Meanwhile, Tel Aviv University researchers create a biodegradable polymer from seaweed that may help prevent future patch expansion.
Last October, I reported that The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that assembled a floating plastic-capture system to clean-up the Pacific Garbage Patch, had set sail to begin its work.
Three months later, the vessel is heading back home due to technical problems.
The Ocean Cleanup project — in which a floating solar-powered barrier was supposed to suck up trash between California and Hawaii — broke apart and was towed to shore for repair earlier this week, according to NBC.com
The nautical no-no caused the machine’s 2,000-foot-long flotsam-catching screen to fall off.
It comes two weeks after the device already failed to hold the plastic debris it caught — accidentally spilling trash back into the sea.
“Of course there is slight disappointment, because we hoped to stay out there a bit longer to do more experiments and to….solve the [plastic] retention issue,” Boyan Slat, the 24-year-old inventor who launched the project, told NBC.com. “But there is no talk whatsoever about discouragement.”
Slat, the designer, views the setback related to the barrier breakage as part of a beta test experience.
The first issue, Slat said, was likely due to the device’s speed. In a September interview with NPR, he said the device averages about four inches per second, which his team has now concluded is too slow. The break in the barrier was due to an issue with the material used to build it.
“In principle, I think we are relatively close to getting it working,” Slat said in an interview Saturday with NPR’s Michel Martin. “It’s just that sometimes the plastic is also escaping again. Likely what we have to do is we have to speed up the system so that it constantly moves faster than the plastic.”
For the material failure, Slat said his team will probably try to locally reinforce the system to combat the problem of material fatigue.
Here is a video summarizing the group’s most recent efforts:
The system hauled in 4500 pounds of plastic, which it is bringing back to San Francisco’s harbor to recycle.
Eventually, the non-profit hopes to deploy as many as 60 of the devices into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a 600,000 square mile area where ocean currents cause floating plastic trash to concentrate. The patch is not a solid mass of plastic. It includes about 1.8 trillion pieces and weighs 88,000 tons – the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets.
Meanwhile, a new, sustainable technology has been developed by Tel Aviv University researchers to create a biodegradable polymer from seaweed that may help prevent future patch expansion.
Plastics take hundreds of years to decay. So bottles, packaging and bags create plastic ‘continents’ in the oceans, endanger animals and pollute the environment,” says Dr. Golberg. “Plastic is also produced from petroleum products, which has an industrial process that releases chemical contaminants as a byproduct.
“A partial solution to the plastic epidemic is bioplastics, which don’t use petroleum and degrade quickly. But bioplastics also have an environmental price: To grow the plants or the bacteria to make the plastic requires fertile soil and fresh water, which many countries, including Israel, don’t have.
“Our new process produces ‘plastic’ from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste.”
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