Look closely: These Hawaiian shirts depict our plastic-polluted oceans

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/06/23/look-closely-these-hawaiian-s.html


Neat designs, but a limited edition seems counterproductive if they really wanted to raise awareness of ocean pollution.


sold out =(

sold out quickly… maybe they will do another or similar run? I’d definitely buy/wear one.

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Wait, so it’s made from ocean plastic? So it’s contributing to the very problem it seeks to raise awareness of? (Now isn’t that ironic.) Apparently fibers from synthetic clothing make up a significant portion of the plastic in oceans and waterways. In some places, something like 80% of plastic contamination comes from the fibers shed by laundered clothing that is passed along through treated sewage water. It’s less in oceans but still significant. This is the further irony of these kinds of projects (it’s not the only one that’s done this); they don’t fundamentally understand the problem, mis-educate people about the problem, and directly contribute to making the problem worse.

How does pulling plastic out of the ocean and making a shirt out of it contribute to the problem of plastic in the ocean?

Now, pulling oil out of the ground, making it into plastic, and then making a shirt out of that plastic-- that might be a little problematic.


Synthetic fiber clothing is presumably washed - and every time it’s washed, it sheds plastic micro-fibers (the most dangerous form, environmentally speaking, as it ends up in everything), right back into waterways and the ocean (or ground, i.e. drinking, water). Over its life, it sheds a significant portion of its weight. For all the environmental costs of other types of fabric, synthetics are turning out to be the worst. (I’m also wondering how much is actually ocean plastic - ocean plastic tends to be a very poor candidate for recycling because it’s degraded by exposure to the elements. Also I suspect it’s plastic recovered soon after it went into the water, where it should be getting scooped up anyways.)

Even if “significant” ends up meaning “half the shirt ends up back in the ocean,” half of it must have gone somewhere else-- landfill, civic waste burner, etcetera. As far as plastic in the ocean goes, it’s still a win. Can’t speak to how much energy it look to pull the plastic OUT of the ocean to make the fabric, though; you get one answer if you swipe some bags and six-pack rings out of an estuary with a gill net, and another much larger one if you’re pumping metric tons of seawater through sand to filter out microplastics.

I mean, I groove on the whole let’s-not-make-things-worse-while-trying-to-help deal. Most if not all Good Idea Fairy schemes to actively clean up things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will do more harm than good, so it’s wise to keep an eye on a related project to see if it’s being handled with the same lack of attention to thermodynamics and such. But I’m not seeing any red flags.


The store comes up as a malicious link infected with “HEUR:Trojan.Script.Generic.” Kinda like our ocean is with plastics? Anyone else getting that warning?

Well, I mean obviously the plastic for this came out of netting some plastic in an estuary - and it’s going to be impossible to deal with it once it’s turned into microplastics. So even if 3/4 ends up in a landfill, I’m not sure it’s a net win (no pun intended). More than that, I see efforts like this indirectly contributing to the “more harm than good” solutions, because it just perpetuates the whole “ocean plastic is large pieces floating on top of the water in a big pile in the middle of the Pacific” narrative that spawns those harmful solutions (and prevents people from seeing how harmful they are).

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