Monday, June 18, 2007


We’ve cast ourselves away on a raft in the Pacific Ocean to the mercy of wind and waves to talk about the stuff that floats our boat – disposable plastic waste. Our Synthetic States are awash with plastic trash. Recycling programs are largely inefficient, comparing manufacture to post-consumer recovery. Plastic production and packaging industries are reluctant to curb the making of disposable plastics, considering the 100% growth in plastic production over the past 20 years, largely due to single-use disposables. By 1980 we were making more plastic than steel. But unlike the stone, iron, bronze and steel, the Age of Plastic is forever. Plastic was designed to be non-biodegradable and resistant to degradation, and so it is here to stay.
Earlier this year, Joel, Anna and I were half the crew on the 6th expedition of the ORV Alguita, with Captain Charles Moore, to study the accumulation of plastic trash in the North Pacific Gyre (NPG). The NPG is a clockwise rotating mass of the ocean surface, roughly twice the size of the United States, extending from 500 miles off the California coast to 200 miles east of Japan. It’s like a toilet bowl that never flushes. We’ve found exponential growth in fragmented plastic particles, from .002g/m2 in 1999, .004g/m2 in 2005 and conceivably doubling again three years later in 2008. We have yet to quantify that data, but it’s visually more dense than ever, leaving us with a sense of urgency to address this problem.
Anna and I had talked about building JUNK months earlier. Getting to know Joel during the 2008 expedition sealed the deal. Quickly our project began to take a life of it’s own as the sweat and support of dozens of people and companies poured in. Joel and I are the lucky sailors that get to live on board. JUNK floats on the same kinds of plastic trash we found in the gyre, including 15,000 plastic bottles, and over 5,000 plastic bags woven into rope. Used masts, airplane parts, and netting were harder to find. In 2 ½ months JUNK became seaworthy.

Just beginning our journey, we already see floating plastic out here.....

Plastic waste leaving coastal watersheds drifts with the current into the North Pacific Gyre, as we may also. Or it drifts back to shore, as we may as well. What we are sure of is that our consumption of disposable plastics negatively impacts the marine environment and is becoming a human health concern.

We’ve cast ourselves away to begin a dialogue about solutions. Please visit the Algalita Marine Research Foundation for facts about plastic in the marine environment and Heal the Bay to see what legislation is heading your way.

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