November 19, 2010

Visiting the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Thanks to Fast Company, we get a sense of what it's like to sail through the great Pacific Garbage Patch, "a country-sized mass of plastic debris in the North Pacific Gyre." In other words, it's where a shocking amount of the world's plastic garbage ends up and it should be enough to make a recycling partisan out of anyone:
Earlier this week, we had the chance to sit down with two people who voyaged into the gyre this past summer: Mary Crowley, Project KAISEI co-founder and executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute and Nick Mallos, a marine scientist with The Ocean Conservancy. The pair took part in a 20 person, three-week expedition in August on the research vessel Kaisei that took them from San Francisco to San Diego...

One of the most striking things about traveling into the so-called plastic island is that it isn't much of an island at all, Mallos explains. "It's more like an archipelago. It would be so much easier if it was all together in a bunch."

"After a while, you get into a routine, the trash becomes commonplace until you look at a GPS and notice you're 1,000 miles from San Francisco and Hawaii, surrounded by debris. It's a surreal experience," Mallos says.

The heaviest concentrations of trash were between 1,200 and 1,900 miles offshore, but Mallos and Crowley first observed trash on the expedition just 500 miles offshore. "We've seen everything from toothbrushes to a car fender, and every type of container imaginable," Crowley says.
The group is trying to figure out a way to clean up all this garbage -- one idea is to use technology that converts non-recyclable plastic back into diesel fuel -- and will likely entail an entire flotilla of "oil skimmers, barges, and even cranes and excavators" serving a recycling "mothership." Here's a video from a 2009 expedition to the patch by the group that gives us all a look at the very real consequences of our disposable consumer culture:

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