At its latest public policy meeting, ‘Hands across the House’ heard from oceanic warrior, Vaughan Wellington, Master of the ocean yacht Viking, explain the scourge of ocean plastic. Wellington is an Attenborough of the oceans, trawling the five spiraling ‘Gyres’, or plastic vortexes, swirling out of control and getting larger.
Some statistics: The plastic produced every year weighs more than the combined weight of people on our planet. By 2050, in terms of weight, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. 80% of marine litter is plastic, with 5 trillion pieces of it floating about. Between 8 and 12 million tonnes of plastic enter our ocean every year, killing over 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million sea birds. 46% of this is fishing nets and lines. A plastic drink bottle takes 450 years to break down and a fishing line 600 years. China is the worst offender, throwing 5 million t.p.a into its rivers, followed by the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia. No-one is responsible for cleaning it up, no one knows how to, and no nation can police this environmental time bomb.
Wellington’s audience was mesmerized by his disturbing presentation and by the fact that plastic acts like a magnet to toxins in the ocean, then it aggregates plankton and the fish and birds eat it and we eat the fish. It was already 5 seconds past midnight! However, as the group debated possible answers, some glimmers of hope emerged.
Members agreed that a bold policy response was required. One; stop using plastic when paper, cardboard or other organic materials can replace them. Two; focus on physical barriers and engineering solutions to stop plastics getting into our oceans from the rivers. And three; look for smart ways to collect and reuse plastic.
Germany is a world leader in this area, with clever solutions. They have collection points where a bottle or other plastic item may be deposited which rewards the depositor with a coin, via a coin return function. Street people, drug addicts etc. are thus recruited to the cause, scrambling to collect waste plastic and claim a reward.
All were agreed that the fastest pathway towards a solution was to make plastic collection and recycling profitable. Indeed, researchers now focus on this outcome. Plasrok in New Zealand uses plastic as a substitute for sand in concrete. Others are developing technologies to generate diesel and other fuels from plastics.
Hands Across the House calls on Governments of all persuasions to recognise and respond to this huge challenge, and to turn this global threat to economic advantage in the cause of removing this scourge from our oceans and the marine food chain.
Bruce H E Nicholls Chairman Date of release: 2 Nov, 2018