Floating garbage patches largely comprised of trash dumped off ships

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/10/03/floating-garbage-patches-large.html






Since the number of Asian fishing vessels has remained stable since the 1990s, while the number of Asian – and in particular, Chinese – cargo vessels has vastly increased in the Atlantic, the researchers concluded that the bottles must come from merchant vessels, which toss them overboard rather than dumping them as trash at ports.

Say it with me one more time



By adding a couple of extra letters we can turn these gyres into guyere.

Problem solved! You’re welcome Earth.


Or by adding uop we could turn them into guy ropes.

The obvious solution is to ban ships. Problem sorted.


So who’s more to blame?

The crews on the Chinese cargo ships, or the people who buy “Made in China” stuff for a few bucks less than domestic products because it’s cheap because the shippers don’t have to pay trash fees at port because it’s already gone?



we are all to blame. dumping garbage in international waters isn’t illegal.


Yet again a story gives us the false impression that the “trash gyres” (e.g. the Pacific gyre) are masses of floating garbage by using a completely unrelated photo as illustration. It’s gotten so bad that doing an image search related to the issue returns no pictures of the actual phenomenon, instead returning a bunch of photos of waters just off urban areas that are filled with garbage. Which I imagine is why articles about the phenomenon always use unrelated, misleading photos as illustrations.

The fact of the matter is that the trash gyres look just like the rest of the ocean, from the surface at least. The higher concentration of garbage is still (visibly) quite low, not dense enough to be photographed, and largely consists of smaller pieces of submerged garbage.

I bring this up because public miseducation of the issue is causing real harm. E.g. the “genius” Dutch dude who invented a “solution” to the problem that involved a floating trash skimmer. He was one of many who proposed this kind of non-solution, but he continues to get many millions of dollars to build, rebuild and redeploy the thing. Of course it hasn’t worked because it misidentifies the fundamental problem. (After years and multiple iterations, some of which fell apart and caused their own ocean pollution, it’s now, finally, captured “some” garbage. A tiny quantity that would have more easily been captured by hand.) He’s diverted resources from actually dealing with the issue and made the public believe it’s solvable in this neat, simple way, when it isn’t. The real solution requires a more systematic reduction of (non-biodegradable) plastic use and universal recycling programs.


Yeah that pic rubbed me the wrong way too. Gives folks the impression the gyres are floating islands of trash that we could like colonize or something. Much more diffuse.

I’d give that Dutch group (started by a kid?) a better review than you tbh. They are trying, failing, trying again and to some extent it is succeeding at collecting plastics from macro down to 1mm. The shot of the rig in action makes it look very elegant and perhaps more robust than it seems? I salute them for trying.

Anyone have a a better idea? Have at it. Instead of (or in addition to) scrubbers required on all bunker fuel fired ships, maybe they have to attach a shipping container sized module that lets out fine grain iron fillings to encourage plankton bloom? Turns off as you get near ports etc? Maybe that isn’t enough volume?


I don’t salute the Dutch project, as it is actually worse than useless. The whole thing is designed to capture plastic floating at the surface, but according to the people who actually study the issue, that’s not where the plastic is. So they’re spending huge amounts of money to capture an absolutely laughably insignificant amount of plastic - it’s a fucking joke. (While, at the same time, their structures shed garbage themselves into the sea.) I did some research and it looks like all those pictures used to falsely illustrate the gyres are actually taken in bays, or off the coasts, of countries like Indonesia and Thailand, where rivers are dumping plastic into the sea and where it does, briefly at least, float on the surface. If that project money was spent hiring guys in boats to float around and scoop up trash, they could remove many orders of magnitude more plastic from the oceans than they currently are. The Dutch project is misleading people as to the nature of the problem, too, so it’s detrimental there, as well. It’s not just useless, it’s actively bad all around.

The problem is, the better idea is to not let the plastic get in the ocean at all. That means: third world trash collection, proper recycling, skimmers on streams and rivers to catch garbage before it gets into the sea, etc. Even that’s just a band-aid - we need a total rethink about how plastic is used. Anything less is a slow-motion ecological disaster. There is no real way to remove plastic once it’s already in bodies of water. There just isn’t. You can’t separate suspended plastic from surrounding organisms, capturing floating trash is worthless, etc.


^ THIS ^

(Thanks @Shuck for summarizing the problems of this particular “techno-fix” so well.)

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It doesn’t take much mental effort at all to compare these rival approaches: stop the plastic from getting into the water, versus letting the plastic mix itself in the water for a while and then go out there and chase it down.

If course its going to be orders of magnitude less effort to prevent the plastic from reaching the water in the first place! But this doesn’t seem sexy enough for (reasons) so instead it seems to make sense to flounder about and make a big show of producing lots of activity out on the water.

Same principle applies to cleaning up greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. Stop them from entering, rather than trying to suck them out of the mixed air.


It’s more desirable to believe one can undo the damage already done (and not have to change anything about one’s lifestyle going forward, either). Believing one can fix the current mess and continue with business as usual is pretty seductive.


It’s humans as a species:

6,500 BC North America Archeological studies shows a clan of Native Americans in what is now Colorado produced an average of 5.3 pounds of waste a day.


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With millennia, effort, engineering, and technology and science, we’ve finally got that down to 4.6 lbs. a day!

(And now, I’m off to experience a quiet moment of existential terror. Total cost: free.)

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I work in the maritime industry aboard commercial cargo ships and have sailed from the US West Coast ports of Seattle, Oakland, and Long Beach to Hawaii and back. While I’m not fully sure if the routes my ships sail actually go through the middle of one of the North Pacific garbage gyres, I can attest that there’s plenty enough plastic to be seen floating at the surface. I once arbitrarily decided to see how long it would take for me to see one piece of plastic to the next. It took roughly an average of ten seconds, with the ship traveling at about 20 to 21 knots.

The thing is, there’s a shit-load of plastic of varying sizes floating about at the surface alone to justify attempts at skimming the ocean. Should there be attempts at collecting before the garbage gets to the ocean? Of course. If nothing is done to remove that crap, it’ll keep floating around until it breaks down to a small enough size that the food chain will eventually deposit into someone’s or something’s gut.

I can attest that the U.S. shipping companies I’ve worked for have posted rules against tossing plastic over the side. Additionally, the International Maritime Organization, a branch of the U.N., has set out law governing the disposal of waste at sea. It’s a big deal. There are bodies of water where it is flat-out illegal to dump anything over the side. However, enforcement is another matter.

Of the garbage I’ve seen floating around the Eastern North Pacific, it’s pretty obvious there’s stuff that could only have originated from aboard a boat or a ship. Additionally, I’ve seen plastic jetsam large enough that I could ID it as being not originating from a US flag vessel. Yes, there was the Post-Fukushima tsunami flush of fishing village crap, but you still notice typical ship/boat-related objects that show tell-tale signs of foreign origin. It’s fucked up as all get-go. And there’s lots of it.

Here’s an irony: A lot of shipping companies are retro-fitting exhaust scrubbers on their existing ships to bypass the coming moratorium on the burning of heavy fuel oils. The companies are doing this, because of the higher cost of the newer fuel oils–costs due to the newer oils not packing the same energy punch per ton, as well as higher cost. The idea is that the scrubbers will remove the huge volume of carbon (soot and other forms of carbon) from the exhaust from blowing into the environment (sea and air). In the light of this, China posted a ban on ships dumping the collected carbon slop inside their territorial waters. Right… I would have been more impressed if they also banned their own ships from dumping into any and all waters. Chances are the Chinese ships will dump just outside the 200 mile economic zones of other nations. As if the oceans aren’t already hitting their maximum carbon absorption capacity, right? With all that in mind, I wonder how the US shipping companies plan to dispose of their own created scrubber waste.


Interesting if true.

That is not true: Dumping garbage in international waters is of course illegal.
As defined by the International Maritime Organisation’s MARPOL Annex V

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