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Indian Ocean garbage patch (wikipedia.org)
92 points by sushirain on March 20, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 45 comments

An explanation about environmental impact (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch#Pho...):

> Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level.[26] As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms that reside near the ocean's surface. In this way, plastic may become concentrated in neuston, thereby entering the food chain.

Having read Larry Niven's Ringworld, I'm brought to think of an eerie possibility this might create; that is - what if this currently non-biodegradable material becomes biodegradable? What if the colossal supply of this material (which as a hydrocarbon, had bound-potential-energy in it), over what's going to be a colossally long period of time, gives enough interaction surface that somewhere out there, a bacteria evolves that breaks down plastic?

I hardly expect this would be the collapse of civilization or anything (as depicted in the book), but it really could have some nasty consequences. Plastic is relied on almost for precisely that reason - the fact that it doesn't decay/rust/collapse over time. That's why we use it for stuff like medical implants, safety gloves, food storage, sanitary containers ... you name it. It could lose its un-decayable and its sanitary property in one go.

Kinda like the problem with overuse of antibiotics.

There are already many bacteria (and fungi) that can break down plastics. http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science...

sounds a bit like the plot from the Andromeda Strain. Although that organism was clearly extraterrestrial in origin.

For those who care, please support The Ocean Cleanup:


An impressive undertaking (founded by a 19 year old, no less) that's creating technology to solve this in ~5 years.

The policy director of 5 Gyres has provided evidence that suggests the existing plan will not work:


For those who care, please reduce your plastic use!

Please try to pollute less all around.

That does basically nothing. My plastic either goes in recycling or the trash. Even if it goes into the trash it will end up in a landfill, not the ocean. The same is true for most folks in the 1st world. The problem is mostly with the actions of people who do not read HN, countries that continue to have poor or non-existent sanitation. Countries that still dump trash in the ocean.

The obvious solution to this and other problems is to get these other people into the first world. Free immigration isn't just an ethical issue, it's also a practical solution to a lot of the problems that we as a society face.

Simplistic. There's not enough land/resources on the planet to sustain everyone living a first world lifestyle at our current rates of energy consumption and waste production.

Oh? Do you mind showing your work for that claim?

That's true, but you're ignoring the other environmental impacts your plastic use (and my plastic use) will have. Raw materials, expanding landfills, landfill leakage, leeched chemicals from plastic bottles/containers into our food/water, reduced bird populations from eating plastics, etc.

It would also be great if people would refuse to buy items with anti-consumer clamshell packaging. That stuff is a waste in addition to being a huge annoyance. Let's kill two birds with one stone!

But it is good at preventing theft. :(

That is the reason it is used.

It's good at preventing use as well. Because manufacturers and shop owners want you to buy it, but they could care less if you ever use it. Make the bastards come up with a better solution.

I'm pretty sure those who care are already doing this.

There could also be a group of people that just found out about this issue, just started caring and are wondering how they can start to help.

My response was in response to the direct parent, not the root parent.

My point is that most people that care about the environment already know the hazards of plastics, and are not the ones overusing plastics and polluting the planet with them.

In other words, the solution isn't to get those that care to stop polluting the planet. The solution (or one of the solutions) is to get more people to care.

> we are currently only at about halfway our feasibility study

From http://www.boyanslat.com/plastic5/


After initial criticism from quite a few experienced people Boyan Slat toned down his claims.

The most amazing thing about these garbage patches are the large amounts of bacteria that are feeding off the plastics.


Life, uh, finds a way.

That article doesn't say they're feeding off it, just colonizing it. I wonder how long it'll be before you're correct, though.

Ah good point. For now the plastic must provide something analogous to breeding grounds or points of community. Little plastic planetoids floating through the watery abyss. Either way, there does exist plastic-eating (or breaking down) bacteria: http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110328/full/news.2011.191.ht...

I guess the UV exposure makes it easier (for bacteria, since UV helps breaking the plastic down)

Here's a trailer on a current project to create a film about the impact of the problem on Midway Atoll, in the Pacific Garbage Patch: http://aaronwolf.blogspot.com/2014/02/documentary-trailer-mi...

It's heartbreaking.

The 5 Gyres Foundation http://5gyres.org advocates both cleaning up plastic from the ocean and cutting down the use of it

Imagine a small gadget (that would fit under the kitchen counter) that would take your plastic waste and recycle it into a polymer of some sort that can be used as material for 3d printers. Then you can recycle your plastic waste and turn it back into other things. This sort of stuff will make plastic truly valuable (which I think it is) and people will stop littering.

Now I don't know much about plastics so I can't say if that's possible or not.. it would be nice if it was :D

If the human can do the sorting since plastic is already marked with number codes then this could be possible.


Easiest is to just collect it and burn it in a central facility though. Simplified, you can burn everything except PVC (number three).

How does the sediment rain in the ocean affect this ?

I would think that if the plastic pollution stopped one day, within a few years most of the plastic would be sequestered at the bottom of the ocean. Even though plastic floats, eventually it gets inside animal bodies which eventually die and rain to the bottom ... yes ?

Genuinely curious...

In future generations there will be people who devote their lives to clean up the mess that we made. And it will be good lives too.

Perhaps we should employ harvester vessels that collect that garbage, make something useful out of it?

There's a Vice documentary[1] in which reporters visit the "garbage island". The "garbage island" is not how you imagine it, it's literally an ocean of tiny broken down particles of plastic[2] invisible to the naked eye (when looking at the sea) that are in everything, including the fish. There is no way to remove the plastic through harvesting, the only option would be to filter the sea water which has its own set of problems.

[1] http://www.vice.com/en_uk/toxic/toxic-garbage-island-1-of-3

[2] http://i.imgur.com/zLqSGsX.jpg

I am curious what your take would be on that effort, mentioned in a different thread:

The Ocean Cleanup:


I suspect that the amount of sealife that you would kill while attempting to finely filter that shear volume of sea water would make doing that worse than doing nothing.

Also, that plastic is really the lowest possible grade of plastic that you can imagine. I'd be surprised if it were good for even synthetic mulch in playgrounds.

I disagree.

The plastic is already killing sealife and will continue to do so as long as the plastic is there. Filter the sea, maybe some creatures dies, but future generations will not be killed by plastic.

This article http://inhabitat.com/the-fallacy-of-cleaning-the-gyres-of-pl... argues convincingly that filtering is a distraction from reducing the amount of plastic which gets into the gyres which is the only practical way to reduce the amount of plastic.

I think this is a simplification which overlooks the parent point.

It seems reasonable that the gyres have always collected crap and sealife has avoided it. Now that crap is plastic.

But, the gyre already provides the function of avoid-getting-killed-by-plastic, so it's not clear why we should aggressively reduplicate that effort.

The garbage patch may offer benefits to the ecosystem which are not immediately obvious. Whereas, filtering is likely to damage the ecosystem in some ways.

Human record of tending to the ocean has not been very good and we're not good at predicting consequences. I recommend watching documentary film "The End of the Line" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1176727/ before assuming that filtering is a panacea.

The idea is not to duplicate gyres, rather supplement those with cleanup.

Gyres collect it, we harvest it on the spot.

We may be witnessing the genesis of plastic-based lifeforms :P

And the end of everything else.

Life is life. Some of it is good for humans, some of it is bad:


So you're saying we should continue to do whatever we want, dump toxic waste into the ocean, strangle dolphins with our plastic debris because "life, uh, finds a way"?

What did George Carlin say? Paraphrasing: "Maybe the Earth made humans because it didn't know how to make plastic. Now it's done with us."

Don't make me your strawman. That's not what I am saying at all. I just think all life is special.

If only we could collect all this and give it to this guy


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