RemediOcean Inc. was formed in mid-2016 to combat the growing threat of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
There are no gigantic rafts of plastic accumulating in the oceans. Most of the plastic is individual pieces of plastic floating or suspended near the ocean’s surface. You can only remove it by screening it out in an environmentally-friendly way. The next challenge is: what do you do with millions of tons of this recovered plastic trash? Keep reading below to find out RemediOcean’s proposed method for combating plastic pollution.
How Plastics Affect Our Ocean and Marine Life?
Plastic can disintegrate in the ocean. It is not biodegrading; it is being chewed on by a wide variety of sea-life, rubbed against other debris by wave-action, or slowly degraded by sunlight. As it gets smaller and smaller, it begins to look like food! All sea-life from barnacles to fish, sea birds to whales, ingest this often brightly-colored trash thinking it is food.
Many species of bird feed this plastic to their young, who then starve to death…with bellies full of plastic! A walk along any beach in the remote Hawaiian Islands will reveal thousands of dead sea-birds, their carcasses revealing the plastic trash they had eaten. Even whales have died as a direct result of eating plastic they thought was food!
Even the smallest of sea life is ingesting plastic! The micro-beads found in cosmetics are washed down the drain and out to sea. Shrimp, clams and oysters filter these beads from the water. The saddest part is that the plastic that causes all of these deaths is not removed from the environment when the animal dies! It gets swept back into the sea to be ingested yet again. And again!
Are you ready for the scarier part? It is now appearing in YOU! Much of the seafood we humans eat or feed to our pets is contaminated with microscopic pieces of plastic! That may not seem to be an issue, but what about the toxins it may have absorbed over the years as it floated in the ocean or as it passed through a series of animal digestive-tracts!
An adult human can probably shrug-off the effects of any plastic-borne toxins, but what about your children? Young children are very susceptible to even small amounts of toxicity in their bodies. Many of these toxins love body fat. Yours or that fish you ate last night. It tends to accumulate there. How long would it take to reach levels where your health was affected?
How Can You Take Part to Stop Plastic Pollution on our Oceans?
The United Nations is trying to spur a response from the world’s governments. Unfortunately, each of them is merely eyeing the others, hoping one of the others will be the first to admit to the problem. It is as if, once any one government takes action, it legitimizes the issue. No one wants to be the first to admit that there really is a problem!
Since our ‘leaders’ are failing to step up, it falls to the world’s citizens (you and me) to take action. RemediOcean is a way for you to take action to save our planet’s oceans. By supporting us, you can know that you are participating in the solution to the problem. Or at least part of it. There are other aspects that others will have to take the initiative on.
Our Solution in Cleaning our Ocean
We are not the first organization to propose a method to clean up floating and suspended plastic trash. Several rather grandiose ideas are being tried. We wish them well since they are actually doing something! Unfortunately, most or all of the other solutions are largely passive in nature. They want to place floating ‘fences’ in carefully-selected areas to filter the plastic from the oceans. This solution still requires a boat to return to the apex of this fence to remove the accumulated plastic. Then, the plastic still has to be carried to shore and dealt with.
The main arguments against this method are:
- The depth of the sea-floor will make anchoring the assembly problematic.
- The fences are threatened by surface and submarine vessels if they are located in fishing areas or near shipping traffic.
- The last issue, should the previous two be answered is; what will happen to the plastic once it is gathered?
Dealing with These Arguments
- Burial. (Not a solution I would favor. That just delays dealing with it.)
- Recycling. This is problematic as the types of plastics being skimmed from the oceans is a soup of every type of plastic mankind has ever produced. Some effort has been made in the direction of recycling, but it is experimental and very limited.
- Converting it to fuel. Some plastics cannot be converted into fuel. The conversion-process also leaves a slag that still has to be dealt with. Plastics-to-Fuel is NOT an energy-efficient process.
- Incineration. This method has many vigilant and active detractors. Some of their arguments are valid but most are knee-jerk reactions to anything having to do with incineration in general.
RemediOcean’s Barge Project
We at RemediOcean are designing a barge that will be the template for several dozen barges that will eventually be sent to these gyres. They will move slowly through these gyres where the plastic tends to accumulate and filter it out of the water using fine-mesh nets that hang like curtains from buoyant cables. Picture the curtains in your home. These nets are open at the bottom so that any sea-life that encounters these nets can swim around or under them easily.
These nets will hang down from the ocean’s surface to a depth of up to 15 to 20 feet. One end of the cable suspending each net is attached to the front of the barge. The other end is tensioned by electric thruster-modules. (Picture electrically-powered catamarans!) These thrusters will be under computer control to hold the free-end of the nets open to form a ‘vee’.
The barges face into the ocean currents and are held in-place against the ocean currents by the thrusters. The net-curtains are held vertical by stainless steel weights. We need to move slowly so that the water will pass through the net without billowing the bottom of the nets back, thus losing the trapped plastic debris.
Wave-action and the sweeping motions of the electric thrusters used to pull the curtains taut will move the trapped plastic towards the open-end of the barge.
When the accumulated plastic reaches the entry-point to the barge, it is brought to the surface by tiny air-bubbles from aeration hoses many feet under the water. The plastic is conveyed into the barge and deposited into a hopper where it is accumulated until there is sufficient mass for the next stage of the process: Elimination!
When we have accumulated enough to warrant starting-up the incinerator, the debris will be conveyed to a grinder that reduces it to pieces smaller than a fingernail. It is then blown into the incinerator where it is reduced to carbon-dioxide, water and waste-heat. (Sorry folks; no getting around the CO2 aspect)
The exhaust from the incinerator is further heated in an after-burner where oxygen is added to raise the temperature to the point that toxins are destroyed but nitrous-oxides are not created. The exhaust from the after-burner is cooled somewhat by seawater and then routed through a catalytic-converter that uses urea to eliminate any harmful substances that remain. Magnets and other technology remove any metal dust or fragments. Then the exhaust from the catalytic-converter is vented to the air through a Teflon-lined fiberglass filter-bag. These filters trap any particulates. This process is the cleanest version of pollution-controls currently available.
All of this technology will be automated and monitored to ensure clean and effective use of the incinerator. (To those of you that find the word “incinerator” to be an incendiary provocation, I welcome your input as to any viable alternatives.)
The preliminary design of the proposed barge is currently undergoing review by the U.S. Coast Guard. Since this design is not something that they have worked with before, they are having to find parallels with existing designs. Ocean-going oil-rig support barges and oceanographic survey vessels are the closest match so far. The Marine Engineering firm working with the Coast Guard tells us that they believe that the classification will occur soon.
The founder of RemediOcean Inc. is currently personally funding this initial effort. Once we have the USCG classification, we will authorize the preliminary design of the barge to determine the costs to build and equip it. Once we have the basic design, we can approach suppliers for their input on the design-needs of the barge’s incinerator and pollution-control needs.
Our initial fund-raising efforts will be for the full design of the proposed barge. We will then seek funding from corporations to actually build and launch the first barge as a test-bed. While we seek funding, testing of the plastic-gathering net-system will be carried out in near-shore areas to perfect the design.
Alternatives to Incineration
To answer the objections to using incinerators to deal with the trash, let me offer the alternatives we have considered here at RemediOcean.
Plastics-to-Fuel technology. This was the first method we studied. We dreamed of using the resulting fuel to power our generators. Unfortunately, this technology requires the plastic to be clean, dry and of one or similar types. The plastic found in the ocean is a soup every type of plastic ever produced since the 1950s. Even if we did use this method, we would still need to deal with the leftover waste of the process.
Some plastics are not suited to this method. We eventually realized we would be using diesel fuel to generate electricity. We would use that electricity to power the plastics-to-fuel system. The fuel we would create would then be used to generate more electricity.
That meant that we would be creating even more CO2 than with incineration as we would have to use diesel fuel to create fuel! Not smart!
Compressing it into bricks or blocks. What would we do once we had accumulated many tons of such bricks? How would we dispose of them? Drop them back into the sea? Transport them to shore for…what? Very few recyclers want to, or can effectively deal with ocean plastic.
Since the above methods were not viable, we were left with only one reasonable method: incineration.Incineration has been used for thousands of years to reduce the volume of waste. It is also used to destroy hazardous substances such as medical waste. All ships at sea are now required to incinerate their waste and log their incinerator use as well as anything they toss overboard. Strangely enough, animal carcasses are allowed to be tossed overboard!
Those of you that see incineration as evil or otherwise negative, reach out to me with viable alternatives. Remember; we are talking about MILLIONS of TONS of plastic trash! It is never going to just ‘go away’ on its own! It has a lifetime of hundreds of years!
Why Plastic Pollution in the Ocean is a Great Issue?
Now that we have shown you our mission and proposed methods, let’s talk about why this plastic-pollution in the oceans is such an issue.
- As detailed above, sea-life is threatened by eating the trash. That also means that our dinner table is offering US the same threat!
- Ships at sea are losing HUNDREDS of millions of dollars in time and money cutting off ‘ghost-nets’ that foul their propellers. The resulting cut-up nets are tossed back into the sea to threaten other ships and…you guessed it…sea-life!
- Floating plastic is allowing creatures that are normally confined to specific areas, to migrate to other areas, sheltered by small clumps of plastic trash. There, they become an invasive species since their natural predators didn’t make the same trip!
- This debris is washing up on beautiful beaches around the world. While many people and organizations try to deal with this issue, many beaches are simply too remote or sensitive to clean. We are even seeing debris in the Arctic and on Antarctic beaches!
- Finally, many coastal communities are forced to deal with the trash that gets deposited on their beaches. They are spending money that could be used for Police or Fire Fighter wages. Instead, they are having to spend it on cleaning up their coastlines.
Side note: I have been reading where plastic trash will soon out-weigh the amount of sea-life in the oceans!
Where will we deploy the first barge?
We have determined that one or more shipyards in Washington State are qualified to build and equip the first barge. Initial sea-trials will be carried out off the coast. During this time, we will be seeking crew-members to learn about the systems aboard the barge and to carry out the testing of the overall design at sea.
We will deploy this first barge to the Pacific Ocean halfway between Baja California and the Hawaiian Islands. This area is the eastern end of the North Pacific Gyre. This area receives the plastic trash that escapes from East-Asian countries. (Their coastlines receive trash from the United States, Canada and Mexico.)
During this initial deployment, we will refine our techniques and tune the automation control of the system and the barge itself. We are hoping that we will only need about 6 people total to crew the barge and maintain the systems.
This effort to clean up the oceans will take several dozen barges, staying at sea for years. This effort is too great for any one organization to head up. Our plan is to design the barge, have it classified by the Coast Guard and then release the plans to the public.
We will ask each country that has shorelines affected by plastic trash or that are known contributors to the problem to take on the responsibility to build and deploy one or more barges in a nearby gyre. That distributes the burden across the globe.
A side-benefit of having these barges deployed in the gyres will be their availability for scientific research. Long-term oceanographic or atmospheric research can be carried out by universities or research groups. Long-term equipment-testing can be carried-out as well. The payments received for rental-space aboard will help to offset the operating costs.
We are hoping that dedicated environmental enthusiasts will want to come aboard either to serve or simply to spend some time indulging in their passion for the environment’s protection and clean-up. We will encourage such visits so that they can carry the message out into the wider world through social media and personal participation.
RemediOcean also hopes to attract sponsorships of corporations and civic groups by painting their country’s flag on the perimeter of the barge. We could also paint a corporate logo or flag in place of a country flag. We would welcome other ideas from the public that will encourage participation by countries, groups or companies worldwide.
If anyone has ideas as to how to be more effective in our efforts on your behalf, we would love to know. Click here to contact us and give us your thoughts.
Use the link if you have questions or suggestions we haven’t thought to ask here.
Our founder is available for talks to groups interested in what RemediOcean does or plans to do. He can also speak to groups to answer their questions about the plastics in the oceans issue.
He does not charge for his time but he does ask for his travel-expenses to be covered.