Impacts of plastic pollution
Operationalisation of Boyan Slat’s plan
Research demonstrates that increased human activity has resulted indumping of waste in oceans. The activities include the manufactureand use of plastics that later find their way to the oceans. Once inthe oceans, they cause plastic pollution. The pollution causes harmto existing marine life that gets entangled in the debris. Forinstance, large marine species are likely to get trapped in thefishing nets discarded in oceans. Apart from entangling marine life,plastics may cause ingestion. Animals may mistake the broken downparticles of plastics as food, which they end up consuming resultingin ingestion. Human beings are also at peril because the poisonousdebris from plastics can be traced in the food chain. Consideringthat most of the plastics are made using chemicals, consumption ofthe chemicals causes peril to human health. Costs are also incurredthrough loss of revenue from tourists as the beaches becomeunattractive.
Owing to the understanding of the disadvantages of plastics in theworld’s oceans, various proposals have been made on projects thatpromise to clean oceans. One such proposal in Boyan Slat’s “TheOcean Cleanup Array”, which is a concept that promises to use oceancurrents to draw plastics in the direction of ocean gyres. Once inthe gyres, the plastics are possible to collect and recycle. SinceSlat’s plan is a concept, its feasibility has not been determined.This study aims at determining the practical and economic feasibilityof Slat’s concept. This is achieved through investigation of theconcept and available literature. Research shows that the concept ischeaper than former proposals. In addition, through a proof test, theconcept promises to eliminate plastics in a period of ten yearshence, resulting in the conclusion that Slat’s plan is feasible.
Huge trash piles are evident in the oceans. The piles comprise ofbottles, plastic bags that have been broken down, fishing equipmentand different plastics, which have made it to the oceans. The oceanshave a system referred to as gyres, which causes the water to move insync with the earth’s rotation. If water in the oceans movesconstantly, the same applies to the plastics deposited in water. Oncein the oceans, the sun breaks the plastics to smaller pieces that canbe easily consumed by sea life. The outcome is the death of animalsthat consume the trash, as well as harming the food chain up tohumans. Realizing the harm, governments and non-governmental groupshave been inventing strategies to clean up the ocean. One such planis Boyan Slat’s “Ocean Cleanup Array”. It is assumed thatSlat’s plan might result in the removal of massive plastic waste inthe oceans, possibly saving aquatic animals and minimize theconcentration of pollutants within the food chain.
2.1 Problem Statement
Slat’s ideas are yet to be proven effective in ridding the oceansoff plastics. Hence, it is necessary to carry out this research todetermine the possibility of ridding the world’s oceans offfloating plastic. In specific, the study evaluates the feasibility ofSlat’s plan, both practically and economically. That is, ifimplemented will it be possible to use the plan in solving thewidespread oceans pollution. Also, is Slat’s suggested plansomething that can be put into practice cost-effectively.
2.2 Research question/Hypothesis
In this study, the question addressed is:
What is the expected feasibility (practically and economically) ofBoyan Slat’s plans to substantially reduce the amount of floatingplastic in the world’s oceans?
As part of the research, investigation involves a single hypothesis:
If Boyan Slat’s plans are practically and economically feasible,it is possible to reduce the amount of floating plastics in theworld’s oceans.
3.1 Plastic pollution
For years now, the manufacture and use of plastics has been on therise. Increasing industrial activities by human beings result in thecreation of materials that have no recovery procedure, like plastics(Allsopp et al. 9). According to Lytle (1), “an estimated 299million tons of plastics were produced in 2013, representing a 4percent increase over 2012, and confirming an upward trend over thepast years”. This is an increase from previous years and currentlythe production has increased. Sixty to eighty percent of all marinedebris comprises of plastics (Allsopp et al. 9).
Plastic has attractive characteristics, which influence massive useof plastic products. It is light, affordable, multipurpose andflexible (Lytle 1). On the downside, plastic is long-lasting and as aresult takes time to degrade. It is made using material that does notbiodegrade naturally. It has not been authenticated the period ittakes for plastic to break down (UNEP). In water, plasticsbreak down due to oxidation, sunlight and wave action. While onshores, plastics break down as a result of rock and sand crushing(Allsopp et al. 10). The widespread presence of plastics in oceansderives from land and shipping. It is an outcome of inappropriatedisposing of plastic substances. Slat et al. notes that “plasticsare transported from populated areas to the oceans by rivers, thewind, tides, rainwater, storm drains, sewage disposal, and floodevents” (39). It is also possible for plastics to become widespreadin the marine environment owing to dumping from boats. Althoughplastic pollution is common in most oceans, concentration is highernear populated regions.
3.2 Impacts of plastic pollution
Plastic pollution results in economic, ecological an ecotoxicologicalimpacts. Ecological impacts – in numerous ways, plastics cause harmto the marine environment. Floating debris results in theentanglement of marine species in turn leading to suffocation andstrangling (Slat et al. 50). When debris like fishing nets are thrownin oceans, it is possible for fish species to become entangled in thenets. Once, entangled, the fish attract other sea animals such assharks that also become entangled resulting in a sequence of death insea animals. Although the dead animals degenerate, the same does nothappen with the discarded nets. Hence, the nets continue to capturemore fish (Slat et al. 50). Other species like birds are as well at ahigh risk of getting entangled in debris when foraging in water. Asthey dive for food, they may mistake thrown away fishing lines forfood.
Plastic debris also results in ingestion. When plastics areeventually broken down into smaller pieces, both onshore and inoceans, animals might mistake the small pieces for food (Lytle 1). Itis possible for small fragments to go through the guts and not hurtan organism. Contrary, larger fragments become trapped in thedigestive system. Research on the northern fulmar has resulted inrealization of the widespread ingestion in animals owing toconsumption of plastics. In a research on their rate of ingestingplastic, scientists discovered that 36 percent of the birds includedin the study had plastic debris in their digestive tract (Slat et al.52). Other species that might unknowingly consume plastic debris areturtles, seals and large sea animals. Continuous accumulation ofplastic debris results in the death of marine animals owing toingestion.
Economic impacts – it is difficult to determine the total cost ofplastic pollution in our oceans. Costs are either direct or indirect.Direct costs occur when those that depend on the marine environmentas a source of income can no longer benefit from activities such asfishing. For instance, while fishing, it is possible for boats tobecome caught up in discarded fishing nets. Fish species might alsoreduce owing to continuous consumption of plastics or due to ghostfishing (Bullimore 259). Ghost fishing happens when discarded nestscontinue to catch fish and interfere with their reproduction thus,causing a reduction to the fish population (Slat et al. 54). Otherindirect costs emerge from accidents when ships become entangled inthe debris. Plastic debris may find its way in the human food chainleading to health problems and consequent medical costs. Also, toomuch collection of waste materials in beaches is an unattractive sitethat draws away tourists. The costs incurred in cleaning up beachescontinue to be high, specifically in highly populated regions.
Ecotoxicological impacts – when making plastics, the procedureentails the mixing of important polymers and different chemicalsreferred to as additives. The additives have the capability ofchanging or enhancing the properties of the polymers. The importantpolymers in plastics comprise of a rather huge molecular system andhence are frequently regarded as biochemically inert (Velander 389).Bearing in mind their minimal molecular size, added chemicals mightnot be bound with the polymer, as a result making it possible toleach. Because majority of the additives are lipophilic, afteringestion they become adsorbed in cell membranes and stay in theorganism instead of becoming excreted. The chemicals might result inbiochemical associations that cause harm to the wellbeing oforganisms (Slat et al. 56).
3.3 Cleanup activities
Owing to increasing realization of the negative impacts of plasticpollution, there have been global efforts to cleanup oceans. Therehave been many initiatives intended at dealing with plastic pollutionthat differ from deterrence to extraction. A common cleanup activityis Boyan Slat’s “The Ocean Cleanup Array”. Slat’s planinvolves deploying various V-shaped floating barriers, which will beanchored to the seabed in addition to being positioned in the way ofmajor ocean movements. The barriers will have long arms, which are 30miles designed to capture floating debris that is three meters belowsurface (Winter 1). At the same time, the plan will make it possiblefor seal life to pass through as nets will not be utilized. Slatpresumes that a passive cleanup might not cause harm to theecosystem. With time, the trash will move deeper in the V, where itis extracted. It is approximated that the plan has a capability ofcollecting “65 cubic meters per day and that the trash would haveto be picked up by ship every 45 days” (Winter 1). The advantagesof the concept are that it employs natural water movement. This meansthat the concept uses passive collection techniques that makeoperational costs and the cleanup procedure cheap. Most important,the concept does not harm the ecosystem and has the potential ofcapturing small plastic particle when compared to what nets cancapture (Slat et al 79).
This research aims at determining the feasibility of Boyan Slat’splans. The method used in this research is an investigation of thefeasibility, both practically and economically. The investigation isconducted using a review of existing literature, which is supportedusing empirical evidence.
4.1 Operationalisation of Boyan Slat’s Plan
Concept – The concept is Boyan Slat’s cleanup plan, which hasalready been discussed in the literature review. The plan promises torid oceans off plastics, using an economical and practical approach.
Variables – since the study aims at determining whether it isprobable to implement the concept successfully, the variables thatwill be used in testing the hypothesis and answering the researchquestion are the practical feasibility and the economical feasibilityof Slat’s suggested plan.
Operational definitions – feasibility refers to the capability ofdoing something. It aims at responding to questions such as: is theproject possible or can it be accomplished? Because Slat’s conceptis not tested, its feasibility can be achieved followinginvestigation of the project. Practical feasibility – the wordpractical is used to regard to something that can be done. Hence,practical feasibility means the possibility that the plan will workwhen implemented. Economical feasibility – aims at determining ifthe plan is a cost-effective approach. That is, whether it ispossible to invest money in the plan and get results.
Boyan has conducted a feasibility study of the concept, which willbe used in measuring its practical and economic feasibility for thisstudy. Plastics concentrate on specific parts of the ocean calledgyres. Ocean surface currents are employed to determine plasticpollution hotspots. By identifying these hotspots it is possible tostrategically position the V-shaped booms that will be used incollecting the plastics. The booms are strategically located atpositions where ocean currents are strong, which will ensure thatocean waves draw the debris towards the gyres where they are trappedand collected.
In determining the practical feasibility of the concept, variousquestions have to be answered. These include the possibility ofsurface currents moving the plastic to the cleanup array and whetherthe array is possible to implement and operate. In determining theeconomical feasibility of the concept, the study aims at respondingto whether the concept is cost-effective by determining the cost perton when compared to immediate cost arising from plastic pollution.
Research investigating the movement of marine debris depicts thatthere exists plastic pollution hotspots. Owing to the fact that oceancurrents push plastics into these hotspots, it is possible that aconcept like Slat’s, which relies on ocean currents, is effectivein collecting plastics at a single location in the oceans, where thedebris can later be extracted. There have been different reactions toSlat’s concept. Some individuals think that the project isimpractical. For instance, according to Eriksen, it is highlypossible that the concept will result in the capture of some marinespecies (1). Eriksen further states that the concept does not promiseto capture plastics prior to their fragmentation, yet researchdemonstrates that the fragments cause harm to marine life. Withoutcapturing the fragments, he concludes that it would be impossible torefer to the concept as practical. Another critic is Choo who claimsthat any effective approach to cleaning our oceans can only begin atthe point of entry (1). That is solving the problem of too muchplastic use through finding alternatives to plastic and throughefforts to recycle waste.
However, the critics seem to not understand that there is already alot of plastic pollution in our oceans. Even though the approaches torecycle and capture debris from its source were implemented, it willalso be important to clean plastics already in the oceans hence,making Slat’s cleanup array a possible solution. The plan hasalready been tested before at the Azores Islands. The“proof-of-concept” involved measuring the capturing design aswell as possible concentration via the use of a floating barrier witha 3 meter skirt depth. The rationale for using 3m is because itrepresents the depth for most plastic (Slat et al. 29). The prooftest was successful in capturing floating debris of plastics.Notably, there were no large amounts of zooplanktons captured. Mostimportant, is that the study demonstrated how these captured plasticsmay be recycled via procedures that alter them into oil. Hence, theconcept does not just capture plastics, but it also recycles, whichensures that the plastics do not find their way back to the oceans.Using the proof test conducted, it is then possible to conclude thatSlat’s plan is practically feasible. The test plan provides a basisfor analyzing how the surface currents move the debris towards thearray, which then captures the plastics. Since the plastics arecaptured at one point, it becomes possible to collect them andrecycle. When performed repeatedly, it is practically feasible toreduce the amount of waste in the world’s oceans.
The “Ocean Cleanup Array” is approximated to be morecost-effective when compared to traditional proposals for everyextracted ton of plastics. In Slat’s feasibility study, he notes“in order to extract 70 million kg of garbage from the NorthPacific Gyre over 10 years, a total cost of 317 million euro” inincurred (Slat et al. 30). Considering that the estimation uses anapproximated period of ten years. It is anticipated that within theperiod, the amount of plastics in oceans will have declined. As aresult, the costs are expected to decline with a drop in the amountof plastics. At startup, it is likely that the costs will be morethan the profits. However, as efforts are put towards the recyclingof extracted plastics to create oil, it becomes feasible to generateprofits from the project. Notably, the profits do not necessarilyhave to be in monetary terms rather, they are also evident through areduction in the plastics. Supposing that the concept reducesplastics as anticipated within a ten year period, it restores lostrevenue from for instance tourism, by restoring the clean nature ofbeaches.
Boyan Slat has suggested a concept, which promises to cleanup oceansby getting rid of plastics, which have become a common observation.The increased production and use of plastics has led to a massivedumping of these plastics in oceans. The debris causes harm to marinelife and human health. The concept suggested by Slat proves to bepractically and economically feasible. Owing to a proof test that hasalready been conducted and an investigation of available literature,the concept promises to rid oceans off plastics.
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