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Pacific Ocean Trash Patch - Solutions in Sight?

by Nancy Knudsen on 31 May 2008
Trash Patches in the North Pacific - twice the size of Texas .. .
We scuffed through the deep trash on uninhabited Red Sea beaches and wept. We sailed garbage patches in the Indian Ocean, counting the left and right thongs to prevent ourselves from weeping. We didn't even see the worst example of all - the North Pacific Gyre, but Ian Kiernan sailed through it, and researcher Charles Moore has been studying it for 10 years. Now a Canadian teenager has found a potential solution to the world's monstrous plastic problem.

In every ocean there are gyres, ocean vortices caused by the rotation of the earth. The North Pacific Gyre contains the world's worst example of pollution. Here there is a vast floating soup of plastic bags and other goods which has collected over many years because the circular current and lack of wind drives floating debris into its centre.

In addition to this swirling vortex of trash - twice the size of Texas - the UN Environment Program estimates that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic litter in every square mile of ocean.

According to science based website The Daily Galaxy, Plastic bags, once icons of customer convenience, cost more than 1.6 billion barrels of oil per year and leave the environment to foot the bill. Each year the world produces 500 billion bags, and they take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Apart from taking up space in landfills, and littering our streets and parks, they pollute the last great symbol of freedom and cleanliness, the oceans, and kill the wildlife within. Recently we sailed across the Pacific Ocean loosely connected with around 50 other boats, most of them fishing. We all noted the same thing - no wildlife, no fish.

Marine researcher Charles Moore at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach says there’s no practical fix for the problem of the North Pacific trash patch. He has been studying the massive patch for the past 10 years, and said the debris is to the point where it would be nearly impossible to extract.

'Any attempt to remove that much plastic from the oceans - it boggles the mind,' Moore said from Hawaii, where his crew is docked. 'There's just too much, and the ocean is just too big.'

Ian Kiernan, the Australian founder of Clean Up the World, started his environmental campaign two decades ago after being shocked by the incredible amount of rubbish he saw on an around-the-world solo yacht race. He says he’ll never be able the wipe the atrocious site from his memory.

'It was just filled with things like furniture, fridges, plastic containers, cigarette lighters, plastic bottles, light globes, televisions and fishing nets,' Kiernan says. 'It's all so durable it floats. It's just a major problem.'

Then along comes Daniel Burd.

This Canadian teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster -- in three months, he figures. Burd recently won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.

Burd’s discovery isolated two strains of bacteria (Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas) that work together to consume polyethelene plastic at record rates, yielding a culture that rendered plastic bags 43% decomposed after six weeks, with the only outputs being water and an infinitesimal amount of carbon dioxide. The system is cheap, energy efficient, and easily scalable for industrial applications. “All you need,' Burd says 'is a fermenter . . . your growth medium, your microbes and your plastic bags.'

Burd's discovery will not, by itself, solve the whirling vortexes of plastic garbage in the North Pacific, but with an infrastructure in place to harness Burd's innovation, there's hope to prevent future damage to the planet.

Now we need some international cooperation to solve the problem of the Trash Patch of the North Pacific Gyre

Source: The Daily Galaxy

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