back to article The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Now 100,000kg smaller

A Dutch startup working to remove plastic garbage from the Pacific Ocean said it's marking a major milestone: extracting 100,000 kg (220,462 lbs) of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). The Ocean Cleanup has been working on ridding the world of the GPGP since 2013. Its founder and CEO, Boyan Slat, said the …

  1. b0llchit Silver badge
    Boffin

    "Thus, if we repeat this 100,000 kg haul 1,000 times – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be gone,"

    At one haul per month (optimistic) this will then take... carry the one... round down... 83 years.

    The influx of plastic garbage into the oceans is about 8,000,000 metric tonnes per year. Lets say that, unrealistically little, one ppm ends up in the garbage patch, then, at 12 times 100000 kg/y removal, it will take, hmm, lets see, practically forever.

    Maybe we should consider to reduce the influx of plastic garbage and prevent the problem instead of trying to solve a problem that persists because of our collective stupidity?

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Angel

      "Maybe we should consider to reduce the influx of plastic garbage and prevent the problem instead of trying to solve a problem that persists because of our collective stupidity?"

      Have you . . . have you met humans? For every person who think this garbage cleanup is valuable and necessary, there's probably another one who thinks it's Communist Greenie hippy crap concocted just to slander the holy name of unfettered capitalism.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        It blows my mind that those in the church of unfettered capitalism are able to dismiss any such issue thats inconvenient for them as "made up"

    2. innominatus

      Painting the Forth Bridge used to be the never ending task exemplar, now no longer so. Who knows? I'm an ocean half empty kind of person...

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        We shall see, it was coated with a new formulation which should last longer. Though last I was across the Forth a large part of the Forth Bridge was shrouded likely for metal coating duties.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Considering it was an almost continuous job before, the new coating appears to have lasted about 10 years so far. There are, apparently, some areas which may need patching, bit nothing approaching a full re-paint job. Most likely it's some areas that may not have been prepped properly and according to one article I read, some flaking requiring a touch-up is to be expected.

    3. cornetman Silver badge

      Are we not doing this also? There are big pushes in most western countries to reduce or eliminate single use plastics. In many cases, plastic is being replaced by paper or card products.

      I applaud them for taking this initiative. I agree that doing this alone is not the answer, but we are getting there. Solving the problem of plastic waste pollution is like turning an enormous oil tanker. The problem is massive and won't be solved quickly.

      1. Youngone Silver badge

        I agree entirely with cornetman. This is a great start.

      2. david 12 Silver badge

        Most of the large-item polution does not come from western countries. It comes from countries with large island systems and non-western countries with large unregulated river systems.

        I know that Indonesia (a major source of ocean waste) is moving to a closed-cycle system of plastic use: if you sell it, you also dispose of it. They are working on it. But it is a massive problem, and they aren't yet a rich country.

        There is also the problem of fabric micro-plastics. This program is working on removing large plastic items that break down into small plastic items, but there is also the problem of items that start off as microscopic. The clothes you buy often include the instruction 'wash before use'. This means that the manufacturer does not have to deal with the problem of factory dye and micro-plastic waste -- instead the problem is distributed to millions of homes. For western countries, which already have effective systems of garbage collection, micro-plastics as a direct result of washing, particularly new garments, is a major source of their present ocean pollution.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Not to mention the micro-plastics used in many make-up products that gets washed off and down the drain every night.

        2. Trixr

          Given that much of that waste is due to manufacturing goods for Western nations or disposing of our junk, I think it's a bit disingenuous to insist it's "not ours". I'd say a good chunk of it is in fact ours, indirectly.

          Australia exports over three-quarters of the coal it digs up. A lot of it to power those overseas factories churning out that stuff we'll eventually consume. We don't get off lightly in either of those equations.

      3. gandalfcn Silver badge

        True, but go to the 'Pines, indonesia and many other countries, they use phenomenal quantities.

        1. gandalfcn Silver badge

          Fun Fact. Downvoting facts doesn't make then not true, but it does prove something else.

    4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: collective stupidity

      You only have to watch a smoker who flicks the cigarette butt carelessy to the ground.

      The world is our trash can.

      Until the vast of people understand that that is not the case, it's going to be an uphill battle.

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: collective stupidity

        "The world is our trash can."

        It always has been Not just for humans but for all other living things. The difference is that we've spent quite a bit of time now dumping things that don't break down naturally into material that's recycled by the living environment.

        A lot of folks talk about our 'need to get back to nature'. In fact we need to do just the opposite. Nature is phenomenally profligate and wasteful (which, incidentally, is how it sustains the incredible complexity of the trophic mesh). It seems that humans are the only animals with the capacity to take considered steps towards being less profligate, and it's about time we started to do so. Sadly, though, 'sustainability' is typically interpreted as finding ways to continue being just as profligate while postponing the consequences.

        1. Blitheringeejit
          Holmes

          Re: collective stupidity

          >>The difference is that we've spent quite a bit of time now dumping things that don't break down naturally into material that's recycled by the living environment.

          The other difference is the sheer number of people who are now dumping things, compared to even 50 years ago. Stopping humans from making so many more humans has to be a part of the solution.

          1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

            Re: collective stupidity

            ^^^ Not enough upvotes in the world for this ^^^

          2. Binraider Silver badge

            Re: collective stupidity

            I recall Ban Ki-Moon citing population as the biggest threat of all.

            We either deal with it ourselves rationally, or we cause innumerable damages and nature will fix it for us.

          3. Potty Professor Bronze badge
            Angel

            Re: collective stupidity

            When I was at University, there was a big drive to cut population growth, which included the admonition to "Stop at Two". So I did.

          4. Muscleguy Silver badge

            Re: collective stupidity

            I sentence you to go watch a Hans Rosling talk on the Tube. With the exception of Africa which has room, the world is now reproducing at slightly below the reproduction rate. This includes all of Asia. Population is still growing due to longevity increasing. Also people who would have died of disease are no longer doing so. Death rates (pre Covid) are falling.

            It means we will likely peak at about 9 Billions then decline to somewhere between 7 and 5 Billions. Japan and Italy offer us lessons on managing decline. The UK used to manage it with immigration. Who will wipe the arses of the elderly in care homes is not known. Crops rot in the fields for lack of people to pick them. Hence at peak asparagus season British asparagus could not be found in supermarkets. Portuguese spears instead.

    5. Swarthy Silver badge

      My main quibble with this is that the GPGP is not so much the result of collective stupidity, it is the result a very few people being incredibly stupid. Fishing nets/ropes count for almost half of the "ocean bound" plastic. Get the fishing industry to switch back to hemp rope, and that's half your problem solved.

      Added bonus: hemp nets/ropes can be repaired, where plastic can only be dumped/recycled, leading to even less waste.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        "plastic (rope) can only be dumped/recycled"

        I call bullshit.

        The degradeable hemp seems a great idea though

    6. midgepad Bronze badge

      Is your house tidy?

      Both are needed, and a reduction in entry plus an increase in removal go nicely together.

      There's a linkage there to William Gibson's SF novel The Peripheral, if you need something to read.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Is your house tidy?

        "There's a linkage there to William Gibson's SF novel The Peripheral, if you need something to read."

        Or watch the TV series :-)

        Production finished last November, no idea where they are up to in post-prod but it's expected on Amazon Prime (or your favourite alternate source) sometime this year.

    7. Zzxap

      They (ocean clean-up) do also have interceptors that they deploy at polluting river mouths to cut off the flow to the patch

    8. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Maybe we should consider to reduce the influx of plastic garbage and prevent the problem instead of trying to solve a problem that persists because of our collective stupidity?"

      That's a great idea, and most of the more advanced economies have already taken action, at least with regard to gross/larger items such as plastic bags floating down rivers. In some parts of the 3rd world however, it's a very very different story for many reasons, not least of which, money, or lack thereof. Now, I know that people will use the most striking image possible to raise awareness, but when you've seen multiple photos of multiple rivers in multiple countries choked with plastic waste flowing down to the sea, it can get a bit depressing.

    9. Blackjack Silver badge

      Yeah we really should stop using plastic...

      And lead...

      And coal...

      And a thousand other things.

      1. nijam Silver badge

        > Yeah we really should stop using plastic...

        The problem is not that plastic is dreadful, but that it is wonderful. And stays wonderful even after we've stopped using it.

  2. martinusher Silver badge

    There should be a bonus for this work

    The garbage might be worth something but it probably is not so there needs to be some kind of financial incentive to haul in the trash rather than relying on (effectively) a charity. Its like other trash -- we, collectively, put it there so we, collectively, need to pay to remove it. Coordination of payment could be through something like the UN (except that based on past history it will spawn another major bureaucracy).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There should be a bonus for this work

      The trick is to hand over control of Taiwan to whoever collects the most garbage that year.

      That will motivate CN and US to use their prodigious military budgets, and the Taiwanese to use their prodigious energy and ingenuity.

      I predict the main problem will be a lack of garbage in a decade or so, but I'm sure CN and US can sort something out to solve that.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: There should be a bonus for this work

        Get that robot some more beer!

  3. Charlie van Becelaere

    Units, Please

    "The cleanups swept a 3,000 square kilometer [sic] area of the Pacific, roughly equivalent to the size of Rhode Island or Luxembourg."

    Rhode Island? Luxembourg?

    3,000 square kilometres is better understood as approximately 144 MilliWales or .098 Belgium. (And one assumes the Luxembourg referenced in the article is the nation rather than the Belgian province.)

    Where are the editors?

    1. RegGuy1 Silver badge

      Re: Units, Please

      3,000 square kilometer [sic]

      It also talks of trash and garbage. Does that help?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Units, Please

      To quote my Physics teacher from 40 years ago: "Units, units, you nits"

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Units, Please

        Units smunits.

        I spend much of my life doing dilution calculations where one volume is not known. You go those using ratios. The units cancel out, ratios are dimensionless. This is useful if you have 2L of stock solution but you want to know how much to put into a 20micolitre reaction. You don’t have to deal with powers of 10 if you use ratios.

        I get me a new student once the summer ends. The first thing, after this is where everything is that I will teach him is ratios.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Units, Please

        To quote my Physics teacher from 40 years ago: "Units, units, you nits"

        Exactly. Why are they using Kg for the mass? When the numbers get bigger, you switch the prefix up. Have they never heard of tonnes? Or is it just that 100,000Kg has a bigger impact on the public than the identical but more correct 1000 tonnes?

        I'm a millionaire in PR terms. I have well over a million pennies in the bank!

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Units, Please

          "identical but more correct 1000 tonnes?"

          Oops. Missed the edit window. 100 tonnes or course.

    3. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Units, Please

      Only Belgians (and maybe the Luxembourgers) know there's a province of Luxembourg in Belgium. ;-)

      So of course they mean the Grand Duchy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Units, Please

        I thin I've just found it on a map. Pleased to see that if you were to travel to the province from Brussels then you'd pass the duchy on the left-hand side.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Units, Please

      .098 Belgium??!!

      Don't be disgusting, this is a respectable, family-friendly publication...

    5. midgepad Bronze badge

      Re: Units, Please

      In the Pacific, how many Whales to the Wales do we expect?

      And is a porpoise a mili-whale?

  4. Caver_Dave
    Stop

    Where does it all come from?

    https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/these-10-rivers-carry-95-of-all-plastic-into-the-ocean/

    1. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

      Re: Where does it all come from?

      Crikey, I had no idea the problem was such a problem in those areas

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Where does it all come from?

        Here's how it sort of works, at least in Thailand and Vietnam.

        You go to a shop, I buy something from the fridge, may come in its own container and be fine, it goes in a small plastic bag, i buy some stuff lose it doesn't need to go in a plastic bag, it goes in a small plastic bag, eventually this collection of things in small plastic bag goes in a carrier bag...

        Or you go and get coffee, half the places don't want to clean glasses, so you get your coffee at the shop it comes in a plastic cup.

        Straws come with everything.

        There's just so much plastic being casually used there, if you are not that careful you end up with so much plastic waste in a week that it is more than what you might generate in the UK being careful in a month.

        It's an education thing as much as anything, but so many places plastic bags, straws, and the like are just done automatically its just not easy to get around.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Where does it all come from?

          Change that to UK, any European country, the USA etc and that was the situation just a very few short years ago.

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Re: Where does it all come from?

            perhaps Thailand and Vietnam will catch on in a few short years then.

            I heard Japan are pretty prolific with it too - individually plastic wrapped biscuits in a pack etc

            1. Triggerfish

              Re: Where does it all come from?

              Yeah I have had the biscuit thing.

              Some places are starting to, compared with a few years back there certainly seems less plastic. More...(hipster isn't the right word and hippy isn't either) fashionable.. These places are starting to use non plastics but it's such a small percentage. It's going to take a good generational shift or two IMO. Not lots of environmental news, especially if it effects industry.

              Half the people in the cities it seems are from the country side, go out to their home towns and its like a free survival course on what you can eat etc in the local forest. They have a very practical view of what the environment is there for. It's like us lot a few years back I guess we got rich food wise, resource wise enough to have time to care about this shit.

              Some of the bigger concerns are probably some of the biggest culprits at for example at some point economy of scale says its cheaper to go disposable plastic and stop washing glasses, and some of the street food can be very environmentally wrapped in banana leaves say, you still get it packed in a plastic bag though.

              Plastic recycling tend to happen this way for example, you chuck all your rubbish together in a bag, then someone comes along at night who really needs the cash digs through your rubbish and sells it on to someone.

              There's lots of new stuff and old ways of doing things, they're all developing countries in that area at varying stages. A rural area in Thailand or Vietnam might have 4g while people go out and hunt food with traditional wooden crossbows or muskets and then sling it on the back of a Honda. Plastic is useful as hell, but the disposal of it, and the sheer usage without education of what happens the next year is not sunk in yet in any meaningful way.

    2. Bill Gray

      Re: Where does it all come from?

      Interesting. Looks as if the plastic removal really ought to be done at the mouth of the Yangtze.

      I say that only somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I would ass u me that the density of garbage is greatest at these river mouths. Then again, you presumably also have much more shipping traffic at these locations; running their "sweeper" back and forth is going to be an obstacle course.

    3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Where does it all come from?

      great article!

      clear and concise (none of the trolling , clickbait and political bias im accutomed to)

      this graphic at the top summs up the whole thing

      https://bigthink.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/origin-168.jpg

  5. brainwrong

    hype

    "Plastic removed by the group is sent for recycling"

    That irresponsible, I'll end up as trash in the environment again. It should be destroyed by incineration in a properly constructed and run plant to generate energy.

    "Thus, if we repeat this 100,000 kg haul 1,000 times – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be gone,"

    Utter bollocks. It's density will reduce, so the total will diminish approximately exponentially.

    "A long chain of floating buoys suspended between two boats is dragged slowly through the water, collecting trash and funneling it into a collection area at the rear. A 3-meter deep net wall runs the length of the system and collects plastics floating below the surface"

    How much sea-life did it collect?

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: hype

      I suspect a lot less than you'd think, given that they're careful about how the stuff is separated.

      Also, the density may reduce, but it certainly won't diminish exponentially given that more plastic is added daily through the glorious mess of us pouring plastics into the sea at an exponential rate.

      Have to agree on the recycling part. Burn it, or frack it into fuel.

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: hype

      How much sea-life did it collect?

      I have to admit that this was actually my first thought. A second thought, though, noted that both the end and the not-very-deep bottom are both open; this is essentially a near-surface-only collection so the mega-fauna are probably not bothered.

      But I believe that many of the smaller animals have taken this sort of floating junk as a handy place to live - though I don't know what or how many - and this could be unfortunate for them.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: hype

        A lot of small sea life, baby sea life will use it as shelter they sort of do this thing naturally anyway with other floating wreckage, trees etc. But its only temporary anyway the wreckage sinks and sometimes there's no cover and pelagic species get a meal (some will follow floating wreckage).

        Right now if they are using plastic for cover, then its also a hunting ground for larger species and its also getting in the food chain.

        So the loss of cover IMO is probably not as bad as taking it out, getting the plastic out of the food chain, letting the Oceans get cleaner long term is probably the better option. You see all this sort of crap get stuck to reefs etc as well and as much as there are issues with bleaching, netting and stuff like that over a reef can trap a whole area of sea life and just kill it fish, inverts the lot, corals underneath as well.

    3. James Wilson

      Re: hype

      Um, so you think if it's recycled then humanity will use the resulting plastic, however if it's incinerated then we will go without rather than using virgin plastic instead? I'm afraid I don't share your optimism.

      Also the people doing this care enough about it to have put together a company and created the technology, while we sit at our keyboards and comment on El Reg articles. I suspect they've put a bit of thought in to the sea-life bit as well.

      1. brainwrong

        Re: hype

        Recycled plastic is unsuitable for many applications, people are developing new uses for plastic to be able to use up recycled plastic. Things such as reinforcement fibres for building materials, microplastics for the future.

        When someone can de-polymerise it all I'll change my mind.

        1. Muscleguy Silver badge

          Re: hype

          Biologists are on the case. Several varieties of bacteria many tamed and crippled have been developed who will break down particular sorts of plastics. You do that in a controlled space rather than spray them on a garbage patch.

          1. brainwrong

            Re: hype

            Wouldn't want those bugs to get out and into my house. Hope they engineered to require something else to live that the biologists give them, to keep them under control.

            Given the awful quality of some modern plastics I see, I have to wonder if such bugs may already be about.

            1. Trixr

              Re: hype

              One of the varieties they're most hyped about at present requires some specific nutrients and 120 C temps in a kind of "cooker" (controlled digestion container) to really get into gear.

              Maybe the inside of our homes will reach those temps in the next few decades anyway, but here's hoping not.

          2. nijam Silver badge

            Re: hype

            > Biologists are on the case.

            There was a Doomwatch story about that. Didn't end well, really.

        2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: hype

          it seems when most things are recycled all you can make is gravel

    4. nijam Silver badge

      Re: hype

      > I'll end up as trash in the environment again.

      Surely not.

      Misspellings aside, though, at least some plastic that goes to recycling is really recycled. And that amounts to less new i.e. additional, plastic.

  6. gandalfcn Silver badge

    100,000kg, is 100 tonnes, which isn't very much.

    I applaud their efforts but think they are a bit inefficient.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      That was my thought as well. I wonder how much fuel they used to do this?

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        low weight - but an impressive volume as plastic low density

  7. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge
    Boffin

    I'm always a little befuddled as to how come so much plastic waste ends up in the oceans. Yes, I know that we have a major problem with single-use plastic containers / plastic waste but for me - and people I've talked to - this either goes into a recycling bin (and the council do whatever it is that the council do for recycling) or general waste (and the council bury it in a landfill somewhere).

    There's a plastic bottle on my desk right now, but I'm struggling to think how I could dispose of this in such a way that it'd actually have a negative impact on aquatic life, short of me getting in my car, driving twenty-odd miles to the beach and chucking it into the surf.

    I'm sure that some plastic waste gets into the sea because of d***heads littering at the beach or chucking the odd plastic bottle off the back of a boat but I don't see how that accounts for the volumes of plastics in the ocean. Do some places have a policy of collecting municipal waste and then dumping it at sea rather than recycling, incinerating or burying it?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not denying anything, or saying the problem doesn't exist - far from it - I just don't understand where the problem comes from.

    1. Azamino

      See above for explanation

      Caver Dave posted this link a little higher up the chain:

      https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/these-10-rivers-carry-95-of-all-plastic-into-the-ocean/

      Worth bearing in mind that some of that plastic will have come from manufacturing processes for goods bound for the West.

      1. midgepad Bronze badge

        Parking a couple of these off those estuaries might help.

        The post is required and must contain letters.

  8. Binraider Silver badge

    Not generating the waste in the first place would obviously be preferable; but plastics are cheap for some reason, despite being oil-derived.

    Mandating biodegradable plastics (on reasonable timescales) at global level would be another obvious avenue worth pursuing.

    An interesting aside: I recall another article on el Reg regarding the detection of bacteria in a Japanese rubbish dump that had evolved to "eat" plastic. Got to be worth considering if culturing the stuff and introducing to rubbish dumps globally would be viable.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge

      I know a bee keeper who tried to remove the wax worms from their hive, using a plastic bag to carry them off, they then discovered that wax worms will eat the plastic bag.

      Here's a non-anecdotal version of this.

      It seems the downside is that they produce ethylene glycol, but that is a short-term nasty.

  9. 080

    So it is 100 tonnes, doesn't seem as much does it. Why do people insist in using small weights (pounds, kg ) to make things seem bigger.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      PR and, particularly US based, "reality" type documentary TV shows seem to be the biggest culprits.

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Given much of the plastic is really small and really light, I think it's a great achievement for the first iteration of their project. So... you may want to consider it in that frame, not "oh, it's just a 100 tonnes, that's not much"

      That's one 747 full of plastic fragments of various sizes, and a *lot* of ghost nets.

  10. Plest Silver badge
    Mushroom

    We're screwed!

    When you watch a bunch of chavs and their prodgeny just chucking their rubbish on the ground and no one says a word, we're screwed. When you head into the Scottish Highlands to enjoy the purity of nature, get some nice snaps and you find in the small rural carpark, a burned out car door ( no car! ), a pile of about 40 empty lager cans and assorted empty crisp bags all just strewn around the place, blowing around in the wind, I just know we're screwed.

    I browbeat my kids into always putting rubbish in bins, even you have to pocket it and carry a while, always in a bin, most right thinking people do the same. However there's still way too many selfish scumbags who simply think rubbish is just SEP, "Somebody Else's Problem".

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: We're screwed!

      It was incredibly noticeable how clean places were, even in town, during the pandemic lockdowns and how quickly things went back to "normal" once people were allowed out for more than just exercise walks etc.

      1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: We're screwed!

        I remember, decades ago, when we had people picking up litter, road sweeping machines regularly cleaning street gutters. We also had public toilets so people didn't have to piss up alleyways, recreational spaces and community sports fields.

        I am not entirely convinced we have become worse as a society in carelessly discarding our crap, just worse at dealing with human nature. Usually because of 'cost', and an attempt to save money by making societal problems a matter of individual responsibility, when people don't feel that it is or should be their responsibility.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: We're screwed!

          Bins first started disappearing when the IRA put bombs in some of them. Councils realised that "saving lives" also saved money by having very few litter bins and therefore very few people paid to empty them. Some are gradually coming back, but as you say, few and far between.

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: We're screwed!

      This planet *lives* on SEP.

  11. Chris Evans

    Who's paying

    I applaud their efforts but wonder who's paying the bills? My thanks to whoever it is.

  12. Envirohealth

    Clean Oceans

    Well Done Bro, Please, Please keep Cleaning our Oceans, Apply for plenty of funding, Together We Can Save the Lives of Whales and Dolphins

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like