We're in the heart of "voyage to the garbage patch" season now, with a couple of missions finally underway aimed at studying the plastic soup in the Pacific Ocean that has become a focus of attention for the global marine debris problem. One effort, called Project Kaisei, is aimed in part at determining "how to capture the debris and to study the possible retrieval and processing techniques that could be potentially employed to detoxify and recycle these materials into diesel fuel." The Kasei team has been blogging about its trip, and a recent post notes an emphasis on investigating whether the plastic debris can be recycled.
Since one of the mission's objectives is recycling, we welcomed a donation from the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR); one of two principal donors of the project. Recycling marine debris would contribute to both cleaning up the ocean and delivering even more recycled resources. We look forward to working with local and international recyclers on innovative ways to repurpose marine debris. Our biggest contribution came from an anonymous individual, who is a lifelong environmentalist and innovator. It is people like this who, with our Project Kaisei team, are putting forth the effort to change the world for the better.Can the plastic vortex be captured and recycled? That seems like a pretty big undertaking. Assuming it is theoretically possible, can it be practical? Maybe so, if you take into account not just the energy and effort necessary, but also the importance of the ocean and marine life. I recall a debate back in 1992 -- long before the plastic marine debris problem became widely known -- where an environmentalist cited plastics as a growing source of marine pollution. Someone from the plastics industry shot back that the problem was not limited to plastics -- but that plastics were visible because of their density. In other words, plastics float, while other trash sinks. He was right, but that didn't make the plastic marine debris problem go away. Let's hope that the Kaisei team discovers a cost-effective solution to this problem. In the meantime, the attention focused on marine debris will continue to keep legislative pressure on the industry, as more communities consider restrictions, bans and taxes on plastic bags and polystyrene takeout packaging.