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Garbage collection device from The Ocean Cleanup resumes normal operations

Garbage collection device from The Ocean Cleanup resumes normal operations

In 2013, Boyan Slat started The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit for removing the plastic from Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a trash-filled vortex which is bigger than two times of Texas combined. This group developed a device for passive collection of plastic in its fold. 

However, it faced some difficulties including a manufacturing and design flaw. The plastic spilled back to the ocean as a consequence. The plastic also began to flow over the cork line meant to stabilize the system. But the Ocean Cleanup announced that it fixed this problem and thus the device can resume the plastic collection in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It has managed to collect plastic objects such as cartons, crates and fishing nets. The organization announced that it was surprised by the ability of the system to capture microplastics. 

Previous research conducted by the Ocean Cleanup suggested microplastics are collected at the ocean’s bottom hence they are unlikely to stay at the surface. So it has focused on the removal of large plastic objects from the Garbage Patch. A lot of the debris collected by the device is quite broken down and old. Thick plastic fragments are mainly found instead of plastic straws or bags. In addition to this, the device can also retain different types of plastic due to a new parachute system. 

The U shaped plastic collection mechanism of the Ocean Cleanup collects trash from the patch passively with the help of the ocean currents by the creation of a coastline. A 2000 foot pipe of the device is its most visible portion which is made of high-density polyethylene plastic. It is attached to a screen about 10 feet below the surface for catching the debris. Initially, it was attached to the pipe’s bottom which created stress at the junction of pipe and the screen. A crack at the pipe’s bottom led to a fracture and the 59-foot end section detached from the array. To fix this, the Ocean Cleanup moved the screen ahead of the pipe connected with slings. A cork line was also installed for keeping it tight. 

A new version of the device was launched in June named System 001/B. Researchers wanted to know if the device could move at a consistent pace. A parachute anchor was used for deceleration and the device was turned in the opposite direction with the attachment of inflatable bags for towing it faster than plastic. It was found to be the “winning concept”. However, it was found in August that the plastic spilled over the cork line hence calling for the requirement of a taller one to prevent overtopping. Slat announced that there was very minimal overtopping thus proving it a success. 

The next target of the organization is to create a larger version of the device to capture more plastic. One of the main hurdles for it is to demonstrate that the device can retain plastic for more than a year. This is to ensure that it can survive the harsh winter. The next goal is to create a fleet of devices. A ship could be used to tow the debris collected by the array by visiting the garbage patch at regular intervals. The main target is to capture 15,000 tons of plastic every year. Slat hopes to visit the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and observe the debris collection in person. 

environmental damage ocean pollution

Researchers identify plastic pollution identical to the appearance of rocks

The overuse of plastics by human beings has carried it to the wilderness of Antarctica along with the highest and deepest places on Earth. But it still manages to surprise us in its new forms. A new research has found plastics in the camouflage of ordinary pebbles. The study has been published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.  

Known as pyroplastics, these plastic chunks are created when plastic is melted by some process such as manufacturing. Then they get weathered in a way similar to rocks and keep shedding microplastics as they are carried by the sea and sands. 

They have escaped our attention being similar to rocks. They have been detected as plastiglomerates in Hawaii, where they were mixed with sands and shells. However they differ from manufactured plastic in terms of origin, thickness and appearance. They have been found in Spain, Vancouver, hence it is suspected that it might not be a regional phenomenon. We are not able to document it on a large scale due to its geogenic appearance. 

Andrew Turner from the University of Plymouth and his colleagues researched on 165 plastic chunks from Whitsand Bay beaches in Cornwall. They also received from Orkneys, Scotland and County Kerry, Ireland. Through attenuated total reflection and infrared spectroscopy, they found that the chunks were mostly polyethylene or polypropylene. However through X-Ray fluorescence it was revealed that the samples also contained lead chromate which when mixed with plastic gives it a orange or red hue. Its use is restricted by Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), however the quantity present in the sample is greater than the limits set by RoHS. Few samples stuck to the calcium carbonate tubes of marine worm Spirobranchus triqueter. In these tubes, lead was found. 

This suggests that the compound can enter the bodies of living organisms. If found in the bodies of worms, it could also pass on to its predators. Hence there is a necessity to conduct research on a wider scale to find out the actual quantity of this plastic which is hiding from our daily view. Their impact on the environment and the amount of microplastics released can be properly gauged after that. 

Pyroplastics need to classified in a separate manner within the classification of marine litter. Researchers mention that they are also a source of finer plastic particles which are then able to contaminate organisms who ingest them. 

Journal Reference: Science of the Total Environment

Rainwater Sample

US Geological Survey finds plastic in rainfall in the Rocky Mountains

Researchers from the US Geological Survey (USGS) found something completely unexpected while analyzing the rainwater for nitrogen pollution. They found plastic. In a new report titled “It is raining plastic”, researchers explain that they detected plastic in more than 90 percent of the rainwater samples collected at eight different sites, most of them lying between Denver and Boulder, Colorado.

It is all the more surprising since plastics are found at remote locations such as in CO98 which is 3159 meters above the sea in the Rocky Mountains. Detecting plastics in urban areas is not that startling due to the high abundance of plastic in these locations. The team mentioned that a greater amount of plastic fibres were obtained from urban locations than from remote areas such as mountains. However observing plastic fibres in remote locations such as CO98 in Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain indicates that wet deposition of plastic is no longer an urban phenomenon. The study has been published by USGS.

Plastic strands which were detected resemble a lot like microfibres in synthetic materials which are normally found in clothes. They were found in blue along with red, silver, green and purple. However, the plastic pieces are quite small as they are only visible after magnification of 20 times. At present, human beings consume a minimum of 70,000 microplastic particles in a year whereas there are several million tonnes of plastic left in the oceans. This means that there are a lot more plastic in our environment than actually visible to us. Now it is a part of rainfall, snow thereby occupying a significant portion of our environment which is quite unfortunate.

However, this is not the first instance of detecting microplastics in unexpected locations of our environment. A paper published in Nature Geoscience reported the detection of microplastics in French Pyrenees. It also estimated that microplastics might be traveling up to 95 kilometers in the atmosphere.

A key difference between that paper and the current finding is that while the previous one was mainly focused on finding the reasons plastic ended up in those areas this work was not intended for it, the main goal here was to study nitrogen pollution. It was not designed to analyze samples for the collection of plastic particles. Hence the results are quite unanticipated.

This is a grave concern and therefore advanced methods of sampling, identification, and quantification of deposition of plastic is needed to understand the resultant ecological effects.

plastic pollution forming plasticrust ocean shores

Researchers discover a different type of plastic pollution at the shoreline

Scientists have recently discovered crust of plastic particles that were forming up on shoreline rocks. This ‘plasticrust’  is a huge threat to the creatures inhabiting on rocks and there could also be a possibility of plastic entering into their food chain. The study was published in Science of the Total Environment

A Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre (MARE) team from Portugal has been observing the building up of plastics across the shore of the volcanic island of Madeira by evaluating their impact on the local ecosystem since 2016. Ignacio Gestoso, a marine ecologist said that the crusts are developed due to the crashing of large pieces of plastics against the rock shores similar to how algae or lichens do.

The plasticrust looks similar to a chewed piece of gum or a squeeze of toothpaste on the rocks and their shape is similar to that of inhabitants on the rock and this way the plastic is fixing itself into the environment. Several researchers like Gestoso are researching on the reason behind its formation and their effects and thus it was discovered that they are formed due to the usage of polyethylene, the material found in plastic bags and food packaging. Now according to the scientists, this polyethylene which is sticking to the shoreline covers nearly about 10 percent of the surface of the rock.

The researchers and their team also discovered a proof which shows that the winkle sea snails which eats algae are as comfortable being in the plasticrust as they are on the rocks and thus they might be sucking the plasticrust and the algae on the rock as well. As of now, the researchers just want us to make aware of this problem. If we don’t reduce the usage of plastics then the rocks which are getting covered by plastics will bring serious issues to the microorganisms.

However, sadly this is not the first time this has occurred. In the year 2014, there was a discovery of plastiglomerates which is a substance similar to rock made from melted plastics and organic debris. The scientists say that plastic is hugely used and if it continues this way then we’ll leave huge sediments of plastics for the future generation. Gestoso told that he, as a marine ecologist researcher would like to choose to report about other types of discoveries than describing a sad new way of plastic pollution in his research paper.


plastic wastes ocean

Researchers successfully convert plastic waste to jet fuel

A group of researchers at Washington State University has found a technique for converting the plastic waste products which are generated every day to jet fuel. Hanwu Lei of WSU and his colleagues have been successful in melting plastic waste at a very high temperature with the help of activated carbon, which is a processed carbon with a greater surface area to form jet fuel. The study has been published in the journal Applied Energy.

Lei, an associate professor at Department of Biological System Engineering in WSU commented that waste plastic is a major problem worldwide. But they have been able to recycle the plastic in a very simple way.

For the experiment, several low-density polythenes and a variety of waste plastic products such as water bottles, plastic bags were tested by the research group and they were ground to a very small size, around the range of three millimetres which is equal to the size of a rice grain. The granules of plastic were then kept above activated carbon, placed in a tube reactor at very high temperature, in the range of 430 to 571 degrees Celsius, which translates to 806 to 1060 Fahrenheit. The activated carbon plays the role of a catalyst which is a substance for increasing the rate of a chemical reaction without itself being consumed in it.

Lei remarked that since plastic is very difficult to be decomposed to smaller particles, the help of a catalyst has to be taken in order to break the chemical bonds. Plastics contain a very high amount of hydrogen, which is an important component in fuels.

Once the carbon catalyst has been used for one set of conversion, it can be again separated and reused for the next batch of conversion of plastics. If the catalyst loses its activity, it can be also be regenerated. Researchers tested several combinations of plastics and the best result obtained was a mixture of 85 per cent jet fuel and 15 per cent diesel fuel.

According to the estimates of Environmental Protection Agency, landfills located in the United States received close to 26 million tonnes of plastic in the year 2015. This is the most recent statistics which are available currently. Scientists estimate that at least 4.8 million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans in the world.

This new technique would help in making the best use of plastic and hence minimize its wastage. Lei said that almost 100 percent of the energy can be recovered from the plastic which is tested. The fuel which is obtained is of decent quality and the byproduct gases are of good quality as well. This process is even highly scalable.

Polish inventor and entrepreneur Jerzy Wysocki

Polish company manufactures edible plates to reduce plastic consumption

European Union has decided to ban all sorts of plastic utensils, cutlery from 2021. If you are wondering about the possible alternatives, you should know about the biodegradable plate that can also be eaten. Eaten? Yeah, you read it right.

Polish entrepreneur and inventor Jerzy Wysocki invented a biodegradable plate nearly 15 years ago which can also be consumed. Today, Biotrem manufactures almost 15 million such plates per year. Standing in the Biotrem production unit in Zambrow, northeast Poland, Wysocki says that a pork chop will certainly taste better in his wheat bran plate than on plastic.

Due to the ban, the production of these plates will certainly be skyrocketed. The plate itself does not contain many flavours. It will remind you something similar to dry flakes of cereal.

The idea for this kind of tableware came to Wysocki when he was looking for ways to use the leftovers from the flour production which took up a huge amount of space. He is also concerned about the increasing quantity of wastes which are polluting the oceans thus destroying the marine life. For manufacturing these plates, only wheat bran is used. It is then compressed at a very specific pressure and temperature with the help of a machine customized only for this use.

CEO of Biotrem, Malgorzata Then acknowledges the fact that these plates are certainly more expensive than the plastic products as they cost 17 US cents a piece, added with 20% for exports. However, for the cheap price of plastic, we have been compromising on environmental degradation and aquatic pollution for a long time.

The company’s first clients were those organisations who were conscious of the environmental damages caused by plastic and the hotel chains, restaurants who wanted to come up with something unique in their offerings. However, now due to the decisions taken by the European Union, companies ignorant about the environment are also paying extra attention.

Biotrem currently distributes the plates in several continents such as Europe, Asia, North America. The taste of the plates is even liked by the earthworms. Increase in the distribution would also mean a decrease in the prices. And on top, it would also be possible to use the same technology for making plates out of corn, barley, oats etc.

Wysocki says that although these numbers are not very high, they are big enough to remain positive for the future. Biotrem is considering the production of edible boxes for takeaway meals. Its research is at an advanced level, however, some changes are needed to make it more resistant to heat and fluids.

Besides Biotrem, scientists at the Gdansk University of Technology have come up with a way to manufacture cutlery from potato starch. They have been also tested on aquatic creatures and they can be easily consumed by these organisms.


wild bees

Scientists find bees using plastic for constructing their nests

Bees have been building their nests in the Argentinian crop fields with the help of strange materials. Scientists have detected bee nests which have been built fully from plastic waste. Plastics come to the farms in a variety of ways such as packaging. In these changing environments, the animals have to adapt to the conditions and it is up for debate whether they can keep up with the human activities.

A team of researchers from the National Agricultural Technology Institute in Argentina detected nests built from plastic in their research of chicory pollinators. For the research, the team constructed 63 trap nests in the fields. These nests are similar to the bee hotels which are built in the backyard of homes for solitary bees. It contains long hollow tubes which resemble the honeycombs in which bee larvae grow. These cavities are lined by bees with materials such as stones, leaves, mud. Then they use these materials for building the nests in the cavities that are separated into brood cells each containing one growing bee larvae. The study is published in the journal Apidologie.

The team checked the trap nests over the spring and summer of 2017, 2018 to check the signs of any bee activity there. Only three nests were used by the bees out of which two were built with the help of mud, stones. From the nests, five healthy bees came out. The third nest was built with plastic by the bees, distinctly shaped to oval and oblong structures. It contained three cells, two built from thin, blue plastic and the third made from thicker, white plastic.

Scientists mentioned in their paper that one of the three cells had a dead larva and an adult emerged from another cell, with the third cell left unfinished. This makes the indication that plastic may not be the ideal material for building although it is not the worst either.

The team could not identify the bee to the certainty that built the nest, however, it might be an alfalfa leafcutter bee. It is a European species which the team had previously noticed in the site. It works alone, uses the leaves for lining the nests and has been previously documented by scientists in North America while using plastic to construct bee cells.

Using plastic might have other advantages which are not yet known to us, however, it is difficult to make a single conclusion from only one nest. Although, it is an indication that bees are flexible to the changing environments and can use alternate materials for construction