8 April 2019
To Clean the Oceans, We Target the Rivers
The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest body of water of the 5 oceanic divisions, a key method of low-cost trade across the western and eastern continents, borders 42 countries, and is the home of the largest patch of waste on the planet Earth. There are many groups of activists who are working towards the goal of cleaning our waters, however the main solution should be the focus on the decrease of pollution to the ocean using an efficient method. The best way to do this is to take already working ideas and implement them into different locations. By targeting the transfer of pollution at the connection of rivers, the amount of pollution transferred into the oceans will significantly decrease.
It is estimated that between 1.27 to 2.66 million tons of plastic enter the Pacific Ocean through rivers each year (Ocean Cleanup). Plastic is a non-biodegradable product that takes up to or even over 450 years to break down in the marine environment, and when it is broken down it simply turns into microplastic rather than breaks down completely. Researchers claim that there are approximately 51 trillion pieces of microplastic, weighing 269,000 tons, visible on the surface of the ocean (Beachapedia). Approximately 95% of all plastic and microplastic debris from rivers come from only 10 rivers, 8 of which are located from Asia; more specifically China and India, and 2 from Africa (Jacobs). On top of that, the Yangtze River is responsible for more of the oceans pollution than the other 9 rivers combined. This shows that one of the primary issues we face regarding the transfer of pollution is the lack of cleanliness in our rivers. So how do we decrease the amount of pollution entering the ocean through rivers?
A method to decrease the transfer of pollution from rivers is to implement the Baltimore Trash Wheel at the end of these 10 rivers. The Baltimore Trash Wheel, created by John Kellett, is a solar powered semi-autonomous trash interceptor that uses the flow of a river or stream to collect trash before it can enter into larger bodies of water (Mr. Trash Wheel). The trash wheel is strong enough to take in large and heavy objects, as well as small ones, onto a conveyor belt and into a dumpster. The dumpster is towed away and the waste is incinerated to create electricity. By expanding the wheels locations, we can directly target one of the greatest contributors to ocean pollution.
Every wheel will require different adjustments in order to meet the needs of each individual river. Before we can even begin creating the wheels, we must analyze the type of pollution in each river. Would it be better to make the wheel faster and carry less weight or slower and carry heavier loads? These questions must be asked in order to ensure the best efficiency. An adjustment that would be strongly encouraged is to implement a system that can separate recyclables and non-recyclables. By separating these two it would serve the environment much better than simply getting rid of the waste as a whole.
Regarding the costs of the wheel, it would be different for each wheel. The first wheel created required $700,000 to build the full sized machine, however the second wheel required $550,000 because the river it was implemented at did not need to carry loads as heavy as the first (Coburn). It costs approximately $100,000 a year per machine to maintain performance, however it could cost more or less depending on adjustments. Although this sounds like a lot of money spent, every 1 pound of waste collected earns about 20 cents. Based on the amount of trash collected in the span of 5 years, this returns approximately $70,000 per year, as well as $200,000 received per year from partnership with the government.
But what if we could make it so that instead of losing profit is made? If the waste could be separated like mention earlier, we could use the recyclable items to create merchandise or sellable products while incinerating the non-recyclable products to use as energy for the machines. By doing this we can reuse both wastes, make profit while cleaning, lead to faster expansion to rivers across the world, and would promote cleaning by giving back to the people. Another advantage of this is that when people learn about a business creating merchandise while cleaning up the environment, the customers can feel that they are contributing to the cause while still spending their money on products they want or need. The main reason for this proposal, however, is that rather than getting money from donors and creating a wheel right away, you make a profit and use the surplus to create wheels or invest into cleaning our environment. By doing this we are no longer relying solely on crowdfunding or government grants, but purely on the basis we can use waste to supply the costly needs of the wheel. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Although there may be many concerns regarding this proposal, the majority of them have a very easy solution. One concern that may arise is the fear for marine life getting caught into the trash wheel. There has yet to be any reports of this being an issue, however in the event it does occur then with minor adjustments the wheel can create a downward flow allowing marine life to easily swim under. Another concern is if the countries would permit the implementation of the wheels, however many articles have shown that the countries that contain the rivers already reached the consensus that river pollution is an issue that needs to be cleaned effectively. By communicating and working with foreign government it is very unlikely that they would refuse the proposal. One concern would also be the incineration of the waste resulting in toxins and toxic gas to contribute to the pollution of our ozone layer. This concern is justifiable as there is yet to be an effective way to filter toxins from the air, however if the proposal regarding creating merchandise to fund environment endeavors were put into action then the surplus could be used to invest in the creation of technology capable of effectively filtering air pollutants.
The Baltimore Trash Wheel, as well as many other methods, is merely one step towards cleaning our waters. By implementing these proposed ideas we can decrease the amount of pollution transferred to the ocean by a significant amount, however there is still a lot of pollution that is already in the ocean that must be dealt with. Activists have done a phenomenal job using modern technology and group clean ups to reduce the amount of pollution in the environment today. By taking these ideas and constantly improving them or relocating them to areas in greater need of cleaning we can ensure the most beneficial and cleanest environment for humans, animals, and other marine life.
Shows the amount of plastic and microplastics polluting our oceans. Gave potential alternatives to plastic materials to decrease the amount of plastic inside of the oceans and ever proposed a plan to make it so plastics can still be used but recycled more effectively. Used to address impact of plastic pollution in wildlife and our economy. Surfers Against Sewage is a marine conservation charity that works with communities, they have been combating pollution in our waters since 1990 so they seem very reliable.
Coburn, Jesse. “Fundraising Nearly Complete for Canton Trash Wheel.” Baltimoresun.com, 10 Aug. 2016, www.baltimoresun.com/features/green/blog/bs-md-ci-waterwheel-20160808-story.html.
Article giving information regarding the second wheel. Gave the price of the wheel and stated the different adjustments made to this wheel from the first. Addresses the amount of money that has been fundraised and states that this is a non-profit organization. Used it to find information regarding the second wheel in Canton. Reliable due to the fact that there are nearly no opinions in the article and Coburn has been writing articles regarding the wheel for a long time.
Jacobs, Frank. “Just 10 Streams Carry 95% of All River-Borne Plastic into the Ocean.” Big Think, Big Think, 5 Oct. 2018, bigthink.com/strange-maps/these-10-rivers-carry-95-of-all-plastic-into-the-ocean.
This article showed how majority of the pollution comes into the ocean from rivers. It also showed the top 10 rivers that pollute the oceans, which have a combined total greater than every other river combined. This source was very helpful in terms of the paragraph addressing rivers. It shows that before we can even dream about fixing the pollution in the ocean we have to tackle the pollution in the rivers first. Jacobs is a journalist that specializes in geography and the creation of atlases, thus he must be well informed on what the ecosystem of many places around the world are like.
Ocean Cleanup. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The Ocean Cleanup, http://www.theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/.
This group is the leading group in terms of cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Boyan Slat is the leader of the Ocean Cleanup and has been the leading hope in clearing the oceans. They have undergone one test run in which it was deemed a failure, however they received valuable data in terms of adjustments required. In terms of source material, this was extremely important for how to solve the problem. Of all the sources this is one of the most reliable as this is the group who actually partake in cleaning themselves. Many scientists, biologists, economists, and other highly qualified personnel are in this group.
“Technology.” Mr. Trash Wheel, www.mrtrashwheel.com/technology/.
The Baltimore Trash Wheel is, as stated in the essay, a semi-autonomous trash interceptor at the end of rivers and streams. By preventing waste from travelling to the ocean this invention has removed millions of pounds of pollution from our waters. My proposed solution within the essay was almost entirely based on this groups endeavors. This is reliable as this source is from the people who created the machine I spoke of during the entire essay.
Tullo, Alexander H. “Baltimore’s Trash-Eating Waterwheel.” Chemical & Engineering News, American Chemical Society, 16 Apr. 2018, cen.acs.org/environment/pollution/Baltimores-trash-eating-waterwheel/96/i16.
Interview of John Kellett that revealed his reason for creating the trash wheel. Also revealed the cost of the project and how much it costs yearly to maintain it. States that the wheel is both good for cleaner water and for public awareness of the issue. Used this to find the costs of the wheel and some of the engineering behind it. Tullo has a B.S. in physics from the University of Michigan and has worked at C&EN since 1999.