Can Plastic Waste Be Removed from the North Pacific Ocean?
Plastic debris in the North Pacific Ocean is ubiquitous: it drifts in currents, accumulates in convergence zones, sediments and coasts, fragments into particles easily absorbed and transported throughout the food web and the water column. Given its ecological, economical and toxicological impact, plastic should not only be prevented from leaking into the ocean, but also extracted from it. Due to interconnectedness of oceans and the modern society, the pollution of the North Pacific is a global (largely corporate) responsibility and a global threat.
Current clean-up initiatives in the North Pacific focus on beaches and the sea surface in the cumulative Eastern “Garbage Patch”. Challenges include engineering and siting of surface clean-up systems, upscaling of coastal community efforts and cleaning benthic environments. None of the existing methods filter micro- and nanoplastics out of the marine environment or remove plastics from marine organisms.
In conclusion, current methods can remove a portion, not all, plastic from the North Pacific Ocean and do not match pollution rates. Geopolitical recycling issues and upward projections in plastics production call for pollution mitigation to be supported with further study of plastic flux and sinks, investment in extraction technology and incentives for fishermen, communities and companies to clean the biggest of Earth’s valuable marine ecosystems. While plastic waste cannot be and is not removed from the ocean, impacts of all, especially micro- and nanoplastics, should be investigated to prepare for a future permeated with plastic.
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