One does not simply sail into the Pacific Garbage Patch and clean it up like convicts on the interstate. For one thing, those pieces of plastic are much smaller than you're imagining. For another, when the plastic is that small, any attempt at filtering inevitably sucks up tiny sea life, as well
. — Maggie
Drop a message-in-a-bottle into the Gulf of Mexico, somewhere near New Orleans, and, 10 years later, your missive has a high likelihood of ending up near Cuba — or northern France. The website Adrift
uses data from a global system of floating buoys
to show you how ocean currents carry things like plastic debris around the planet. — Maggie
The answer lies in another question. How can PVC — polyvinyl chloride, a commonly used type of plastic — be the stuff that makes tough, rigid sewer pipes and, simultaneously, be the stuff that makes floppy vinyl signs and cheap Goth pants?
"PVC is hard stuff. But if you put in a lot of plasticizer, you can get it to be soft," explains John Pojman, a chemistry professor at Louisiana State University. At a molecular level, PVC is a dense thing. Imagine a slinky in its stiff, compressed state. The plasticizers are chemical compounds derived from coal tar. Mix them with PVC and the small molecules of plasticizer shove their in between the densely packed PVC molecules. Imagine stretching the slinky out so that its coils are now wobbly. Same thing happens here. The more plasticizer you add, the less rigid the PVC.
And it's the plasticizers that produce that smell — the one we associate with the vinyl interior of a new car.
Image: 365:37 - Mar 29 - that new car smell, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from waldengirl's photostream
Earlier this week, Jason told you about a TEDx talk in which 19-year-old Boyan Slat presents a plan to remove plastic from the world's oceans
. Lots of people are excited about this, which is reasonable. Particulate plastic in the ocean is a big problem that has, thus far, evaded any reasonable clean-up plans. There's just so much of it, it's so tiny, and the ocean is, you know, kind of huge. If a kid can come up with a plan that works, it would be fantastic. Unfortunately, the ocean scientists at Deep Sea News say Slat's system isn't as simple and practical as he thinks it is
. Among the many problems: Slat's plan would catch (and kill) as many vitally important plankton as pieces of plastic, and it calls for mooring plastic-collecting ships in the open ocean where the water is 2000 meters deeper than the deepest mooring ever recorded. Here's a mantra to remember: TED Talks — interesting if true. — Maggie