JUNE 2015 IN

Mining the Oceans for Plastics

A small fraction of all the world’s plastics end up in the ocean, where they break into small pieces that take centuries to decay. This abandoned plastic poses a substantial ecological threat, but it could also be a source of a valuable raw material if an efficient way to collect it could be found.

It makes sense to start at islands where currents wash ocean plastics onto the coastline. A two-year test with floating nets is planned in Japan on the island of Tsushima. The ultimate goal is the Pacific Garbage Patch, a broad gyre in the central North Pacific Ocean where half of the plastic in the oceans eventually ends up. Collecting drifting plastics is a challenge because of the small size of most pieces, but there are also advantages that plastic collectors can use. Currents in many places are easy to predict. Plastic, being lighter than water, floats in the top two meters of the ocean most of the time. The right kind of fine-mesh two-meter net, then, might be able to pick out much of the plastic.

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