If we stack ten standard supermarket bags filled with plastic waste in every meter of the coast of the five continents, we would have a rough idea of the seriousness of the problem that human-origin pollution causes to the oceans of the planet … every year!
This enormity of waste -with natural degradation averaging between 25 to 500 years- continues to increase. It is made up of macroplastics (fishing gear, polystyrene foam, disposable containers and plastic bottles) and microplastics (pieces smaller than 5 mm, and/or the result of photo-degradation of macroplastics), and cannot be biodegraded.
80% of the ocean’s pollution comes from terrestrial sources, and the currents distribute it in all of the marine ecosystems. Apart from the plastic waste polluting the coastal areas, the floating plastic accumulates in the five Oceanic Gyres where the main currents of the planet converge. One of the Great Garbage Islands has an estimated volume of 470,000 metric tons! Even if it were possible to remove them, we would hardly be eliminating 6% of the problem.
Most of the plastic is not found on the surface. Eighty-two percent of marine life-threatening garbage is plastic, and at least 700 species of fish, birds, turtles, mammals and other marine animals suffer enormous losses when caught, suffocated by ingesting plastics, or poisoned by toxic substances contained in different plastic materials.
Humans also are consuming seriously contaminated seafood. This pollution threatens our health and has social and economic costs to coastal communities, and fishing and commercial navigation.
For the Oceans Foundation, in partnership with other local and international NGOs, government departments, municipalities in densely populated urban areas, and private companies, has conceived an ambitious project in the Tárcoles River basin. The basin covers an area of 2,121 square kilometers along which waste is discharged from the entire Metropolitan Area. It is considered the most polluted in Central America.
Our Foundation actively supports the governmental project initiated in 1982 and currently managed by the Environmental Management Department of SINAC, the Municipal Development Institute, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock through Decree 38.071 of MINAE that created the Commission for Integral Management of the Tárcoles River Basin. The goal is to restore the water basin by reducing pollution levels and to implement an integrated management system of coordinated inter-institutional actions by obtaining and deploying needed financial and logistical resources.
For the Oceans Foundation has proposed the evaluation of a system of trash intercepting water wheels to recover waste plastics and other trash from the Tarcoles river and prevent it from reaching the ocean.
The trash-intercepting wheels -created by engineer John Kellett- have already successfully collected more than 500 tons of plastics in Baltimore Bay, USA, powered by solar panels and currents. When spinning, the paddles of the huge wheels lift the floating debris depositing them on a conveyor belt that discharges the solids into a container, which is periodically emptied ashore to recycle the waste.
Similar wheels could be installed at Tarcoles river mouth thanks to the alliance between For the Oceans Foundation and the Ocean Defenders Alliance, a California-based organization that also works to reduce and recover plastic pollution from the oceans. The plastics collected could be then be sorted to enable them to be reused as raw material to make products and as fuel, thereby curing a seemingly intractable environmental problem and stimulating local economic activity.
Without a doubt, the only possible solution is an integrated action that simultaneously contemplates the education of social habits of responsible consumption, the implementation at community and municipal levels of practices of sustainable waste management, and the recovery of plastic materials currently accumulated in coastal areas of our rivers and seas.