North Atlantic Gyre: Bermuda Beach Trash

My growing impression of Bermuda is its likeness to Hawaii. Both are in the path of their respective gyre currents – North Pacific Gyre vs. North Atlantic Gyre. Both carry a burden of trash from the shores of other nations. The trash even looks the same.

 

North Atlantic Gyre: Bermuda Beach Trash

Posted on January 23, 2010 in Blog

 

 

Two dozen Bermudan High School teens combed Coopers Beach despite 20 knot winds and horizontal rain. “Look at the broken pieces along the high-tide line,” JP Skinner yelled over the roar of wind. JP directs the public school programs for the Bermuda Institute of Oceanographic Sciences (BIOS). Half of the kids are climbing through the high tide line pulling nets, buckets, shredded bottles and a vacuum cleaner out of the trees. In half an hour JP and the kids create a pile of trash as tall as me.

Bermuda is an island in the middle of the North Atlantic Gyre. We’ve been here for 4 days, working with groups like “Greenrock” and “Keep Bermuda Beautiful” to clean beaches and lecture about what we know about plastic. My growing impression of Bermuda is its likeness to Hawaii. Both are in the path of their respective gyre currents – North Pacific Gyre vs. North Atlantic Gyre. Both carry a burden of trash from the shores of other nations. The trash even looks the same. Nurdles are everywhere. Bottles are full of bitemarks. And plastic confetti of colored and degraded fragments litter the wrack line.

Do these clean-up efforts work? A storm is fast approaching and I can see a barnacle-covered milk crate in the surf. Where did it come from? If we pick up this one, how long till the next one arrives? It’s great to see the students getting out of the classroom to experience nature. They feel good about cleaning up this junk. That is certainly meaningful, but does the clean-up effort make a difference? I don’t think so.

I think about solutions often. Of all the plastic pollution I’ve seen in the world, on beaches, floating out to sea, piles of it burning in developing countries, bags stuck in trees or littering roadsides, what I don’t see are those plastic products that have post-consumer value. I don’t see very many plastic bottles on the streets of Los Angeles where I live, because it’s worth a nickel to 8 cents at a recovery center. But recovery centers don’t take much else.

What if all plastic waste had value? Imagine a per-pound recovery program that gave kids a buck for every pound of plastic waste they brought in, as it is for most metals? Let’s bring back the “School Paper Drive”, but for plastic. If citizens could return mixed plastic to recovery centers for a significant monetary return, then I’m certain we would see people conducting their own beach clean-ups. You wouldn’t see plastic bags in trees or plastic on roadsides. You might even see those gyre clean-up efforts actually make a few dollars by going out to sea.

The plastic industry claims its all recycleable, but unfortunately it’s not recoverable. You can’t do anything with it if you don’t have it. Voluntary recovery programs account for a small percent of the plastic we produce – less than 4%. An economic incentive to collect mixed plastic waste would work. The plastics industry could make this happen. Here’s how it works. You collect all of your plastic, all of your packaging, disposables, broken buckets, old toys, all that useless plastic stuff. Clean it, dry it, and take it to a recovery center for $ per pound. The plastics industry then deals with the material they created. It would work.

5 Gyres



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