Q&A With Scientist On Ocean Plastic
Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of 5Gyres.org and lead author of a recently published study on the amount of floating plastic debris, recently took to social news website reddit to answer questions on plastic pollution. We’ve picked out a few that might inspire you to have a think about the way you’re using plastic
Q: Is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch really a "plastic island"?
Marcus: "No ... Garbage patches are plastic shredders. They are temporary places where plastic is torn apart by marine life and made brittle by UV sunlight, then some chemical and biodegradation happens. Garbage patches are not islands, they are a thin soup of microplastic."
Q: Is there any indication from your research as to how much plastic is entering the oceans on a daily or annual basis?
"That’s really unknown. There’s no good data out there. I can tell you that all of my coastal surveys come up with plenty of trash. Recently, from Bali to Christmas Island, I found tons of large trash. On Christmas Island I could have counted 10,000 flip flops."
Q: Who is dumping all that plastic in the ocean?
"We all are, especially developing countries with no waste management. But much of it comes from a lack of value for post-consumer products. I urge the plastics industries to go for 100% recovery of their products or 100% environmental harmlessness."
Q: Which cleanup efforts do you think are the most effective?
"Incentivising fishermen to go after lost nets and buoys. That's about it. The rest of [ocean plastic] is fragmenting quickly. We really need to focus on upstream solutions. Industry has to step up and begin a design overhaul to make sure all is 100% recovered or 100% environmentally harmless."
Q: AS A PACKAGING DESIGNER, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF PACKAGING LITTERED AND PLACED IN LANDFILLS BESIDES REDUCING THE MATERIALS IN THE PACKAGING ITSELF?
"I was in India 6 months ago and borrowed a bicycle to follow a waste picker around Delhi. I learned what has value and doesn’t. There were millions of sachet packets on the ground. That’s an excellent example of a product that needs a design overhaul. Design it so that it has value, or use something completely environmentally benign."
Q: What packaging material do you see as being the best from a sustainability standpoint – that is, in terms of recyclability, product protection, transportation weight and extraction?
"The best material, if you must use plastic, is likely PET. The recycling industry seems to have the easiest time with it. It has its own inherent market value without subsidies. If a product were all PET, then its value and recovery would be increased."
Read the full Q&A on reddit here.