The Plastic Soup

Plastic Soup

Just over a year ago the Athenian coastline was struck by a huge catastrophe. Whilst in the meantime all has gone quiet the consequences will be there for the decades to come. On 10 September 2017 the 45-year-old Agia Zoni II sank in the Saronic Gulf, just west of Piraeus. At the time of sinking she lay anchored near the island Salamina carrying in her holds 2500 tons of oil and gas. The weather conditions were mild. A day after her sinking statements were issued, both by the shipping company and the authorities, that measures had been taken to contain the spill and minimize damage to the environment. Two days later those statements proved to be far from the truth. Oil had reached the shorelines of both Salamina and Athens and was oozing on to the beaches. Not much later photos of oil drenched birds and turtles started circulating on social media and the national news networks. Three days after the sinking the public outcry was obvious, with people deeply saddened, disappointed and angry in the obvious failure of the authorities to manage the crisis. Four days later the blaming game began. As always these kinds of catastrophes only have losers. The largest loser … Mother Nature, because she is the one receiving the blows.

We also have to be fair. The emotions that were felt so intensely those days were felt because the catastrophe had struck so close to home. Perhaps we had friends or family living in areas where the oil washed ashore. Maybe we remembered having enjoyed a beautiful day on one of the beaches, basking in the sun with a freddo cappuccino. The media had a field day and were both quick and eager to provide coverage as the crisis escalated and the oil spil spread along the Athenian shores. Unfortunately we live in a world where fear and sensationalism are used to overhype events and topics to sell news. Greece is no exception to the trend.

Perhaps this introduction leaves a somewhat bitter or even negative aftertaste. That was certainly not my intention. This introduction was needed to present the question “What about all the garbage and pollution that we do not see (daily)?” No matter how shocking the events of Salamina may have been, there are bigger catastrophes happening … right now! One of the more unfathomable global phenomena is the ‘plastic soup’.

The amount of plastic debris floating on our oceans and seas is growing annually. “It comes from rubbish that we throw away on the street, fishnets that are discarded, and from washing synthetic clothing and brushing our teeth" (www.plasticsoupfoundation.org). All these different types of plastic together in the seas and oceans form what has become known as the plastic soup.

Various media have referred to large floating islands of plastic that can be seen from outer space. It has even been suggested that one of these islands matches in size to the state of Texas. Those reports are myths. The truth is somewhat more ‘dynamic’. The seas and oceans are in a constant state of movement. The earth’s rotation and the prevailing global winds translate to five large rotating ocean currents that are called ‘gyres’. These gyres are huge vortexes in which all floating objects are slowly sucked into the middle. “It is comparable to the kitchen sink drain” (www.plasticsoupfoundation.org). The five major gyres on earth are: the North Pacific, South Pacific, Indian Ocean, North Atlantic and the South Atlantic Gyre.

Established in 2011 the Plastic Soup Foundation constantly draws attention to plastic soup through campaigns, news articles and social media. The global marine plastic debris issue has also inspired the establishment of Healthy Seas and The Ocean Cleanup. Both initiatives have gained worldwide attention and recognition. Healthy Seas recovers old fishnets from the sea and recycles them into high-quality raw material for brand new products such as socks, swimwear, carpets and other textiles. The Ocean Cleanup is the brainchild of 22-year-old Boyan Slat who launched the idea as a student at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. The first seeds for this initiative were planted when Boyan made a dive in Greece and was confronted by more plastic than fish. The recently deployed pilot model consists of a 600-meter-long floater that sits at the surface of the Pacific Ocean and a tapered skirt attached below. The floater provides buoyancy to the system and prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath. Launched on 8 September 2018 from San Francisco, the pilot model intends to prove the concept of The Ocean Cleanup's technology in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world's largest accumulation zone of ocean plastics - situated halfway between Hawaii and California.

Needless to say both the space available on the planet and the resources that the Earth provides are finite … meaning that they will not last forever. With an ever more increasing global population the pressure on both space and resources will only continue to become greater. Waste flows also continue to grow because many countries still lack the awareness, means and/or know-how to address worldly issues such as the plastic soup. Initiatives like the Plastic Soup Foundation, Healthy Seas and The Ocean Cleanup are therefore of incredible importance … to provide a solution to a growing problem but more importantly to make people aware of the bigger picture and inspire them towards action and change in their own lives.

[Photo credit: Plastic Soup Foundation]