Is that hard to build? I bet you China could do it in one year.
Sea life IS being harmed. The question should be, is a brief dent in that life worth it, to remove a major problem. I suggest that it is. I full accept that the sea respects nothing, and that it is very difficult to build something that will endure, but that shouldn't stop us from trying. Build hundreds of the things, but build them in such a way that when they do break up, the stuff that they gathered, stays gathered.
Tax more heavily the plastics that can't be recycled. Polystyrene is one of the main ones. Tax more heavily, mixed material packaging. Tax all plastics, with a return-refund to encourage people to bring them back to the store. Re-use whenever possible. Sweden for one, has had return-for rebate systems, and reuse of soda bottles, for at least 25 years.
Thank you very much Mr. S.J.Wilson. If you have a heart for the Mr. Wilson please get down to the earth. You are flying too high.society you will not criticize or compete with someone who is trying to give his or her best to fix a problem in persistence. You rather would contribute and try to do something to make a difference for the betterment of the society. I understand you have a point however why could not you start something from the land based? If you doubt the idea of ocean cleanups and ignore the plastics in the ocean, how long are you expecting and plastics to disappear from the face of the ocean or what do you think how many damaged these plastics would cause to the ocean creatures?
When Henry Ford created the motor car it wasn't perfect. It was slow, almost impractical to drive and bad on fuel economy. When the Wright brothers built the first airplane it was only airborne for a few seconds but these were the building blocks for them and others to progress from. A new benchmark to challenge others to do better. Does anyone remember the people that were in the background telling others that their system was flawed? No. They don't. We remember the pioneers not the neigh sayers so instead of using 100% of your brain power to speculate on all the possible floors how about you design a better one or at least ask them how they hope to overcome said 'problems'.
"The problem is that the barriers to gyre cleanup are so massive that the vast majority of the scientific and advocacy community believe it’s a fool’s errand – the ocean is big, the plastic harvested is near worthless, and sea life would be harmed. The solutions starts on land." - I take issue with comments like these. In fact, the vast majority of the article is one big piece on negativity. "Here's the problem, and here's how you'll never do anything to fix it." Negativity breeds negativity, and we already know there's a lot of plastic out there. Being negative and telling people that a potential solution won't work rather than providing solutions yourself, is not only a defeatist attitude, but telling everyone that the only solution is to abandon hope of cleaning up the oceans and that all we can do is consume less plastic (when practically everything is packaged in it), is also telling everyone that we're essentially bad people. Negativity, negativity, negativity. That needs to stop. The oceanic solutions are a must, and every step forward is precisely that, a step forward. Stop the defeatist attitude and applaud headway where it happens. Furthermore, I'd suggest we stop this, "some plastics are recyclable, others aren't" policy. If you're serious about recycling, how about we require that ALL plastic be recycled, and therefore, NONE of it end up in the trash? The stuff that they say can't be recycled now can be melted down and poured into bricks. Bet you could use those for something. The answers are there, and we all need to work together to make the world a better place. The first step is ending the negativity. We know that things are rough right now. We don't need to be told again. What we need now are real solutions and people willing to step forth with their ideas. The stuff that works needs to be applauded, and the stuff that doesn't work needs to be applauded as well, because we learned yet another thing that won't work, just like Edison said with his lamp.
as a rebuttal to this bitter article. http://www.theoceancleanup.com/blog/show/item/responding-to-critics.html
It is not a fallacy until it is tried and proven not to work. Let's hope it works, for all of our sake.
Methinks thou doth protest too much. Like anything else, there seem to be no panacea, but we need to start and as an (Oregon) engineer this seems like a somewhat viable alternative to anything proposed by you or others. It seems a good start, along with more importantly - reducing and eliminating the problem at its sources.
Future generations are pretty much doomed no matter how you look at it. There's really no turning back at this point, the damage has already been done.
Solution is more simple than folks think. All plastic degrades over time when exposed to sunlight and other environmental factors. Just need to weaken the carbon bonds of the plastic during manufacturing and decrease its resistance to UV and other Solar light. You could probably get it to degrade in less than a year. In fact, in general, Id say that if we magically stopped polluting today, than in ten years there would be no more plastic in the ocean at the surface level - all of it would have broken down into its basic elements. Also, I am quite sure that alot of the plastic debris provides habitat for many species of marine organisms. Has anyone done a large study to determine the positive effects of the plastic in the ocean? I know, that seems kinda stupid, but it is something that should be known before its removed right?
sounds to me that instead of advocating ocean cleanup you are taking people out convince them its a fruitless endeavor??? So what the ocean is a big place...whats that old adage a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step....you have to start somewhere and Im certain that compounded ocean cleanups will help.
At least the kid is doing something about it instead of just coming up with theories and poking holes in other peoples plans and ideas.
I Believe Slat has a good idea and great intentions, however as a highly experienced mariner, in 30foot plus seas, his "Pod" design just won't last. I was with the CBS News Crew who actually set foot on the Gyre and CBS would not let the footage go live as it would horrify the US citizens... surely that would be the goal? Anyway, CBS reported that this is the size of TEXAS and ONE MILE deep... the hydraulic action on the plastic has actually turned the center of the gyre into slime... liquid plastic.. sea birds are living on this stuff... There are few options here in my opinion as an Engineer: 1) Get a massive container ship OR 5 anchored around it as processing plants that also use the waste as energy to sustain them being there. Then use smaller boats to take the waste ashore to process it and use it as a power source. Question is... Trump / Obama /who's gonna pay and who gives a F%%K... 2) Second idea is an underwater city that lives from burning the waste as power... futuristic YES... however it gets rid of the 30 foot seas.... which is certainly an issue. I would be happy to hear anyone that would like to discuss this in a professional manner... If I get a bunch of tossers who want to tell me my shorts are the wrong color watch out...
There are always naysayers and pessimists who do nothing but criticize. If you think the solution is stopping industrial develop and increasing consumerism and higher standards of living in China and India, you're a fool. They are not going to stop. They want what we in the West developed over past 150 years and to tell them that they can not have it because it will kill the planet is laughable . Our industry and society will evolve ve into a more sustainable industry and agriculture practices because SE limited resources and costs will demand it.
Of course, you\'re right. You\'re the expert. So, you are sure that the sort of passive collection array this young man proposes won\'t work. So, why poor water all over it? He\'s proposing a two year trial. What is the harm in trying out this project? If it won\'t work, like you think, well, fine, it will support the other things we need to keep pushing, like clean up the land first, etc. But you know, we were told that man would never fly. In the 19th century, 99.9% of all the experts were sure man would never fly. And create a space station that people would live in? That was sci-fi in the 1940s. Now, many of us have had the chance to talk with men and women who have flown the ISS. Oh, and computers? Way back in the late middle of the 20th century, it was thought there was a need for...oh, no more than 6 computers. I guess you never needed one? My 85 year old mom has her own computer that she is online 2-3 hours/day. The human race has made progress against all the "experts" who said "it can\'t be done." Maybe this young man\'s dream will turn out to be the failure you think it is. At least, we\'ll have some better data on the issue when the test period is over. But, what if it works? Or at least, makes a decent dent in the problem. It will take some of the pressure off other parts of the problem, which thereby makes the overall problem somewhat simpler. No matter whether this project works or not, we are no worse off. I prefer to watch and give him some encouragement to try. Pr chris
I have read all the evidence. Slat is a misguided moron backed by fools and halfwits. And age has no bearing - he will still be a moron in his 50s. His idea will be ineffectual at best and detrimental to wildlife and the ecosystem at worst. It will achieve little to nothing. It\\\'s akin to attempting to put out an inferno with a cup of water. Sorry but it\\\'s an \\\'Emperor\\\'s new clothes\\\' scenario and you have all been duped.
I read mic.com's article about the boy wonder first, with great hope in my heart. Then I read this article, and my hopes were dashed. I was angry with being fed false hope. Then I read this http://www.theoceancleanup.com/blog/show/item/responding-to-critics.html and it seems to answer all of your criticisms. I'd be very interested to see your response to this.
What did William Blake say about sitting on one\\\'s hands and naysaying everything?
I pretty much stopped reading after the fifth paragraph. Simply put, if all you can do is is attack the idea by calling it things like a "false prophet from La-La land" without providing anything solid to actually support your position within a few sentences of making such claims (I'm not inclined to follow links. You want to site a reference that may support you position, site it in actual words that show what you believe was being said by the reference that supports your position, not a damn link to the reference that claims that the reference supports your position without saying anything about how), then your piece is not even worth writing, let alone reading. Long winded crap like this is pointless, particularly when the opening paragraphs in it appear to be nothing more than logical fallacy after logical fallacy in it's own right: Anecdotal fallacy - using a personal experience or an isolated example instead of sound reasoning or compelling evidence - I could care less that you have sailed out to see four out of five gyres and claim to have seen how trashed they are. This does not make you an expert about them in my book. Show me actual evidence of how trashed they are. Show me evidence that shows how much you have studied them and what the nature of those studies have been. Then you will have something approaching credibility. And no, I don't count your position as a policy director at a non-profit. I'm the policy director at my organization. The title doesn't say a damn thing about my qualifications, what makes you think it says anything about yours? Appeal to probability – is a statement that takes something for granted because it would probably be the case (or might be the case) - "The problem is that the barriers to gyre cleanup are so massive that the vast majority of the scientific and advocacy community believe it’s a fool’s errand". Do I really need to elaborate more here? So far I've only poked at the first paragraph to point out fallacies in your own piece. You make a statement, you need to back it up directly, not ten paragraphs later. A final point for you: Appeal to the stone (argumentum ad lapidem) – dismissing a claim as absurd without demonstrating proof for its absurdity - you do this throughout your piece from what I see. You dismiss the idea of cleaning the gyres as absurd, but there is absolutely no evidence to support this: It hasn't been tried.
what a sad, tragic character you are Stiv: 1) If you want to criticize, then do so constructively 2) If you want to take the position of \'reason-based, science-based arbiter\' of the merits of an idea like this, then it helps to use data and references to make your point...rather than blathering on interminably about your personal speculations and first-person observations from a boat...I can hardly remember a piece like this that made the author look more like an idiot than this one does in this way. 3) I am an entrepreneur, and you are the very definition of the negative inertia that slows all progress, in all areas of human endeavour: You perfectly personify the tendency of our species to hang on tight to what we have now, and to fear/demean/destroy anything from anyone that is new or different than what we know: Your claim that you and your piece do us some kind of service in protecting the environment, by tearing this down, without anything approaching the sort of data-driven, reason-driven point of view that you want to represent, is totally absurd on its face...i am sorry that entrepreneurs always have to wade through A-Holes like you, but they always do...and the best of them are made stronger for it...i guess we have that to thank you for, even if it was not your intent 4) You do not seem sincere about your goal to help...you seem like someone who has waved his arms around a lot and mad no progress at all...someone who relies on contributions from people like me to support your desire to continue paying yourself to take people on sailboat rides around the ocean, while calling it philanthropy...and now your ego is severely bruised by a kid who is getting traction, and re-directing your sailboat-ride-money into something that actually attempts to get the plastic out of the ocean...boo-hoo: Please get out of the way, so that the money i sent to these people can be used to build these things and see if they work.
So you're trying to say we should do nothing about what's already in the oceans? Sorry, but if you are unwilling to admit a multi-pronged approach is necessary to fix this mess then you're looking at this with tunnel vision.
I wonder if Stiv can provide an update on his opinion (which by the way I agree with) now that they are moving forward with Slat 's technology. I think it offers false hope but don 't see an counter narrative out there. http://www.theoceancleanup.com/
You paint a dark, dismal outlook on the problems of pollution. However, everything you wrote seems to be true and accurate. But, think about this twist of fate. The only thing that might save the world is man's greed and lust for money. If waste material can be cheaply converted to a needed product like fuel oil or building material you will never see another barge of trash leave the NYC harbor for the three mile limit to be dumped at sea. Solving the problem of how to keep furtue trash from ending up in the ocean will free up researchers (and money)to figure out how to clean the ocean. I guess that can be called the Yin and Yang of world ocean pollution.
You would sound more professional and more people would listen to you, if you wouldn't write in such an arrogant way. Simply insulting enthusiastic people who care about the environment and have ideas to help solve a huge problem that one alone cant cope with is easy. Sitting together with them and helping them with their ideas and make it more realistic would help more though.
How about a world wide plastic tax on the makers of plastic to fund feasibility studies? When you start talking tax people listen.
Daniel Baker: Everyone can think of thousands of reasons why something won’t work, or is a stupid idea. But the truth is Mavericks are the ones that lead the world. At least this kid actually *Doing* something. These scientists bring to mind a small crowd of people standing around a flat tire and discussing ideas while one person is actually getting the job done with whatever he has *right now*.
Fine particles of plastic sink to ocean floor and get absorbed into zooplankton - we need to ban plastics ASAP
The claim that a gyre releases half its burden with each rotation sounds fishy to me, and I'm unwilling to spring for the reference. The body of fluid as a whole moves roughly in a toroidal manner, with rotation about two axes, a straight vertical and a loop within the fluid body. The flotsam accumulates because the componenent of rotation about the loop is toward the vertical axis along the see surface, not away from it. Got a little more detail on this claim?
Stiv Wilson is a writer, ( after reading this article I'm not sure that accurate ) not a PHD of any kind. He signed up and became a member of the 5 Gyres Team, sailed the oceans. This does not make him an expert, however he does spout a lot of details he knows little about. There were those who said flight was impossible, space travel only science fiction and if we look back far enough, many thought the world flat. I would have to say Stiv falls into a naysayer category.
Ok, so the feasibility study is available online: http://www.theoceancleanup.com/fileadmin/media-archive/theoceancleanup/press/downloads/TOC_Feasibility_study_lowres.pdf It would be kind to write another article about the project after reading it. If the autthor sees new problems then please post them so they can be adressed. If the author has other thoughts about the project then it would be interesting to read those too.
The phrase is "all of a sudden," not "all of the sudden." It is also too casual for the article and reduces overall credibility. Using it incorrectly only makes it worse as it lends a feeling of ignorance to the picture. I stopped reading at that point as I no longer felt the author was a reliable professional source.
Most enlightening. Major thanks for the thorough explanation, and for your first-hand experience with the gyres.
We even line our winter boots in this house with old plastic bags that we have had for years, we simply wash them. We are 2 people in our house hold, our trash is collected every 2 weeks, in tjis year starting from July 2013to July 2014 we have sent to be recycled at the local council site, less than 2 large plastic shopping bags of trash, which mostly contained, broken black coat hangers, old shoes with melange soles, and old insulating material out of the loft, soiled with some kind of spillage, before our time in the house. Glass, aluminium cans and foil along with fruit juice cartons all go into the recycling bins of the local council. Paper, cartons of all kinds and wood go in the wood burner. Yet even though we and many of our friends have been doing this for more than 40 years, really not enough.
Any form of solution, that brings any kind of action in this subject, should be given the air.....with more heads working together to solve it, we will come up with more than one way. Waiting until the point is gotten through, local government, national governments, international governments and last but not least the general public at large, is like waiting for Hell to freeze over. And any one with any wit of brain would know that by now. I may only be a simple retired house wife, but I recycle every bit of plastic that comes into the home one way or another. The garage is insulated with polystyrene packaging rescuded from the lorry delivering the new Fridge/freezer earlier in the year. We have polybeads between mica and the floors/ceilings of the entire house. Utility coridor is packed to the 13 ft high ceiling, with polystyrene boxes, which formerly carried brocolie to the green grocer. Meat xartons are used as dishes under plant pots...milk cartons are used to store both grey and rain water...and last but not least, other wrappings are shredded to make decorations.
Personally, I think you should get over yourself and give this Boyan Slat, a hand. You and every other detractor of intelligent thought and action. It might not be the best idea in the wirld. It might not be the best solution inthe world. But, at least this young guy is not sitting on his indulgent butt, leaving it for the next generation to deal with. While the rest of the world and his wife mindlessly use up the Planets ever decreasing resources. At least he got your attention......and he certainlygot mine and I have been trying and saying for years, after working for a while in a plastics factory that we should recycle all forms of plastics and not dump them in landfills, or just dump them on countries too poor to recycle them.
Stiv J. Wilson you are so negative about a positive. First off let me get you to understand how the world works or has worked. Life on planet Earth has for some many years been inhabited by humans and with their wastes that they have paid little attention to, over time has just accumulated. The plan having to start on land? Are you seriously blind to the worlds exploits of trying to find a solution to this mass pollution? What Boyan has done has had a passion for our own mistakes in the past. Trying to solve a problem for our generation and future generations to come. Our ocean is our lifeline and to see us pollute it like this is sad. We need to do more as a species and 1 person out of 7 billion or wtv had the charisma and balls to do something about it ALONE at first. Respect his attempts and how far he's gotten and stop finding a reason why it wont work. Use your time more efficiently and perhaps instead of FAIL find an IMPROVED way of doing it.
destroy the o-zone with CFCs then you have enough UV light to breakdown all the plastic. simple right?
This is a very revealing and sobering review of the "fantastic" project. The writer clearly speaks with authority from a wide experience in the field. Therefore this article should not be taken lightly, as some commenters seem to favor. I already had some doubts about the scale and durability of the project, because, if it would so easy to do things like this, it would already have been done in other fields, like for example fishery. But no, no one has ever created a permanent 100km structure in the ocean, and as we know there are 30m+ waves out there, what can ever survive for longer then one season? I agree that in the 1st place we must stop the making of new waste at home. Treat it like we treated CFK's. Find a replacement for 99% of the used plastics. We are smart enough to do this. There are plenty of materials and composites that can be used as a replacement. Paper, glass, ceramics, cardboard, quick decaying plastics perhaps. Maybe not as good or as cheap is plastic, but a choice must be made. Why should a fresh product that you buy in your supermarket be packed in a 10.000-year-lasting package? The thought of it is insane actually... Philosophy of responsibility should be an elementary part in product development. International law should enforce this. International opinion should initiate this. I support a ban on plastic in short-life consumers products. Secondly, how painful it might look, nature is busy gathering the stuff. At the cost of many lives of birds, suffering, but still gathering rubbish and bringing it to the shore. I believe that if we wait 200 years and add nothing new, it will be washed on land, becoming part of geology, sunburned and grinded to dust. At the cost of much pain by the creatures of the sea. But that is a thing not unique to this particular human trouble isn't it?
What COULD have been a good article has been sullied by this so-called \\\'author\\\'s\\\' bitter rant. I could NOT care less about this guy\\\'s \\\'credentials\\\' or that he\\\'s Policy Director for this or that or the other or WHATEVER. The fact is, he\\\'s an ARROGANT ASSHOLE apparently with a HUGE bone to pick with the World because they don\\\'t listen to him. Try some Humble Pie Pal and people may tend to listen to what you have to say. Your attacks on well-intentioned people and their ideas are almost as disgusting as your raving diatribe ~ ~ ~ IF I had any intention of contributing to \\\'The 5 Gyres Institute\\\', this author has just eliminated that possibility. What a COMPLETE JERK!!!! ~ ~ ~
What COULD have been a good article has been sullied by this so-called 'author's' bitter rant. I could NOT care less about this guy's 'credentials' or that he's Policy Director for this or that or the other or WHATEVER. The fact is, he's an ARROGANT ASSHOLE apparently with a HUGE bone to pick with the World because they don't listen to him. The UTTERLY CONDESCENDING remarks, ie. 'The Sea is cruel and really really big' are offensive and have NO PLACE in any narrative purporting to disseminate information. Try some Humble Pie Pal and people may tend to listen to what you have to say. Your attacks on well-intentioned people and their ideas are almost as disgusting as your raving diatribe ~ ~ ~ IF I had any intention of contributing to 'The 5 Gyres Institute', this author has just eliminated that possibility. What a COMPLETE JERK!!!! ~ ~ ~
I think Stiv Wilson does a great job presenting the complexity of the problem and I appreciate his frankness. Here in the US, we are the only industrialized county that requires creationism to be taught as a viable scientific model. I'm sure it has to be difficult for scientist from geologists, astronomists, biologists, plate technicians, any many others who struggle for funding to see money thrown away on absurd ventures that reduce the complexities of these sciences to the equivalent of a 5 syllable fundraising cliche. Complex problems require complex solutions, not an unrealistic over idealistic quick fix fantasy. It has been a little over a year since this article has been published. In the past year, many beach cities have penned laws that require stores to charge for plastic bags, they are hanging nets across rivers and runoff channels to reduce trash flowing into the ocean, they are charging inland cities for other clean up methods, water filters displace thousands of plastic bottles, and emphasis on recycling and re-purposing continue to grow. Chemists continue working on ways to make plastic less buoyant and reduce it's longevity as inexpensively as possible. We are working on laws and rules to make it less profitable to destroy the planet. We are changing our "race to the bottom" mentality and embrace the idea that, if it is too dirty to make here, it is too dirty to sell here! As China and India's combined population reaches 3 billion, roughly ten times the population of the US, and their economies industrialize, we realize that we are going to have to put pressure on them to clean up their act. This will be difficult as we are still the number one consumer polluter. We must start charging everybody who sells products here for the cost of disposal and cleanup instead of taxing the lower middle class at higher rates to foot the bill for industrial waste clean up. These are some of the relatively realistic solutions that we are working on today using available technology. Someday, we might be able make a tool that will sift air and water and extract pollutants leaving biological organisms undisturbed. The complexity of such a tool makes it a completely unrealistic fantasy given today's technology. Thank you Stiv Wilson for having the courage to state the obvious in very sophisticated scientific manner.
I mean, if this won't work, then no amount of scathing articles will change that or expidite the coming of that conclusion. Lets keep encouraging the youth and their imaginations to solve world threatening problems.
What is it always 1 way or another. Why not do both. This teen has captured the world's attention and has people thinking about Ocean pollution like never before. Stop condemning 1 possible practice to implement your own. Imagine if both of these practices went into effect. What is needed here is team work.
the single most telling error in Slat's innocent (ignorant?) thinking is that if it were actually economically feasible to recycle these plastics on land, they would almost never get to the ocean in the first place. tiny case-in-point - as soon as bottle deposits were made on bottles when i was a kid, the landscape suddenly became clear of tossed litter bottles - and gave us kids pocket money--- the problem here is of course - the sheer volume of plastics produced and their uneconomic recycling profile.
Straw8cat: You missed the point of the article regarding the FORCE of the ocean itself. Having been a sailor - unless you have actually been out on the "Big wa-wa" (ocean) - you can't possibly imagine how massive and powerful it is. And what about marine life, as noted in the article...these are valid points also that need to be considered. I will concur with the valid scientists that have been studying this problem for some time...they know whereof they speak. I thought Slat's idea was brilliant - but had not thought it through, encompassing all the legitimate points in this article and I concur with its author. It MUST start on LAND and with plastic production/consumption reduction. Going directly to the source of the problem would be a more viable start.
Boylan Slat has inspired a lot of people who are actively supporting him. Many are engineers and marine scientists, and only a few are on the payroll- what little there is of it- but the fundraising drive is going well, and just below the halfway mark to their $2 Million goal with 70 days left in the drive. This is the estimated cost of their first deep ocean cleanup experiment, which I believe will happen this summer. As for sorting out the plastics for recycling: no need to. Use a tuned microwave refinery to turn the plastics into a usable diesel fuel substitute. One machine already available on the market turns 1 kg of plastics into about 0.8litres (or was that 0.8kgs...?) of fuel or certain chemical feedstocks. I estimate the cost of that 1 litre of diesel substitute will cost about 45 cent to produce, but that might be a bit of an underestimate- it depends on the local or on-board price of electricity. Nonetheless, it should provide a profit for the operation, and eliminate the need to buy fuel if they have companion ships that can process the plastic. They won't clean up everything, since the net openings will be of a certain size, and smaller bits will mostly pass through, but a lot of what is in the top meter of seawater will get scooped up. Most of the plastic turns out to be in the top 1 meter of water. So far, it looks like a viable project. And the project is funded by voluntary contributions, just as the experimental Solar Roadways thing is. Later on we will know more. Keep our fingers crossed, if you think that will help. You can help by donating here:Let's see how much 5Gyres chips in. https://fund.theoceancleanup.com/