Massive boom hopes to corral Pacific Ocean’s plastic trash

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In this Monday, Aug. 27, 2018 photo provided by The Ocean Cleanup, a long floating boom that will be used to corral plastic litter in the Pacific Ocean is assembled in Alameda, Calif. (AP)
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The Ocean Cleanup first buoyant trash-collecting device is seen in front of the San Francisco skyline en route to the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP)
Updated 09 September 2018
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Massive boom hopes to corral Pacific Ocean’s plastic trash

  • 9 million tons of plastic waste enter the ocean annually and that a solution must include a multi-pronged approach, including stopping plastic from reaching the ocean
  • The system will act as a “big boat that stands still in the water” and will have a screen and not a net so that there is nothing for marine life to get entangled with

SAN FRANCISCO: Engineers set to sea Saturday to deploy a trash collection device to corral plastic litter floating between California and Hawaii in an attempt to clean up the world’s largest garbage patch in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.
The 2,000-foot (600-meter) long floating boom was being towed from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an island of trash twice the size of Texas.
The system was created by The Ocean Cleanup, an organization founded by Boyan Slat, a 24-year-old innovator from the Netherlands who first became passionate about cleaning the oceans when he went scuba diving at age 16 in the Mediterranean Sea and saw more plastic bags than fish.
“The plastic is really persistent and it doesn’t go away by itself and the time to act is now,” Slat said, adding that researchers with his organization found plastic going back to the 1960s and 1970s bobbing in the patch.
The buoyant, U-shaped barrier made of plastic and with a tapered 10-foot (3-meter) deep screen, is intended to act like a coastline, trapping some of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that scientists estimate are swirling in that gyre but allowing marine life to safely swim beneath it.
Fitted with solar power lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas, the cleanup system will communicate its position at all times, allowing a support vessel to fish out the collected plastic every few months and transport it to dry land where it will be recycled, said Slat.
Shipping containers filled with the fishing nets, plastic bottles, laundry baskets and other plastic refuse scooped up by the system being deployed Saturday are expected to be back on land within a year, he said.
Slat said he and his team will pay close attention to whether the system works efficiently and withstands harsh ocean conditions, including huge waves. He said he’s most looking forward to a ship loaded with plastic coming back to port.
“We still have to prove the technology... which will then allow us to scale up a fleet of systems,” he said.
The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised $35 million in donations to fund the project, including from Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will deploy 60 free-floating barriers in the Pacific Ocean by 2020.
“One of our goals is to remove 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years,” Slat said.
The free-floating barriers are made to withstand harsh weather conditions and constant wear and tear. They will stay in the water for two decades and in that time collect 90 percent of the trash in the patch, he added.
George Leonard, chief scientist of the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, said he’s skeptical Slat can achieve that goal because even if plastic trash can be taken out of the ocean, a lot more is pouring in each year.
“We at the Ocean Conservancy are highly skeptical but we hope it works,” he said. “The ocean needs all the help it can get.”
Leonard said 9 million tons (8 million metric tons) of plastic waste enter the ocean annually and that a solution must include a multi-pronged approach, including stopping plastic from reaching the ocean and more education so people reduce consumption of single use plastic containers and bottles.
“If you don’t stop plastics from flowing into the ocean, it will be a Sisyphean task,” Leonard said, citing the Greek myth of a task never completed. He added that on September 15 about 1 million volunteers around the world will collect trash from beaches and waterways as part of the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup. Volunteers last year collected about 10,000 tons of plastics worldwide over two hours, he said.
Leonard also raised concerns that marine and wildlife could be entangled by the net that will hang below the surface. He said he hopes Slat’s group is transparent with its data and shares information with the public about what happens with the first deployment.
“He has set a very large and lofty goal and we certainly hope it works but we really are not going to know until it is deployed,” Leonard said. “We have to wait and see.”
The system will act as a “big boat that stands still in the water” and will have a screen and not a net so that there is nothing for marine life to get entangled with. As an extra precautionary measure, a boat carrying experienced marine biologists will be deployed to make sure the device is not harming wildlife, Slat said.
“I’m the first to acknowledge this has never done before and that it is important to collect plastic on land and close the taps on plastic entering into the ocean, but I also think humanity can do more than one thing at a time to tackle this problem,” Slat said.


The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

Updated 21 April 2019
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The ethical gold rush: Gilded age for guilt-free jewelry

  • Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output
  • Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations

PARIS: Forget how many carats — how ethical is your gold? As high-end consumers demand to know the origin of their treasures, some jewellers are ensuring they use responsibly sourced, eco-friendly or recycled gold.
Specialized producers now tack a “fairmined” ecologically friendly label on their output, and the Swiss house Chopard last year became the first big name to commit to “100 percent ethical” creations.
The Geneva-based firm, which makes the Palme d’Or trophy for the Cannes Film Festival, says it now uses only verified suppliers of gold that meet strict standards to minimize negative environmental impacts of mining the precious metal.
Among the many certificates and standards claiming to codify “responsible” goldmining, two labels stand out.
They are “fairmined” gold — a label certified by a Colombian NGO — and the more widely known “fairtrade” label launched by Swiss foundation Max Havelaar.
Both support artisanal mines that seek to preserve the environment in terms of extraction methods, along with decent working conditions and wages for the miners.
Such production remains limited — just a few hundred kilograms annually. Global gold output by comparison totals around 3,300 tons.
Concerned jewellers are keen to ensure they can trace the source of their entire supply to an ethical production cycle and to firms certified by the not-for-profit Responsible Jewellery Council, which has developed norms for the entire supply chain.
RJC members must adhere to tough standards governing ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices across the precious metals industry.
The French luxury group Kering, which says it has bought more than 3.5 tons of “responsibly produced” gold since 2015 for its Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo and Gucci brands, has committed to 100 percent use of “ethical” gold by 2020.
“We are trying to maximize the proportion of Fairmined and Fairtrade gold — but their modest production is in great demand so the bulk of our sourcing remains recycled gold, (which is) certified ‘RJC Chain of Custody’,” says Claire Piroddi, sustainability manager for Kering’s jewelry and watches.
Fairmined or Fairtrade gold is “about 10 to 12 percent more expensive. But recycled gold barely generates any additional cost premium,” Piroddi told AFP, since it was already refined for a previous life in the form of jewelry or part of a high-tech product.
Going a step further, using only precious metal from electronic or industrial waste is an original idea developed by Courbet, a brand launched just last spring.
“We do not want to promote mining extraction or use recently extracted gold, so we sought suppliers who recycle gold used in graphics cards or computer processors. That’s because we know today that more than half of gold’s available reserves have already been extracted,” says Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, Courbet’s co-founder and artistic director.
She says the brand’s watchwords are ethical and environmental consciousness.
“In a mine, a ton of terrain might contain five grams of gold, whereas a ton of electronic waste might generate 200 grams,” Wachtmeister says.
“Clients are also demanding an ecological approach more and more — they are aware of their day-to-day impact and consider the origin of what they wear,” she adds.
“The issue of supply really resonates with the public at large,” adds Thierry Lemaire, director general of Ponce, a jewelry firm that was established in Paris’s fashionable Marais district in 1886.
The company is RJC-certified and uses only recycled gold.
“There is a logic to that — if we want to do our work well, then let’s go the whole hog and respect nature. That can be done today because the entire chain has become standardised.
“Studios such as ours that work for major names on Place Vendome are all certified,” Lemaire says, referring to an upscale square in Paris.
He represents the fifth generation of family firm Ponce, which produces 45,000 gold rings a year from recycled gold.
Working in a pungent atmosphere of heated metal, refiners sit hunched over polishing machines, a large leather hide slung over their knees to catch the tiniest shaving.
“Every Friday, we have a great clearout and go over the workshop with a fine-tooth comb to pick up little bits of (gold) dust and shavings,” Lemaire says.
“Nothing is lost, it’s a truly virtuous chain.”