Comments on: The Plastic Vortex
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Comments on: The Plastic Vortex

Carl Sassenrath, CTO
REBOL Technologies
4-Aug-2009 0:37 GMT

Article #0416
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A few years ago while cruising across the Caribbean ocean, I happened to notice quite a lot of trash floating along those trade routes. I asked around, but no one seemed to know its source, nor did they care.

Last spring, while visiting Honolulu for a few days, I noticed similar trash in its harbor areas. A huge mess of plastic bottles and other garbage. I asked around, but no one knew its source, or seemed to care.

Today, in our local newspaper, a story appeared: "Ukiahi student Ryan Morris is embarking on a 25-day expedition to help scientists study the "Plastic Vortex" a vast swirl of waste that's situated to the North East of Hawaii."

Googling around the net, I found only a few small stories on this topic, nothing from major news source, universities, or governmental agencies. In fact, most of the hits were blogs. So, it looks like not very many people really care.

Over time, with the sun's ultraviolet rays, the plastic deteriorates into smaller pieces and becomes mixed with the seawater:

Plastic fragments mixed with seawater (magnified)

Looking around at what was available, I found these links to be informative:

Watch the video in the first link. It's a good one.

Generally, as a "scientist against waste", I find this situation rather alarming. So, that's why I'm mentioning it here. Just to raise the awareness level. It will be interesting to see if this story gains some momentum in the months ahead.

Oh, and you might also find it just a bit ironic that our local recycling center shut down last month. It wasn't profitable.

With what I've seen over the last couple years... I've concluded that "green" is just the color of money. If you think otherwise, just look a bit closer.

When I was 5 years old, I used to walk to the market with a bag of bottles... to get some money, to buy some candy (what else?).

Over the years, all that's changed. That simple, easy to understand system of deposit and refund is gone. Sure, we still pay the "deposit" when we buy products in bottles, but just try to get the store to refund your deposit these days. Yep, we're going backwards.

Just thought I'd mention it.


Many more links have appeared on the net since I originally wrote this blog. For example, Time has a recent story on it. Several research vessels have recently sailed to more closely study the problem. I expect we're going to hear a lot more about it very soon.



5-Aug-2009 2:11:07
Greenpeace has a campaign for this issue quite a long time: Tresh vortex campaign
5-Aug-2009 9:47:23
If you get Planet Green there's going to be a documentary about it -- Hawaii: Message in the Waves -- Thursday, August 6 at 9pm ET/PT.
John Niclasen
6-Aug-2009 4:38:55
I guess, you're right, that not many know about the trash vortex in the north Pacific. I've heard about it, I think from tv. Much of the plastic change into smaller and smaller pieces, which many animals swallow and get problems.

I'm wondering, how long it will take for the plastic to break down completely. I think, the UV light from the sun can do that, but it may take many years, even if we stop dumping plastic in the oceans now.

About bottles, we still have a deposit/refund system here in Denmark, where I live. In later years, many bottles have changed from glass to plastic and cans, but the refund system is still there.

You have to change the system back, where you live. I guess, it's hard in USA, when money are involved.

Carl Sassenrath
7-Aug-2009 14:46:41
Yes, this is what concerns me. Once the plastic breaks down into very small pieces (from the sun's UV), it no longer floats and becomes mixed into the water. After that happens, the sun's UV does not reach it, and the plastic becomes more-or-less a permanent poisoning of the ocean -- to be ingested by sea-life for decades to come. I've seen this breakdown with plastic on land, and it creates a fairly fine powder.

This is quite serious because there's no longer an easy "separation boundary" for removal. That will make it almost impossible to extract from seawater (assuming that we as humans would even attempt to clean up this huge mess.)

I'm not an expert in this area; however, my father was an environmental engineering expert, so in our family we discussed such problems around the dinner table.

Antony Tersol
16-Aug-2009 0:27:19
Just happened to read your blog tonight while attending the California Chapter conference for Surfrider Foundation. One of our campaigns is called "Rise Above Plastics", and was inspired in part by the work of C. Moore's Algalita Foundation. Ximena Waissbluth, one of our members, has been doing presentations throughout California and beyond to raise awareness of the issue, hoping to motivate people to change their habits - in particular stop using plastics designed for one-time use. See for instance: We are working to ban food-service styrofoam, single-use plastic bags, etc. There are surfrider chapters near you in Humbolt and Sonoma Counties, as well as chapters internationally.
22-Aug-2009 6:32:46
Funny ! The "plastic problem" is one of the article I read this summer in "Science et Vie" #1103 (august 2009, page 70) a famous french scientific magazin.

Actually, plastic are causing several problems for the animals : - Direct dies (ie: fish, dolphins, birds caught in nets pieces or plastics pieces like the 4 or 6 plastic rings used to package canned). - Undirect dies. Animals are often found dead with an amount of plastic pieces in the stomac. It reduce their capacity to digest normal food, so they die of hunger.

Problem is not only the plastic material by itself, but also the other chemical mollecules used to give special function to the plastic. This mollecules are dangerous for life in different ways.

Small pieces of plastics are now so small that plankton can eat them. So the pollution is going into the natural food cycle, from the smalest to the bigest animals.

We are at the end of the chain !!

So today, you can say that the fish you bought is pollute with the plastic you bought several years ago.

I don't see any way to depollute the sea of all the plastics we through to it day after day, especially the small parts : they are now parts of the sand grain.

We need to live (but in wich conditions of health ?) with it... or die cause of it.

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