Oceans of Plastic

Published on Monday, 4 December 2017

“Every year, about 8 million tonnes of waste end up in the ocean: an enormous mass that could suffocate not only the ecosystems, but also the economies of communities that make a living from fishing, aquaculture and tourism. ”

The United Nations included the safeguarding of marine life in their 17 Sustainable Development Goals and launched the #CleanSeas campaign to promote policies that reduce plastic production, which is one of the main causes of sea pollution.

Also, plastic is not biodegradable but photodegradable, that is, it breaks into increasingly smaller pieces, until it returns to the size of the polymers that compose it. Its very small size creates another problem: fish and other marine animals mistake it for plankton and it is ingested, entering into the food chain and making its way to our plates.

These plastic microparticles are also drawn together in specific points by the currents and winds. A sort of plastic Bermuda Triangle, a vortex where rubbish is concentrated above and below the water’s surface.

These are commonly called “plastic islands”. Sadly, the most well-known is the one in the Pacific: its dimensions are estimated to be somewhere between 700,000 square kilometres (almost three times the size of Great Britain) and 15 million. Although the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has decried it as an incorrect term: it’s not actually a landmass floating in the middle of the ocean, because most of the plastic is in such small pieces that it is invisible. Just 10% of plastic floats, while 90% sinks to the bottom.

Though its a minimal percentage, this floating rubbish is a real problem even for boating navigation. This happened to the participants in the Transat Jacques Vabre transoceanic race.

Plastic waste damaged the hulls and equipment of numerous boats, forcing several teams to pull out, including Andrea Fantini’s team, racing with the Class 40 Enel Green Power, a 100% eco-power boat built with our technological partnership. The collision with what is technically called a UFO (unidentified floating object) caused a failure at the helm, forcing the team to drop out of the race.

This accident can serve as an opportunity to shed more light on the topic of sea pollution”, explained the skipper, Andrea Fantini. “The path we are taking together with EGP, our Innovation Partner, leads us to put out this eco-sustainable message.”

Pollution is not only in the Pacific but in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and the Arctic as well. Once it arrives in the Arctic, the plastic “freezes” into the ice of the area and can stay there for decades. That is, until climate change melts parts of the perennial snows and puts plastic, maybe even from years ago, back into circulation. And so even the Arctic becomes an accumulator of waste.

The oceans have a fundamental role in the life of the planet and, whether or not we personally navigate them, what happens in the sea sooner or later will have repercussions for everyone”, continued Fantini. “It’s just that we don’t often think about it, or we think we’re not the ones that will have to pay the price. But we’re wrong about that. It’s time to open our eyes, to cry out, to make everyone aware of this problem”.

“The sea, land and sky are not separate entities. Reducing sea pollution means not only protecting the marine ecosystem, but also guaranteeing healthier food, cleaner air and helping in the fight against climate change. ”

The Transat Jacques Vabre came to an end earlier than expected, but the Enel Green Power-brand boat is already getting ready to participate in other Trans-Oceanic races in 2018 and 2019.

What’s more, the sea is a precious resource of clean energy. Of the renewable sources, marine energy is the sector with the greatest potential and some estimate, based on the available resource, the development of 130 GW in the next decade. And Enel Green Power is a leader in the experimentation of innovative solutions to harness the power of the seas and oceans, with complete respect for the environment. 

Meanwhile, back on land in Italy, in collaboration with Legambiente, EGP participated in the “Let’s Clean the World” project with a day of company volunteering for the community to clean beaches from all kinds of rubbish.

Of course, limiting sea pollution is simpler than cleaning waste and pollutants from the oceans. The data presented by the European Commission also indicate the path to take, with the contribution of everyone, to stop increasing the amount waste in the sea immediately and reduce it over time. Increasing plastic recycling, limiting its use with the circular economy and recycling what’s already on the market would allow for a 30% reduction of plastic waste in the sea in the next two years. If we add the shared commitment of industries and governments to limit the use of polluting products and sewage more, especially in agriculture, we could get even more meaningful results.