Monday, September 19, 2011

Recycling the Gyres

Method Madness

Lisa Jackson (EPA), Adam Lowry of Method, and Karen Mills (SBA)
 ~ Innovative company Method made a splashy announcement last week: they've made bottles from plastic recycled from the North Pacific Gyre.

This ocean plastic covers an area the size of Texas, and is the largest of 5 such floating garbage patches, one in each of the world's large ocean gyres.

However, most of the plastic pieces are so tiny that they can barely be seen, except by marine life that mistakes the plastic for food. The ingested plastic and its constituent chemicals and contaminants then enter the food chain.

Method has done well to call attention to the problem, and being flanked by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and SBA chief Karen Mills is a nice PR coup for sure, but there's no new business that comes out of this, nor any sustained environmental cleanup, despite the presence of the two powerful agency heads.


  • The size—there is no practical way to vacuum or net the material out of the water
  • The collateral damage—plankton and microorganisms will be scooped up too
  • The contamination—attached dirt, and algae and other organisms grow on the plastic, preventing its easy recycling
  • The supply chain—fetching, transporting, cleaning, processing, ...
  • The cost—take all of the above and compare to "virgin" plastic, even with its oil inputs
The workable solution is both obvious and (apparently) difficult—no, not making islands out of the stuff—stop adding more plastic. As I've written before, taking more care to properly dispose of plastic (or recycle it) helps, but the best solution is to stop buying the stuff. Plastic is not sustainable.

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