r/Futurology ∞ transit umbra, lux permanet ☥ Sep 23 '22 All-Seeing Upvote 1 Take My Energy 2 Wholesome Seal of Approval 1 Silver 3 Helpful 3 Wholesome 4

A Dutch NGO that has cleaned up 1/1000th of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, says its technology can scale up to eliminate it completely. Environment


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u/lughnasadh ∞ transit umbra, lux permanet ☥ Sep 23 '22

Submission Statement

Given that microplastics are now being found in even the most remote locations on Earth, and inside our bodies, this problem seems one that should be urgently solved. Surprisingly the NGO says it thinks 80% of the plastic in the GPGP comes from fishing. We know vast amounts of other plastic waste is entering the oceans, which begs the questions - where is it ending up?


u/WombatusMighty Sep 23 '22 edited Sep 29 '22 Gold Helpful Wholesome

Posting this here as well so it doesn't get lost:

The Ocean Cleanup is (or has become) a greenwashing operation, funded by the industries that are responsible for the plastic pollution, to make people feel like something is done so that they don't demand action being taken against the plastic industry & the practises that lead to the plastic pollution in the oceans.

I added a short list of better actions at the bottom of this comment.

This startup hasn't produced any viable results in the 9 years they operate now, despite having over $51 million in funds (at 2020).

People often don't realize how massive the ocean is; The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) alone has an estimated size of 1,600,000 square kilometres (620,000 sq mi). That is "about twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch#Size_estimates and the GPGP is only a tiny fraction of the overall ocean size.

Now considering that over 99,8% of the plastic in the oceans is well below the ocean surface: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/03/science/ocean-plastic-animals.html The Ocean Cleanup is lying when they say they will eliminate plastic (in the GPGP), their method can barely catch less than 1% of the oceans plastic.

It would take them hundreds of ships for the GPGP alone, constantly driving around, and the CO2 emissions from these ships would outweigh any positive impact they make on the little surface plastic they could actually catch.

Also, many scientists worry that flashy efforts to clean plastic from the ocean do more harm than good: https://www.vox.com/down-to-earth/22949475/ocean-plastic-pollution-cleanup

An two marine biologists call their latest video staged bullshit: https://twitter.com/ClarkGRichards/status/1493421041976320001 & https://twitter.com/MiriamGoldste/status/1494682706621440000

More criticism of their methods: https://hakaimagazine.com/features/scooping-plastic-out-of-the-ocean-is-a-losing-game/ & https://www.wired.com/story/ocean-cleanups-plastic-catcher/ & https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/ocean-cleanup-device-breaks-down-well-ridding-pacific-plastics-n954446 & https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-09/this-thiel-backed-startup-says-it-can-swiffer-the-seas-scientists-have-doubts

It has been funded, besides angel investors, by industries like Coca-Cola - considered one of the leading plastic polluters in the world: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/07/coca-cola-pepsi-and-nestle-named-top-plastic-polluters-for-third-year-in-a-row

Royal DSM - a leading plastic producer, who is among a self-styled alliance to greenwash themselves while investiong billions into new plastic producing plants: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/21/founders-of-plastic-waste-alliance-investing-billions-in-new-plants

And A.P. Moller Maersk - who just this year decided they will NOT join other companies who stopped shipping plastic waste over the oceans to poor nations: https://plasticchange.org/maersk-stop-shipping-plastic-waste/

You can see their funding partners in their own website: https://theoceancleanup.com/partners/

It's a startup with millions of dollars of funding, no viable results after 9 years of operation, in partnership with the very industries that pollute the oceans in the first place.

Their secondary method of catching plastic waste inside rivers is a much better idea, but I presume that doesn't get them the same headlines and funding - as it's much less flashy.

Instead we need to prevent new plastic waste to enter oceans. We have to lobby our politicians to hold the plastic industry accountable & outlaw single use plastic.
We furthermore have to use the funding instead on education about plastic waste & in small actions like cleaning up beaches, stop eating fish (as the majority of the oceanic plastic waste comes from industrial fishing nets) and to invest in plastic alternatives based on natural, ecofriendly materials (like fungi or algea).

I am right now working on a list of organisations that work on the plastic waste problem with better methods, and options for what we as consumers can do. I will add a link to that here when it's done & make a post about in this sub.


u/presque-veux Sep 23 '22

Perfect is the enemy of the good. What do you propose instead - policy?

If yes then why not attempt both - proactive and reactive solutions?


u/FartButt_ButtFart Sep 23 '22

This really isn't "letting the perfect be the enemy of the good", it's "letting the effective be the enemy of the ineffective". From this description the Ocean Cleanup project is about the equivalent to the TSA - they're just theatrics, vague gestures in the general direction of having cleaner oceans but utterly incapable of meaningful improvement.


u/lutherthegrinch Sep 24 '22

Seems like you misunderstand the critique. There's no 'good' here to be the enemy of perfect--greenwashing efforts actively undermine substantive environmental legislation by redirecting the attention of voters to flashy, hollow or stunts. This is not just an imperfect solution, it's counterproductive and--assuming you support efforts to curb plastic pollution--a bad thing.


u/praguepride Sep 26 '22

This has been the plastic industries game since they put recycling symbols on all plastic even though 99% is not processed by most recycling plants.

You can tell what is and isnt recyable by the free market. You can easily find people to pay you for scrap metals. Nobody buys scrap plastics.


u/NaniFarRoad Sep 23 '22

Any solution that involves fishing nets is ignoring the fact that fishing nets are a consumable item - they snag, tear off and have to be replaced. Which adds to the problem they're "solving".

A better solution would be to e.g. devise a contraption that lets commercial ships fish up plastic they encounter, burn it and turn it into energy (so they have an incentive to top up fuel this way). Or, e.g. a device that melts any found plastic into pellets, onboard, which they can sell on for a guaranteed price when they arrive in port. Both these solutions would be more helpful (and are more economically viable) than fishing up plastic bottles.


u/presque-veux Sep 23 '22

Ok, fair. But at the moment we do not have suitable alternatives. I am sure there's a ton of R&D in this line of thought, and I don't think we'll be stuck with current fishing gear / tech forever. But this is what we're stuck with now. And this is a present day solution.

I think we gotta take what we can get while we work to improve.


u/NaniFarRoad Sep 24 '22

The current fishing gear is thousands of year-old tech because it works - it removes fish from the ocean, cheaply. Trying to limit inputs (boat size, net size etc) doesn't work - under a free market capitalist system, smaller fishing boats get removed/bought up, and the remaining ones become bigger and more polluting.

A present day solution would be to put a tax on plastic producers, so they have an incentive to find alternatives that are less destructive to the environment. It is not many companies affected, so it would have a big effect. But we still keep putting tech "solutions" above common sense and political solutions - we are getting the planet we deserve.

We will run out of fish before the fishing industry considers a move to biodegradable technology - unless we force them to.