Friday, May 04, 2018

Attacking the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

​From Independent by Jane Dalton:

Scientists are preparing to launch the world's first machine to clean up the planet's largest mass of ocean plastic.

The system, originally dreamed up by a teenager, will be shipped out this summer to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California, and which contains an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic.

It will be the first ever attempt to tackle the patch since it was discovered in 1997.

The experts believe the machine should be able to collect half of the detritus in the patch---about 40,000 metric tons---within five years.

In the past few weeks they have been busy welding together giant tubes that will sit on the surface of the sea and form the skeleton of the machine, creating the largest floating barrier ever made.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) spans 617,763 sq miles---more than twice the size of France, and contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, research found last month.

Most of it is made up of “ghost gear”---parts of abandoned and lost fishing gear, such as nets and ropes---often from illegal fishing vessels.

Ghost gear kills more than 100,000 whales, dolphins and seals each year, according to scientific surveys. Seabirds and other marine life are increasingly being found dead with stomachs full of small pieces of plastic.

Packaging must be next in sight for plastic ban, say campaigners.

Creatures eat plastic discarded in the sea thinking it’s food but then starve to death because they are not feeding properly.

Others are trapped and die of starvation or are strangled or suffocated by ghost gear.

More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year, according to the US-based Plastic Oceans Foundation.

Up to 90 per cent of the world’s plastic items are never recycled, and scientists believe nearly every piece ever created is still in existence somewhere, in some form, with most going into landfill or the environment. Single-use plastic, such as water bottles and nappies, take 450 years to break down.

The system to tackle the largest swirling mass of rubbish in the Pacific has been designed by a non-profit technology firm called The Ocean Cleanup, set up by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat when he was an 18-year-old aerospace engineering student.

“The plastic pollution problem has always been portrayed as something insolvable. The story has always been ‘OK, we can’t clean it up---the best we can do is not make it worse’---To me that’s a very uninspiring message,” said Mr Slat.

“What I really hope is that the ocean clean-up in this century can be a symbol for us using technology to make things better.”

The clean-up contraption consists of 40-foot pipes---ironically made of plastic---that will be fitted together to form a long, snaking tube.

Filled with air, they will float on the ocean's surface in an arc, and have nylon screens hanging down below forming a giant floating dustpan to catch the plastic rubbish that gathers together when moved by the currents. The screens, however, will be unable to trap microplastics---tiny fragments.

Nearly half the debris collected from the Great Pacific garbage patch consisted of discarded fishing nets (The Ocean Cleanup Foundation).

Fish will be able to escape the screens by swimming underneath them.

The Ocean Cleanup team aim to launch the beginnings of the system from the shores of San Francisco Bay within weeks, start it working by July and then keep extending it.

They plan to have 60 giant floating scoops, each stretching a mile from end to end. Boats will go out to collect debris every six to eight weeks.

Mr. Slat was 16 and still at school when he was diving in Greece and first saw for himself the amount of plastic polluting the sea.

“There were more bags than fish down there,” he recalls. Two years later he came up with a solution, quit university after six months and set up The Ocean Cleanup as a company.

Following a crowdfunding campaign that raised £1.57m and later investment bringing the total to £28.56m, the company now has 65 paid staff, including researchers and engineers.

Mr Slat, 23, says the first plastic to arrive on shore will be a major milestone.

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Save Browser Books!

...With the proliferation of online shopping and e-books, it has been challenging to keep Browser’s doors open. When the recession hit in 2008, we almost closed, and my dad, owner Stephen Damon, was forced to double down so that the shop could continue. Business has vastly improved since then, but the debt has accrued. And my dad can no longer sustain the debt and his medical bills.

This month, we begin running a Go Fund Me campaign to save Browser Books. The goal is to raise $75,000 to pay off the store’s debts. Any money received after the debt has been paid will go to building the store’s future. This will enable the bookstore to continue under the direction of its longtime employees...

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This just in: Scott Wiener not always wrong!

Photo: Dyami Serna

This is a companion piece to the previous post on homelessness.

Good to learn that Scott Wiener isn't always wrong, just most of the time. Below Dick Spotswood points out that since homelessness is a statewide problem the state needs to help local governments pay to deal with it:

I’ve been critical of state Sen. Scott Wiener’s misguided pieces of legislation, Senate Bills 827 and 828, that attempt to usurp local land use control to force building high-density housing. It’s only fair that when the San Francisco Democrat co-authors a creative law addressing a huge statewide issue — chronic homelessness — he earns my kudos.

Wiener and Sen. Henry Stern, D-Canoga Park, have introduced legislation to strengthen California conservatorship laws. SB 1045 expands use of conservatorships to protect those substance abusers and mentally ill who are a threat to the health and safety of themselves and potentially others...

I recently rode Amtrak from Oakland to Southern California with members of Mill Valley Rotary. In communities along the line we saw tent camps and squalor. Whether it was prosperous Santa Barbara, working-class Salinas or sad West Oakland, desperate human beings living near mounds of garbage were common. Downtown San Rafael and out-of-sight sections of East Marin experience the same phenomena.

Most of the chronic homeless are mentally ill or addicted. The help they need is the 21st century version of long-closed state hospitals: “supportive housing” that includes detox and psychiatric care.

The legislation’s premise is that counties will provide that supportive housing and residential facilities to keep these sick folks safe and off the street until they recover.

SB 1045’s weakness is fiscal. The state needs to pay its fair share by providing participating counties with a 50-50 match to create new supportive housing. 

None of this is cheap, but the cost in human lives and loss of quality of life in communities where miserable tent camps proliferate makes it worthwhile. The fiscal and moral cost of doing nothing is high (Kudos to Sen. Wiener for addressing chronic homelessness).

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