Plastic soup - what do we do about it?

What a strange and thought provoking coincidence it is, that the entire leisure marine industry has been transformed over the last 50 years…by plastic. And yet today, the wrong kind of plastic threatens the very environment that affords us the freedom and enjoyment of our boating and water sports.

Let us explain: In 1959 the very first plastic (polyester/GRP) boat was manufactured and sold in the USA by the late Connie Ray, the founder of the well known Sea Ray boat building company.  This in turn led to the advent of high volume production yachts, and they soon became more affordable for people with average incomes.  Through the 70’s and 80’s the number of new of boats entering the market grew exponentially, thus bringing the pastime of boating to the masses like never before!

In fact, today many of these boats have reached ‘end-of-use’ status, and are giving our industry a problem. Why?  Well, simply because the composite material (plastic) used for moulding the hulls is virtually indestructible, and therefore very difficult and costly to recycle, or to dispose of.  

But this problem, albeit a real and challenging one, pales into insignificance when compared to the modern day phenomena, which is now seriously affecting our seas and waterways; over 5 trillion pieces of discarded plastic are currently littering our oceans!  

Every year approximately 8 million kilos of plastic ends up in the sea. That’s an average of 20.425 kilos a day. In nearly every river or ocean there is plastic, even in the places we normally think of as unimpaired, like the North Pole and deep sea. Every year millions of animals die from the affects of sea pollution (estimation UNEP, UN.) This includes everything from fishes to seabirds, and from turtles to dolphins and whales.

In 1997 the oceanographer Charles Moore was sailing in the Pacific when he discovered huge floating plastic islands. He called it “Plastic soup”.

What is being done to help stop this?

There are a lot of initiatives to clean up the ocean. In this article we will consider organisations that are working on making our oceans cleaner.

This was a trending topic in the Netherlands in 2014 when the 19-year-old Boyan Slat found a solution for cleaning the oceans. He started an active project where he now has over 50 people working. His project is called: The Ocean cleanup. The idea is that big floating booms will collect the plastic, whilst allowing sea life to pass underneath the barrier with the current.

A central collection point then extracts and buffers the debris, before it being shipped to land. By recycling the debris and selling the semi-finished product directly to B2C companies, Boyan Slat’s aim is to eventually make the operation self-sustainable.   

Not everyone believes that this could work. Some experts say that the booms would not be able to cope with waves of over 10 meters and higher, and thus would not be useful for the deep sea application. You can read more about it here.  (Dutch)

Except for the oceans we also have a very popular initiative taking place in the Dutch canals; you can go plastic fishing! It started in Amsterdam but it’s already spread to other cities and abroad. The plastic that is caught during the ‘fishing trips’ is made into a recycled material from which new boats are made. And so the company grows. It’s called: Plastic Whale.

But it’s not only in the Netherlands where this is a trending topic. Two Australians based in the Mediterranean have also been working on a interesting project: Seabin Project. This is a bin for marinas, which automatically collects plastic.