A study found clearing up plastic waste near coasts is more effective than in deep oceans. Based on the analysis from oceanographer Dr. Erik van Sebille and physics student Peter Sherman, the Great Pacific garbage patch-targeted cleanup isn't the most efficient method of clearing the oceans from plastic waste.
Rivers and sewers' floating plastic waste such as bottles, caps, fibers, bags and 'microbeads' are dispersed into the oceans while the bigger ones get broken down. Plastic waste can last thousands of years and can be ingested by marine life, leading to death, disruption of the ecosystems, and hindrance into the food chain.
Imperial College London researchers analyzed the aptly called Great Pacific garbage patch, which is found in the North Pacific open sea. The area is surrounded by currents, which concentrate the microplastics in one area.
Today, the patch is deemed twice bigger than the United Kingdom. The Ocean Cleanup project received worldwide attention. The project plans to send collectors into the patch to gather plastic waste and send ships to haul it.
Sherman said that while the Great Pacific garbage patch houses large mass of microplastics, the biggest flow of plastics can be found off coasts. The research was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters on Jan. 19.
"It makes sense to remove plastics where they first enter the ocean around dense coastal economic and population centres where there is a lot of marine life," added Dr. van Sebille. This method cleans up the plastic waste before they can do any harm. The ones in the patch have already traveled long and caused harm along the way.
Sherman and Van Sebille created model of how ocean plastic move to analyze the best areas to target for collection. Findings showed that deploying the proposed plastic collectors near the coasts are more effective than concentrating on the patch itself.
The two researchers created a 10-year plan and estimated how much of the ocean plastic waste can be cleared if the collectors will be deployed near the coasts, especially around the Indonesian Islands and China. They estimated that 31 percent of microplastics will be cleared between 2015 and 2025 compared to the 1 percent if collectors are all deployed into the patch.
The partners also looked into the ocean areas where microplastics disrupt the phytoplankton, which are microscopic plants that provide the basic food of various marine organisms. Microplastics can enter the food chain where microscopic animals can ingest them.
Using the same model, the researchers found that targeting a coastal cleanup can reduce the harm by 46 percent compared to the 14 percent if collectors concentrate in the patch.
Sherman added that while there are a lot of plastic in the Great Pacific garbage patch, the area is a comparatively a "dead zone" for life if you compare it to the areas found near the coasts.
Photo: Kai Sender | Flickr