Project Kaisei probes Pacific Ocean “Plastic Vortex”

A another new study is under way to document the planet’s largest known floating garbage dump, called the Plastic Vortex or ocean gyre. It’s located about 1,000 miles northeast of Hawaii.

Using two boats, the Project Kaisei examined the largest area of plastic garbage situated approximately five days by boat from San Francisco. The tangle of plastic thought to be a sea of debris roughly twice the size of the state of Texas.

The expedition consisted of a large pass through the trash with the aim to collect and study plastic and other debris littering the ocean. The effort will be used to showcase new technologies that will be used for processing and recycling the plastic.

The “Plastic Vortex,” or what is sometimes referred to as the “garbage patch,” is within an area that is technically referred to as the the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. This area does not have rigid physical boundaries, and varies seasonally in both size and position.

Why is the Plastic Vortex a problem?

It is estimated that over 60% of the plastic and other wastes (including rubber and aluminum) in the ocean come from land-based sources, and once in the sea, they are at the mercy of the confluence of tides, currents and winds because they are buoyant. Over time through exposure to the sun and heat, some plastic materials can disintegrate into ever smaller pieces due to weather and UV impact.

The plastic debris leave their ugly mark on marine life. Birds injest the plastics and become entangled in other debris. The plastic residue is probably entering the human food chain.

According to press reports, Project Kaisei is a commercial endeavor, funded in part by international recycling companies that would like to find ways to captialize on the recycling this huge problem. More info

Also see:

IBRRC website: Birds and plastics

California Coastal Cleanup Day: Sept. 19, 2009