Saturday, August 14, 2010

Plastic Energy

It’s been a month since our second voyage into the North Atlantic gyre. We have been having problems with our blog and between preparing samples, giving talks, the day job, and family the blog has sat unattended. Sorry for the delay. Part of the problem has been having so much to say and needing some time to get to it. So I’ll start with this, plastic is energy and it takes energy to collect this energy, just like drilling for either natural gas or petroleum. The difference is, this energy - plastic energy - is much easier to get to in most places, except of course the middle of the ocean. Not because there is a lack of plastic in the out there, it’s that we have access to this resource in our trash cans, landfills, on our streets and beaches. In Bermuda, plastics from the continental rim (US, Canada, Europe, and Africa) end up on their beaches. It’s like oil in that it floats, destroys marine life, and is a waste of a commodity. Wait, did I just call plastic a commodity?
This picture illustrates the beauty of Bermuda’s water, yet , look closely at all the plastics that has washed in. Plastic trashing beaches when it can be turned into electricity and fuel.

Whale Bone Bay in Bermuda is on the North Eastern lee side/windward side that faces the direction of the N. Atlantic accumulation zone. Here is what a portion of one cubic meter collected off this remote beach looked like. Note the amount of plastic intermingled with natural debris.

After sorting it as best we could, leaving much of the plastic fragments less than a millimeter behind, here is the quantity of plastic we plucked from just one meter of beach. Wasted energy . . .

The bag on the left is the large items we were able to pull from the sample. The fragments on the right is what we had to use after we filled 18 vials. The vials left of the bowl are all nerdles (pre-production plastics) industry uses, yet Bermuda does not have ANY industry. Clearly brought in by the sea from a far away place.

Energy from plastic comes in other forms as well. When I first learned about the problems with plastics in the marine environment my original thought was a full length documentary, like "An Inconvenient Truth." Of all the environmental issues our oceans are facing, this one is the easiest to fix. It's just going to take some education, legislation, and motivation. First we've got to educate people about the problem, get legislators on board, and motivate people to reduce the use of plastic. My next post will tell you how we got involved with the production of "Plastic Oceans" partially funded by National Geographic and WWF. I had the privilege of rooming with the Producer-Director Jo Ruxton, former underwater videographer from BBCs Blue Planet and she is putting all her energy and several million dollars into a much needed full length documentary.


  1. now you know I've been here...

  2. Plastics are one of the causes of waste problems today. I admit that it really is hard to avoid using plastics because it is useful for storing goods, packaging, and it can also serve as shield for electronic gadgets.

    I read an article about injection molding machine yesterday. I learned that before plastic products form, plastic came from granules. It then goes through an extensive molding machine processes before it become a solid plastic. Although, plastics are non-biodegradable, it can still be re-used and recycled. That way, we can help our environment.