7 innovations aiming to preserve our oceans, in honour of World Oceans Day on the 8th June 2020
Be it rising sea levels, danger to marine life, or the growing amount of plastic pollution in the water, the environmental danger our oceans face is well-established.
The organisers behind today’s #WorldOceansDay are raising awareness of these issues and pressuring world leaders to protect 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030, which they say is critical. With this initiative in mind, we’ve compiled some of our top innovations focused on combatting marine pollution.
1. NO-TRACE PLASTIC REDUCES MARINE POLLUTION AND GHOST FISHING
Chemists at the University of Cornell have developed a polymer that degrades quickly in sunlight, but that still maintains the strength of industrial-grade plastics. The aim is to provide a no-trace plastic that can reduce marine pollution and ghost fishing.
Lost or abandoned fishing gear is a major source of the pollution present in the Pacific Garbage Patch. Nets, traps, and trawls are made of industrial-grade plastics, and thus take hundreds of years to degrade, killing marine life in the process. The new plastic, developed by Cornell University, is called isotactic polypropylene oxide, or iPPO for short. iPPO is similar to nylon-6,6 in sturdiness and its ability to maintain stability under adverse conditions. For this reason, nylon-6,6 is used in fishing nets and ropes. However, unlike nylon-6,6, iPPO can degrade under any conditions with sunlight.
2. WATER-RESISTANT AND BIODEGRADABLE PLANT-BASED PLASTIC
There are now said to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of the ocean – and the total is increasing by around 8 million pieces of plastic every day. Although plastics that biodegrade in water are already in use, a group of researchers at Japan’s Osaka University have developed an alternative type of plastic which is not only biodegradable in seawater but is also water-resistant under normal use.
The plastic is made from cellulose nanofibers and starch, both of which were extracted from plants. The researchers have developed a process that can improve the water-resistance and strength of the composite so that it could be used in the same way as petroleum-based plastics. However, the plastic also breaks down after an extended period in seawater. By using low-cost, plant-based materials, the cost of the plastic is kept low and at the same time, fewer greenhouse gases are emitted, because no petroleum products are used.
3. OCEAN SOLE AFRICA TURNS BEACH WASTE INTO ART
A company in Ponte Vedra has developed an innovative and creative way to tackle the beach pollution problem. Erin Smith, the mastermind of the project, was inspired by a trip to North Kenya, where she saw women using rubbish they found from the beach to make toys for the children in the tribe. Smith decided to found Ocean Sole Africa, a social enterprise company that uses flip-flops found on beaches to make art.
As the main form of footwear in Kenya is flipflops, the material is easy to come by and makes the art varied and interesting, compiled as it is of manifold colours, details and sizes from the flipflops. When the flip-flop debris is collected, it is shipped to the headquarters in Palm Valley, where it is cleaned, glued and made into large, colourful animal sculptures.
4. WASHING MACHINE FILTER CAPTURES MICROPLASTICS
More people seem to be waking up to the problem of microplastics. When clothes made from synthetic fibres are washed, millions of tiny particles of plastic are released into drains, through water treatment plants and out into our rivers, lakes and oceans, where they cause great damage. A Slovenian startup, PlanetCare, has come up with a way to remove microplastics before they go down the drain.
PlanetCare has developed a filter which can be attached to a washing machine, and which can catch around 90 per cent of the fibres shed from clothes. The cartridges need to be changed monthly, and the used ones can be sent back to PlanetCare, which cleans and returns them to customers. PlanetCare has plans to recycle the microplastics it collects in the cartridges, back into the backing material used in car upholstery.
5. ARCTIC THERMAL BATHS POWERED BY WASTE FROM CRUISE SHIPS
June Tong, an Architecture student from The Royal College of Art in London, has developed a proposal for an arctic-based thermal bath powered by the waste from cruise ships. The project, “In Murky Waters,” was designed for a small coal-mining town in Longyearbyen, Norway.
The town, once dependant on coal-powered energy as a main economic driver, now relies on cruise-based tourism. However, cruise ships also take a significant environmental toll, as the waste they expel contributes to the melting of Arctic ice. “The current model sees cruise ships bringing unmanageable volumes of waste and tourists to the town, becoming parasitic and destructive to Arctic communities. In Murky Waters presents just one meanwhile scenario that highlights the problematic, escalating situation of arctic cruise tourism.” says Tong.
The idea is that thermal baths will help create a “green Arctic experience” for tourists. Guests will be able to enjoy thermal baths that are powered by waste from the same cruise ships that transport them. Arctic bathing will allow towns, such as the one in Longyearbyen, to continue benefiting from the income provided by Arctic tourism without the downside of ice melting.
6. WASTE COLLECTION ‘RACE’ RAISES SEA POLLUTION AWARENESS
What was referred to as Europe’s “first garbage collection competition” took place in Marseille on May 30 2019. The goal was to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea. Merging elements of a race and a treasure hunt, 20 teams, made up of two swimmers and two kayakers, aimed to collect 8 km of waste from the sea.
Le Grand Défi, or The Grand Challenge, was co-organised by the French environmental protection brand Sauvage, Palana Environment and the Amos Sport Business School. It was inspired by Emmanuel Laurin and his film The Great Saphire, which featured Laurin’s 120-km swim between Toulon and Marseille, where he collected more than 100 kg of waste.
“With this event, we want to raise awareness that the protection of the environment is of concern to everyone, especially as 80 percent of the waste in the Mediterranean comes from the land,” said Sindie Aissa of Amos, one of the event’s organisers.
7. VESSEL TO BE FUELLED BY RECYCLED PLASTIC
Plastic Odyssey plans to sail to three continents on a vessel fuelled by plastic waste. The expedition is part of a campaign to reduce plastic waste and promote recycling. The French organisation says its vessel is the first in the world to be fuelled by plastic waste, via a process called pyrolysis. Plastic waste that is not recyclable is burned at over 400°C, without oxygen, and the molecules of the plastic break apart and turn into liquid fuel and other by-products. The unit on the boat will be able to produce between 30 and 40 litres of fuel per hour.
Plastic Odyssey has also developed inexpensive and mobile technology to promote plastic recycling and reuse. It plans to help communities to reduce waste by turning plastic into products like bricks, fabrics and roof tiles. The organisation created the technology based on methods already in use for sorting, shredding and recycling, and the expedition team will improve their recycling technology based on the needs of the local communities they interact with.
8th June 2020