British scientists of Imperial College have answered the question whether it is better to clear up microplastics in the middle of the ocean or along the coastlines. For their research, they used a model which maps currents via buoys which communicate with satellites. This model also predicts where plastics float to. The researchers use two principles. Where can the largest quantity of floating microplastics be captured and where can the capture of microplastics cause the least amount of environmental damage? They came to the conclusion that it does not make sense to clear up plastic in the middle of the ocean, as proposed by The Ocean Cleanup.
The researchers believe ‘plastic collectors’ like the ones developed by The Ocean Cleanup are suitable to capture microplastics. Such collectors, which use floating booms, could be placed along the Chinese and Indonesian coastlines in particular. Here 31% of the microplastics could be cleared up, compared to 17% in the gyres in the middle of the oceans. Apparently it is key to look at the movement of microplastics via currents rather than the amount of microplastics. The stronger the currents, the higher the quantity of microplastics which can be caught.
The Guardian quotes one of the researchers: “It makes sense to remove plastics where they first enter the ocean around dense coastal economic and population centres where there is a lot of marine life” (…) “It also means you can remove the plastics before they have had a chance to do any harm. Plastics in the [great Pacific garbage] patch have travelled a long way and have potentially already done a lot of harm”.
The Plastic Soup Foundation agrees with these conclusions; clearing up plastics close to the source is much more effective than doing so in the middle of the ocean, as concentrations are higher and a lot of potential damaged is avoided. It is even more effective to prevent plastic from entering water in the first place. This can be done by making plastics valuable and investing in schemes which prevent plastics from leaking out of the system. Good examples include ending the distribution of free plastic bags, removing microbeads from cosmetics and finding solutions for synthetic fibres which are released when washing clothes, for example through initiatives like the Mermaids Ocean Clean Wash project.