It gives, for the first time, an overall assessment of the pollution of the surface of all the seas by these detritus. The numbers are staggering: 269,000 tonnes made up of more than 5 trillion particles of all sizes. Yet the authors point out that their estimates are “very conservative” and can be considered a “minimum”.
The accumulation in the oceanic environment of floating plastic debris – fragments of bags, bottles, cans and other packaging, but also industrial pellets – conveyed by winds and rivers, or discharged at sea by ships, has been known since the late 1990s.
Huge areas of convergence, known as “ocean gyres”, have been discovered in the North Pacific – a 3.4 million square kilometer cluster known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” or in the North Pacific Ocean. the South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. But all the seas of the globe are soiled. “Plastics and microplastics are present throughout the world’s ocean,” say the researchers.
The team, led by Marcus Eriksen of California’s Five Gyres Institute, assembled, modeled and analyzed data collected from twenty-four oceanographic surveys conducted between 2007 and 2013 in the five ocean gyres zones, as well as near Australian coasts, in the Bay of Bengal and in the Mediterranean. That’s more than 1,500 sites where scientists have sampled samples for the smallest debris or made visual observations for larger ones.
They were able to quantify plastic pollution, which affects “all ocean areas, including the most remote”. It appears that waste is not concentrated only in the main convergence zones, where their densities are “lower than expected”, but that coastal areas are also “very affected”, especially in the Mediterranean.
After bio-plastic that breaks down in natural fertilizer, eco-cup or edible packaging, a new invention is proposed as an ecological alternative to plastic bottles. A student in product design at the Icelandic Academy of Arts, Ari Jónsson designed a biodegradable bottle made from seaweed. His invention was exhibited in March 2016 at the DesignMarch Festival in Reykjavik. “I read that 50% of plastic is only used once and then discarded and I feel that there is an urgent need to find ways to replace some of the unreal plastic that we make, use and let’s shed each day, “he told Dezeen.
His research led him to use agar, a substance based on algae and which, combined with water forms a gelatinous material: the ingredient is also used in cooking as a thickener or gelling agent. Once the correct proportions have been found, the student warmed and poured the substance into a bottle-shaped mold kept in the fridge. Then rotating the mold inside a bucket of ice water, the liquid took the form of a bottle.
Then the mold was placed in the fridge a few minutes before the bottle of agar was extracted. Result: a healthy and biodegradable plastic bottle. But it has a major characteristic: it remains solid as long as it is full and begins to decompose as soon as empty. Another particularity, if the water is consumed only after a certain time, it gradually takes the natural flavor of the bottle. Ari Jónsson argues that those who would like to taste should even bite into the bottle. If the production process may seem archaic, it works perfectly and just needs to be industrialized.
Free competition wins plastic
What is certain is that plastics, which persist for hundreds of years, contaminate “all ocean ecosystems, including marine organisms, zooplankton and sediment-dwelling species,” says Marcus Eriksen. And that they can, he adds, “concentrate organic pollutants and alter the functioning of food chains”.
The initiative is fortunately not isolated. In fact, we talked about bioplastics made in France from another seaweed. Using natural, biological and biodegradable materials, inventors from various countries are working to find alternative solutions to plastic. Solutions that, as ingenious as they are, seem small in the face of the petrochemical industry and, above all, offer only a development of all-disposable in the illusory logic of “green capitalism”.
`And that’s the problem. Since synthetic plastic is cheaper, and the states offer virtually no support, the large-scale industrial transition is imperceptible. Far too slow to slow down, even a little, this environmental crisis that assails us from all sides. Limit the damage?