Microplastics in oceans greatly affect global environmental systems. According to Vice News (2008), microplastics are small pieces of plastic (5mm in length or less) that pollute our oceans. Microplastics mainly come from large pieces of plastic polluted into the water system through sewage, farms, rivers, etc. Major individual sources of microplastics include tire and road abrasions, cosmetic products, and even the washing of synthetic clothing materials, according to a study conducted by the clothing company Patagonia (Thames Estuary Partnership, 2017). Once plastics enter the oceans, they begin to break down into smaller pieces until they reach the size of microplastics or even nanoplastics. Plastic takes thousands of years to biodegrade naturally in the ocean. According to Kat Smith on One Green Planet (2017), “There are currently more microplastics in our ocean than stars in our galaxy.” Now, there is so much plastic in the ocean that there is a “plastic smog” (Junk Raft, 2008) that sea life is consuming. These pieces of plastic, already filled with chemicals, act as a sponge to soak up additional dangerous chemicals in the ocean, such as DDT, pesticides, lead, cadmium, and mercury (Halden, 2010).
Wastewater treatment plants are designed to remove unwanted pollution from wastewater before sending it back to the ocean. The first step of the cleaning process is the initial screening. This is where filters remove large pieces of plastic and other garbage that is improperly thrown away into the water system. Sludge is later separated, and its gas is used to gather energy. Smaller, floating plastic particles can be removed using skimmers. While the skimmers push the plastic particles aside, the rest of the wastewater moves on to continue being treated. This process is designed to decrease the overall amount of microplastics in the oceans by over 90 percent.
Oceanic Cleanup Proposal, or OCP, is an innovative environmental initiative. It is dedicated to utilizing plastic waste to clean chemical spills in the oceans. This approach will help clean the oceans of both plastic and chemical pollution. Oceanic Cleanup Proposal takes advantage of plastics’ tendency to soak up harmful chemicals. OCP uses plastic waste previously removed from wastewater at a wastewater treatment plant. That plastic would be melted and molded into a honeycomb-shaped figure to increase strength and efficiency. This would then be transported to a government agency, which sends it on to an ocean chemical spill. Once the figure has been safely discarded, OCP has succeeded in using plastic waste to clean chemical spills in the oceans.
Currently, most wastewater treatment plants simply throw away the removed waste. However, with the Oceanic Cleanup Proposal, this could be a much more effective process. The Oceanic Cleanup Proposal would occur in a separate building in the plant and would run off of the previously gathered gas and hydro energy. While OCP might be expensive for a wastewater treatment plant, it benefits surrounding populations with an increasing amount of career opportunities. These career opportunities could include researchers, experts, manual plastic separators, or robot technicians/programmers.
Essay by: Carly Steckling