DUBAI: With more than five trillion pieces of plastic polluting the planet’s oceans and five massive garbage patches floating in different corners of the world, people in the region and around the world are coming up with creative new ways to tackle the problem.
The Ocean Cleanup, headquartered in the Netherlands, has one that involves giant floating barriers. Founded in 2013 by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat at the age of 18 in his hometown of Delft, his team now consists of more than 70 engineers, researchers, scientists and computational modelers producing advanced technology to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.
The system consists of a 600-meter-long floating barrier that sits at the surface of the water with a three-meter-deep skirt below. The buoyant floating barrier prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath.
“The Ocean Cleanup is developing a passive system, using the natural oceanic forces to catch and concentrate the plastic,” said a spokesperson at the company. “Both the plastic and system are carried by the current. Wind and waves propel only the system, as the floater sits just above the water surface, while the plastic is primarily just beneath it.”
As the system moves faster than the plastic, it allows the debris to be captured. “Our models indicate that a full-scale system roll-out could clean up 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years,” he added.
Research shows the majority of plastic is currently in larger debris. By removing the plastic while it is still large, The Ocean Cleanup prevents it from breaking into dangerous microplastics. The first system was deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on Sept. 8. The company expects to reach full-scale cleanup in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2020.
At the end of last year, Dubai-based Ecocoast teamed up with The Ocean Cleanup to design and manufacture the screen for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) ocean cleanup.
“We were the first to develop a successful screen for The Ocean Cleanup,” said Lachlan Jackson, Ecocoast’s founder and managing director. “Our research and development and engineering expertise informed the development of this groundbreaking screen. Cleaning up our marine environment is a multifaceted and complex issue that needs to be approached from a number of angles.”
Jackson said marine pollution is not just caused by plastic and packaging waste, but through a range of coastal development activities such as construction and industrial activities.
“We provide pioneering solutions that protect and support our marine environment, to reduce the impact from coastal and marine activities, construction, land reclamation works and other developments,” he said.
“Our solutions cover every stage of the coastal development cycle, from development and infrastructure through to operation and maintenance, in order to avoid detrimental ecological impacts.”
From silt curtains and containment booms to sand-filled geosynthetic containers, the company uses a number of materials to protect the marine environment against the impact of coastal development. “We are the largest manufacturer of silt curtains in the world, which are used to protect the marine environment during marine construction and coastal reclamation works,” Jackson said. “In Dubai alone, the coastline has grown by over 6 percent since 2009 because of dredging and reclamation, making the use of marine protection barriers a very important part of protecting our oceans.”
With its latest launch, Ecocoast is tackling the problem at source. WasteShark intercepts plastic, rubbish, algae and other floating debris before it enters the ocean. The small catamaran-like boat collects plastic, rubbish, algae and other debris to tackle marine pollution in lakes, ponds, canals and more heavily trafficked environments, such as marinas, ports and coastlines. The waste and data collection vehicle can collect up to 350 kilograms, or 180 liters, of rubbish. Once full, it will carry the rubbish to shore, where it can be recycled.
Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today, as millions of tons of plastic permeate the oceans, damaging ecosystems and corrupting the food chain. The actions of UV radiation, waves and marine life result in big debris breaking down into much more dangerous small particles.
Experts in the region have been calling for plastic pollution to be tackled from multiple angles. “The waters in the Middle East represent the global issue of marine debris,” said Natalie Banks, manager at Azraq, a marine conservation organization in the UAE taking its name from the Arabic for blue.
“We find single-use plastic such as cigarette butts and food and beverage packaging in the top 10 items collected, as they are globally. To overcome this issue, we require a global and collective approach combining industry, governments and individuals all seeking to reduce single-use plastic items.”
Plastic has had a detrimental impact on the region. The UAE had 26.2 million tons of plastic in 2016 and 13 billion plastic bags are used in the country each year, more than 350 bags every second.
According to the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi in 2014, discarded plastic bags were believed to be the cause of 50 percent of camel deaths in the Emirates each year, and it was estimated this year that 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in oceans annually.
Azraq uses its volunteers and partners with corporates and schools to regularly undertake coastal cleanups. “Our method includes an awareness presentation and the use of burlap and reusable gloves to reduce the amount of single-use plastic used,” Banks said. “We then sort where possible the marine debris in order to recycle and repurpose what we can. We have found that this is the most effective way to undertake a coastal cleanup without creating additional single-use plastic and to maximize recycling opportunities, while also providing an educative experience to create a change in behavior.”
She said beach cleanups were only part of the solution. “We also need to make different choices to stem the tide of plastics entering the marine environment.”