Ocean gyres are rotating currents that circulate within one of the world’s oceans each. In the last decade it was found that these massive systems are filled with plastic waste. The problem is that the barriers to gyre cleanup are so massive that representative majorities of scientific and advocacy community concluded that solutions are limited to on land measures only. Ideas about gyre cleanup divert attention and resources from viable, but game changing solutions, unsexy for some powerful industries in our world. Navigation in gyre locations are extremely stormy and have waves up to 10 meters height. The two most common plastics in the oceans are polyethylene (PE- plastic bags, dispensing bottles) and polypropylene (PP- bottle caps, fishing gear). Ultraviolet light weakens their polymer chains of monomer hydrocarbon molecules. So ocean-borne plastics become brittle and easily break apart into all the plankton like micro-plastics in the ocean. Further they saturate with toxic chemicals present in seawater. Life adheres to plastic becoming a root cause for bio-fouling and sea life colonization happens very quickly. Dead squid and flying fish stranding themselves attract sea birds, etc. coupled with salt start corralling eventually weighing floating plastic particles down attracting fish leading to an unavoidable bycatch when trying to gather marine plastics. It suspends in 100-150 meters of water columns and is not just limited to the ocean surface. According to samples taken by “The 5 Gyres Institute” at least half of the attainable material was biomass.
Oceanographer Curtis Ebbsmeyer, author of, Flotsametrics describes Gyre Memory demonstrating that each gyre’s currents will spit out about half its contents. Then they enter another current or gyre until washing up on beaches where we find it. So all the plastic in the ocean not grounded or eaten by marine habitat will be spit out eventually. Beach Clean-ups may end in incineration today, since not being fit for recycling anymore. However, they still contain 15-60% Carbon. During the 2015 International Coastal Cleanup more than 8,000 tonnes of trash was collected by nearly 800,000 volunteers (10 kg per picker). So it will take time until several millions of tonnes marine plastics can be cleaned. Therefore the most important measure needed to be taken is to override the “First Law in Dynamics of Waste” to always flow into the cheapest hole!
So what if society introduced a refund on Carbon content in waste instead of allocating Extended Producer Responsibility [EPR] fees or Waste to Energy feed-in subsidies for subsidizing uncovered cost overruns of economically unviable and not globally applicable waste treatments enticing waste leakages due to gate-fees and Capital Expenditure [CAPEX] requirements not repayable from operations? Cement industry offers less than 1 U$ per Giga Joule [GJ] for Refuse Derived Fuel. 1 GJ Steam coal recently oscillated around 4% of crude oil barrel prices. Natural Gas at U$ 0.16 per m³ would be 4.5 U$ per GJ. Electricity from Vienna’s bespoken Waste to Energy at arms’ length market price substitutes Natural Gas for U$ 3.5 per GJ from waste but spends U$ 15 per GJ Operating Expenditures (incl. CAPEX depreciation). Since Recycling Carbon from not meaningfully compostable or recyclable waste by Carbotopia™ can financially self-sustain above crude oil prices of U$ 30 per barrel, all plastics should be collectable at a gate-refund of 125% the Steam-Coal price per Giga Joule. For example U$ 2.5 per GJ resulting in U$ 115 per tonne Polyethylene, equivalent to the median EPR paid in Austria, Germany, France or Belgium – EPR just needs to be reallocated back to the consumer actually paying for it unknowingly with every item taken out a shelf. It could be lowered by alternatively discouraging incineration hybridizing refundable EPR with incremental Carbon Tax at cost of replacing squandered Carbon through crude oil. 100% of that would be U$ 150 per tonne CO2 today.