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How to stop plastic getting into the ocean | The Economist

By 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean by weight. Than fish. By suppression is definitely one of the largest threats oceans face today. Every year millions of tons of plastic flows from rivers into the sea. Polluting ecosystems and even getting into the food chain. One group of engineers is applying technology in new ways to tackle plastic pollution. Rivers are really the trees that carry the plastic from land to sea. By stemming the flow at the source. Roughly four million people live in the basin of the Klang River in Malaysia. It's one of the most polluted rivers in the world. We hear one hour a day. This team is trying to clean it up and stop the river's harmful waste from flowing into the ocean. They're pinning their hopes on this rubbish eating boat called the interceptor. The river's current directs the debris onto a barrier from where it's funneled into the boat's conveyor belt. This is one of four boats being trialed by the Asian cleanup a pioneering engineering company based in the Netherlands. The idea was dreamt up by bullion slat who is a 60-year-old schoolboy decided to dedicate himself to ridding the ocean of plastic. I went scuba diving in Greece and I was really hoping to see these beautiful things I keep seeing. David Attenborough documentary and looked around me and I just saw more plastic bags than fish. And. That was rather disappointed by that. And this question came to mind Why can we just keep this up.

Since then his organization has devised a number of innovative ways to apply technology to the problem. When we started the ocean cleaner back in 2013 we said let's focus our attention on plastic that's already out there and doesn't go away by itself. Yet two years later we realized to rid the world's oceans of plastic. You really have to do both the prevention and the cleanup side and start looking at the rivers. Every year millions of tonnes of plastic find its way into the ocean. Most of which floats down rivers that run through heavily populated areas where waste collection systems are flawed or non-existent. Meaning millions of people are forced to use the waterways as a means of disposal. But the first step to solving the problem is to understand the scale of it. Once you see the first studies that try to estimate how much plastic is flowing into the ocean there are just assumptions heavily extra pollutants over the entire globe. In the beginning, there's nothing better than that kind of study. But to truly calculate the amount of pollution in the rivers. They need to be monitored continuously so the ocean clean up has come up with a new way to do just that. Using a camera monitoring system that can detect the size and type of plastic and the speed at which it's traveling. It plans to install these cameras on bridges above rivers all over the world. In the hope that this will give a clearer idea of where they should concentrate their efforts.

Current Analysis suggests that 80 percent of ocean plastic comes from around 1000 rivers the vast majority of the worst polluting rivers are in Asia Africa and South America. The Passaic River in Manila is one of the worst polluters. It's calculated that every year. Ninety-six point five million kilograms of plastic travel along the river. Some of which end up in the South China Sea. Plastic pollution impact on tourism fisheries and governmental cleanup projects is estimated to have cost coastal countries around 19 billion dollars per year. But the long term environmental effect could be far greater. Matthias Egger is a lead scientist at the Ocean Cleanup and this is what marine-based sources of debris look like. Big. With his team, he's studying plastics collected from the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch a one point six million square kilometer zone near Hawaii littered with marine debris. But the hard work is done in a lab in Rotterdam. She's extracting the plastics from the sample She's measuring them to put them in different sized classes and different types. This laborious process allows them to understand the amount of composition and often the origin of plastic that ends up in the ocean. It looks like Japanese to me. We never see them this size the impact on marine life is very different for different kinds of plastic a lot of sizes we feel a very large piece of plastic like a ghost that for example entanglement this made with the smaller the plastic pieces the more impactful there are on the ecosystem.

Sunlight and seawater can break plastic down into microplastics which ocean creatures often mistake for food when they eat the plastic they absorb chemicals that then enter the food chain. The long term effect on these plastics in the food chain and on humans is still unknown. So a lot of research being done at the moment. The tricky part is plastic is very diverse. It's not just one type of plastic. It comes in different sizes shapes the day that we have so far indicates there is. Potential negative impact on marine life. So we really need to have an understanding of how much plastic is where and what kind of plastic will we find in the different marine systems Marine compartments. Intercepting boats have been installed in rivers in Malaysia Indonesia. Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. Where each boat has been collecting on average fifty thousand kilograms of rubbish a day. So far we've caught roughly two-thirds of the plastic that flows by. The team collaborates with governments to ensure that the plastic collected from the boats is disposed of at local waste management facilities. But that's not the end of the Ocean Cleanup efforts. For us, it's not enough to say okay we've taken it out of the reverse. So we feel responsible to actually guarantee that the plastic doesn't end up back into the river again. The Ocean Cleanup isn't the only group that's trying to solve the issue of plastic pollution in the world's rivers but it believes they have a solution that can scale.

We didn't design it for one specific river. We designed an interceptor to work in a fast-flowing river and Thailand for us as well as in a slow-moving river in Indonesia. Over the next few years, the team plans to gain more investment through crowdfunding and independent benefactors to add hundreds of more interceptor boats to its fleet. They also have plans to recycle some of this plastic and create products that can sell to make the initiative self-sufficient. But removing plastic pollution from the world's dirtiest rivers will take more than just clever technology with our interceptors. It's not a replacement for having good infrastructure or good policy right. So what we actually believe is that these things can be complementary to each other were with these interceptors a lot of data is being collected which can actually help steer policy and other types of campaigns upstream until adequate waste collection is implemented globally. The Ocean Cleanup will struggle against the growing tide of plastic but protect us like the boy and slapped developing new approaches that could benefit the ocean for future generations. Hi, I'm Claire and I direct this film. If you want to learn more about other types of pollution threatening the ocean and the people working hard to reduce it then click on the link opposite. If you want to watch more of the Protector series then click on the other link. Please remember to subscribe. And thank you for watching.