Oceanic waste is a huge problem, and it’s growing by the year. Despite all the warnings, the rate of global plastic production continues to rise, and you only need to visit a popular beach to see the extent of the problem. Fish and seabirds alike are frequently found dead, with plastic in their digestive systems, and the ocean is blighted by floating islands of the stuff, centuries away from even beginning to decompose.
The primary approach to solving the problem is obvious, but daunting – significantly downsize plastic production and upscale recycling. The latter is already happening, but nowhere near enough to counteract the gargantuan scale of plastic production, and more to the point, the scope for reusing many types of consumer plastic is actually pretty narrow.
Even if, by some miracle, we were able to stem the tide of plastic production and discarding to the point where it balances things out again, there would still be millions upon millions of metric tons of plastic still out on the ocean, and no, I’m not exaggerating. Beach clearing and trawling will only get you so far when there’s just so much of it, so one idea is to create a kind of device which can be placed in the water and just left to get on with the task at hand.
Enter the ‘Seabin’, an ingenious little solution invented by two Aussie surfers – Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski – and it’s currently in the final research phase. At a glance, it just looks like a bin with a yellow rim and a sleek chrome finish, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye. They are fitted to pontoons, lowered until the rim is just slightly beneath the surface and then a suction engine whirs to life, drawing waste inside until the bag is full.
The trash can then be sorted and recycled. Because the bin sits so close to the surface, fish aren’t in any danger of being mistakenly sucked in, as extensive tests have proven. The pump is solar powered, and has been tested in several countries already, with many marine authorities across the world saying that they also want to try it out. The team are looking at making them available in 17 countries from 2017 onwards.
If these wonderful little bins could be distributed in a more widespread manner, they could provide an effective solution to the issue, at least inland where they can easily be accessed and emptied on a regular basis. The open ocean is another issue entirely, but there’s no reason why the technology couldn’t be refitted to work on a larger scale, with fleets of bins cast out, and then collected at the end of the day by large ships.
Of course, active solutions can’t work all by themselves, and the introduction of technology like this has to be mirrored by the reductions in consumption I was talking about before. The Seabins can act as a barrier between the trash and getting out onto the open ocean, but even if they were on literally every beach, marina and pontoon in the world, trash would still find its way out to sea. We need companies to reduce their plastic footprint, or all the research and development in the world simply won’t be enough. The Olympics are evidence enough of that.