Read, Debate: Engage.
Read, Debate: Engage.
map tooltip
Nature · Technology

A fleet against the plastic garbage in our oceans

March 21st, 2018
in:Nature, Technology
by:Frank Odenthal
located in:Germany
tags:environment, fishing, Great Pacific Garbage Patch, ONE EARTH ONE OCEAN, plastic garbage, pollution, recycling
|

Marine littering endangers oceans and their living organisms. It's one of the biggest challenges of our times. More than 140 million tonnes of plastic are already in our oceans, with up to 20 million tonnes added each year.

About 80 percent of marine litter originates from land, about three quarters of which is plastic. If pollution continues to increase at the current rate, the oceans will be completely covered with plastic waste in a few years' time. According to recent studies by the UN, by 2050 there will be more pieces of plastic swimming in our seas than fish.

Already today huge areas of plastic garbage are formed on the oceans, the largest of them, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is already the size of Central Europe.
Birds, fish and other creatures eat plastic parts and end up with their stomachs filled with garbage or internal injuries, tangled up or strangled themselves in old fishing nets, plastic strings or bags.

fairplanet: Mr. Bonin, you founded ONE EARTH ONE OCEAN in 2011. Was there a special occasion?

Günther Bonin: I am an avid sailor, and at that time I did a transfer trip from Vancouver to San Diego with the famous sailing yacht Samarkant, on which Kennedy and Marylin Monroe once sailed. Off San Francisco I had to sail through tons of plastic. And since I've always been suspicious of plastic, I decided to do something about it.

So, you founded ONE EARTH ONE OCEAN.

Yes, exactly. We now have four permanent employees and three additional employees on a mini-job basis. The education about the dangers of littering our seas is particularly important to us. We cooperate with research institutes and universities worldwide, and we also run our own laboratory in Kiel, Germany.

The seas are of such immense importance to us. We use them as transport routes, as sewer, as a source of food, as an oxygen supplier. So we should finally start to treat the sea more carefully.

The German research institute GEOMAR in 2016 found out that the oceans now produce up to three percent less oxygen. This is very worrying, because at least two-thirds of our oxygen comes from the oceans. But the more ocean surface is covered by plastic, the less sunlight penetrates the water, and the less light gets to plankton, algae, and all the important components of the food chain in the ocean.

You once described your organization as "maritime waste collection service". Can you explain that?

Well, we are in the process of building a fleet that is quite comparable to urban waste collection as we know it. We collect the garbage with small ships and then take it with a transport ship to a large collecting vessel, where it is separated and prepared for recycling.

What does this fleet look like in detail?

Our smallest unit is a 4 meter long and 2 meter wide catamaran with an electric motor and fold-down fishing nets designed for use on inland waters, i.e. on lakes or rivers. We called him "Seehamster" (sea hamster).

Then there is a slightly larger, more robust boat, also a catamaran, which is twelve meters long and ten meters wide, called the "Seekuh" (manatee). It can also be used on coastal sections. Its fishing nets reach up to four meters deep and it can collect up to two tonnes of garbage.

If the collection bags of the Seehamster or the Seekuh are full, they will be closed, a tracking transmitter attached to them will be activated, and it will be left in the water until it is collected by our transport ship, the "Seefarmer" (sea farmer). The Seefarmer then brings those sacks to our big collection vessel, the "Seeelefant” (elephant seal). It is permanently at sea, as a kind of energy ship. On it, the plastic waste is sorted and processed.

This is – more or less - the idea of our maritime waste collection.

Your plans sound quite ambitious ...

We are still at the beginning with our fleet. Of our four Seehamster we have built so far, two are working on German inland waters at the moment, one is based on an Cambodian river for a year, and the fourth, our prototype, is already in the cemetery.
At the beginning of the year, we transferred the first Seekuh to Hong Kong, where it will be cleaning the Hong Kong Bay, but also to raise awareness about the problem of plastic waste. It will move on later to Singapore, Manila, Jakarta, Cambodia.

How much does a Seekuh cost?

Currently, the price per unit amounts to about 550,000 euros. If we start producing in bigger batches, we can perhaps halve the costs.

What about the bigger ships, the See Farmer and the Seeelefant?

The Seefarmer does not have to be specially built, theoretically a retired fishing boat would do it; since it just has to collect the nets and bring them to the Seeelefant.
The Seeelefant needs to be built yet. We already have different business plans for it. It should be able to sort up to 200 tonnes of plastic waste per day, and then process half of it to fuel oil.

How many ships do you expect to operate in the future?

It's very hard to make such forecasts. Let's put it this way: I could imagine seeing some 100 Seeelefants and about 5,000 units of Seekuh in action – someday. The Seekuh can indeed be adapted specifically to the local conditions. The one we are currently developing for use in the Mekong will look different from the one now working in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong it is operating in a bay, but the Mekong it will be a big river with quite a strong current; there, the Seekuh will fetch the garbage out of the running water and then automatically drain the full nets behind; where they will be collected downstream later.

What happens to the collected plastic?

The plastic is cleaned, analysed and then sorted according to qualitative criteria. Some high quality plastic can be reused - we call it 'social plastic', because the companies that recycle it are willing to pay a price that is two to three percent higher than the market price. Other plastic is processed into fuel oil. Our fuel oil is sulphur-free and we actually only want to sell it to shipping companies. Because, you know, the heavy oil, which unfortunately is still used today, is actually not too popular with the shipping companies. You even have to heat it up before you can use it. And in many regions you are not allowed to run with heavy oil and its toxic emissions, like in California for example.

We want to bring our fuel oil ashore in containers and sell it there. But it's also thinkable that we sell the fuel oil out on the high seas; the Seeelefant would then be a kind of floating gas station.

Article written by:
Frank Odenthal
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
Embed from Getty Images
According to recent studies by the UN, by 2050 there will be more pieces of plastic swimming in our seas than fish.
Embed from Getty Images
We now have four permanent employees and three additional employees on a mini-job basis. We cooperate with research institutes and universities worldwide, and we also run our own laboratory in Kiel, Germany.
Embed from Getty Images
The German research institute GEOMAR in 2016 found out that the oceans now produce up to three percent less oxygen. This is very worrying, because at least two-thirds of our oxygen comes from the oceans.
|
|

Related & recommended articles

|
|
|
Not today
No, thanks