Why we can't just filter the plastic out of the ocean


I wonder how much sea life is increased by the presence of garbage in the ocean that provides hiding places or attachment points for various smaller creatures in a manner similar to drifting scraps torn from kelp beds do. I hear about how terrible the toxins and other aspects are, but does anyone know the net effects overall? Do some areas in the ocean actually have a higher amount of marine life due to trash rather than less?

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I wish I could remember the details, but I do remember a journalist, or possibly a scientist, who said there was a “plastic island” in the Pacific later saying she regretted describing it that way. It may also have been that she didn’t use that term but that her explanation of the problem was misrepresented.

It was depressing because a plastic island is bad enough. I assumed it hadn’t been cleaned up because, even if someone were willing, you’d still have to put all that plastic somewhere.

The fact that plastic–enough to make several islands–is found throughout the world’s oceans, not necessarily all clumped together, makes the problem even more depressing.

I wonder the same thing, especially when I hear about projects to create “artificial reefs” out of things like aircraft carriers. It sounds like a great idea, but I wonder how it affects the ecological balance in unforeseen ways. You know what they say about good intentions and the road to Hell.

difficult, not impossible. we do these things. not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

At some level, it is the resemblance of this plastic to tiny sea life that is the problem. Lots of filter feeders filling up on indigestible plastic instead of tasty krill.

We have Exxon and Corexit to thank for this…seriously talk about ecocide.

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I was going to ask who was depositing all the plastic.

and you never wondered why we have to create artificial reefs??? because deep sea trawl fishing destroys millions of tons of very important to the ecosystem coral reefs a year…

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I guess this invalidates that TED talk.

Did you really mean to say:
" clean it up like convicts on the interstate."?

Plastic ends up in the ocean because we throw it there. Sea water breaks plastic down, into these hard to clean up bits and toxic chemicals, very quickly. Corexit is just the toxic icing on the cake making the pollution hard to see/find/clean up.

Forget what I said about good intentions. I can understand artificial reefs as an attempt to undo serious harm. I never had a problem with artificial reefs, and I’m glad something is being done in an attempt to undo the damage even though those areas may never really recover.

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@C11, @SpunkyTWS

For the most part the particles are nearly microscopic and fairly disperse, so they provide no shelter, unlike larger pieces of detritus.

rather, we do the kinds of things that speech was referring to because they are hard, but also spectacular, cool, popular, an commie-busting. Unfortunately, it seems like the opposite is true when it comes to environmental, health and other concerns. If a way isn’t found that is easy, able-to-be-publicized, and somehow profitable, it doesn’t seem to get done. Hopefully some engineering challenge or international prize will spark the necessary ingenuity to get this done.

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One of the most depressing things about this issue is that part of it is caused by relatively innocuous actions such as washing clothing containing synthetic fibres. Even microscopic bits of fibre add up when there are billions of loads of laundry getting done.

There’s a good CBC podcast on plastics in the oceans here:



Bah… all you do is this:

Suck up the soup of plastic and sealife into a dark tank. Shine artificial sunlight in a concentrated beam on one far side of the tank. Where the algae goes the plankton goes, and so on. Shutter the middle of the tank. Strain out the plastic on the dark side. Presto, chango, half the plastic is gone and the sealife is mostly saved.

drops mic

Clearly I need to continue work on my plastic magnet!

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Interesting. And it seems that we are in a time where more and more clothing contains synthetics. I hate that, being partial to cotton.

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I would have thought they’d end up in land fills, or less so now, with recycling programs.