Resources | FAQs 

Photocredit: Living Oceans Society

Here are common questions and answers regarding the feasibility of collecting plastic pollution at sea; the process involved and products created.

Explore these questions by selecting the tabs below.

What is Marine Plastic Upcycling?

Marine Plastic Upcycling is the process of recovering plastic from the surface, water column, and from the ocean floor, then converting it into valuable resources.

Upcycled products from oceanic plastic pollution include: crude oil that can be used in the manufacture of plastics and textiles or further refined into low emissions diesel, kerosene and gasoline. Plastics that cannot be converted to low emissions fuels can be sold as raw material for other applications.

Upcycle the Gyres aims to provide multiple bottom line sustainability advantages, such as:

  • ocean plastic pollution remediation
  • mitigating sea-life losses
  • improving the quality of the seafood chain
  • reuse of plastic as a resource
  • using technology to create ‘resource harvesting’ businesses
  • addition of jobs
  • contributing to the economy
  • providing new and  sustainable end-products from waste
  • saving governments and the tourism industry environmental cleanup costs
  • saving the fishing industry equipment loss & repair costs

Will Marine Plastic Upcycling Operations bring plastic pollution back to Land?

UpGyres is working to transform plastics into resources at sea; this facilitates delivery of products directly to destination ports while reducing unnecessary steps, excess emissions, and costs otherwise incurred by shipping tons of harvested oceanic plastics in a solid state to shore for processing.

Can we / Should we clean up plastic pollution from the oceans?

“Experts are there to tell you why certain things just won’t work and it takes a non-expert to be able to say why not?” Naveen Jain XPRIZE Insights – Every Problem Can Be Solved.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”― Albert Einstein.

No one has proven conclusively that it is possible to clean up the plastic garbage affecting our oceans.

No one has proven that it is possible to transform the pollution at high seas into streams that will bring in more revenue than the cost incurred in cleaning it up.

However, no one has scientifically proven that ocean cleanup is impossible.

Until then, the potentiality exists.

The risk associated with dismissing ocean cleanup as impossible, is lack of imagination from some members of marine academia, some politicians, and most media. The greatest risk, it has been said, is not taking one.

Academia, and politicians need to transition from focusing on the overwhelming size of the marine plastic waste problem, and the immense size of the oceans, to focusing on consensus-building, technological innovation, and feasible commercialization of the effort.

Rita J.K., EVP at Science House, encourages people of all ages “to become scientists no matter what they do for a living by adopting the scientific method of knowledge acquisition through curiosity, experimentation, and imagination”.

In that spirit, UpGyres has proven as of January 2014, that it is possible to transform the plastic pollution that reaches the coastline into low emissions fuel.  This fuel could bring in more revenue than the cost incurred in cleaning it up from beaches.

Vittorio Prodi, member of the European Parliament wrote in the report Plastic Waste in the Environment:

“Plastic garbage, from waste to resource. Given the density and dimension of the plastic island, it would be economically worthwhile to clean it up, to collect all that rubbish.”

On the European Parliament resolution of January 14, 2014 on a European strategy on plastic waste in the environment, point number nine (9): Calls for more public and private investment in research and technologies aimed at …  new technologies … needed for  …  recovery of plastics from oceans…”
Mr. Prodi’s statements validate what UpGyres has been saying all along and the results of our marine plastic trials give us the proof that Upcycle the Gyres is the right organization to develop new technologies needed for the recovery of plastics from the oceans.

Why and How could we clean up the oceans?

On December 10, 2014, Dr. Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, an organization devoted to a planet free of plastic pollution shared their results from surveying over 50,000 miles of ocean; there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing 269,000 metric tons or 269 million kilos or 593 million pounds floating on the world ocean’s surface. The garbage consists of everything from plastic jugs and bottles to hair brushes and Styrofoam cups.

The general consensus among academic circles is that cleaning up plastics from the oceans is an exercise in futility. They dismiss well-intentioned programs designed to take the fight to the high seas like The Ocean Cleanup Array and Upcycle the Gyres Society. Dr. Eriksen calls proposals for using technology for ocean plastic cleanup operations: “technofix in the ocean are a bandaid solution”.

By concentrating in the daunting task of an oceanic cleanup effort, individuals, corporations and institutions who think marine plastic remediation is impossible, are self-defeating, and short-sighted. They allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the obstacles and lose sight of the goal. Their lack of vision is not an excuse for inaction.

Upcycle the Gyres Society and The Vortex Project are two examples that shun the rhetoric by marine academia, politicians, media, corporations and individuals that we cannot afford ocean cleanup measures right now, or ever.

Instead; Upgyres believes we can’t afford not to Clean Up the plastic that is affecting the marine environment and human food web.

Upgyres and other like minded stakeholders in key industries such as ship design, robotics, and risk identification choose to believe that plastic cleanup of the oceans is possible and necessary, and we are willing to contribute our expertise, resources, and desire to accomplish this.

Marine academic organizations and governments could be working and collaborating with Upcycle the Gyres Society to figure out exactly what it is that we need, and the best, most practical way of cleaning up marine plastic pollution sooner and faster.

Successful high-seas cleanup programs in turn will provide the results academia and politicians need to make changes in policy and behaviour from plastic producers and consumers.

The factors getting in the way of a physical cleanup operation in the calculations of people with no-can-do mindsets include:

  • A real cleanup would be astronomically expensive, both in terms of dollars and equipment
  • The area of the trash vortex is HUGE
  • The plastic is in various states of break down and some pieces are too tiny to collect
  • The ocean is deep and the plastic is floating from the surface all the way down to the murky bottom
  • The amount of fuel it would take to get ships out there to capture the plastic would emit so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the pros of a cleanup are greatly reduced by the cons
  • The types of plastics are mixed so recycling them into anything usable would be difficult if not impossible

Upcycle the Gyres Society addresses and solves each of their obstacles in the following manner:

  • A real cleanup would be astronomically expensive, both in terms of dollars and equipment

Around the world, cities and countries of rich and poor nations alike already have astronomically expensive coastline cleanup efforts that combined, amount to the billions of dollars.

“Every year the presence of marine litter causes damage that entails great economic costs and losses to people, property and livelihood, as well as poses risks to health and even lives.”

“The fish that we harvest to feed the world are eating the fish that eat that trash,” says Markus Eriksen, director of project development for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

The problem of having plastics in the oceans has affected more than 300 species of marine animals, with millions of individual animals suffering because of our inadequate handling of garbage on land, and as long as that plastic continues to be there, the depletion of marine life will continue.

Marine plastic pollution is not a case of survival of the fittest as birds and fish will not likely evolve to learn to differentiate it and not ingest it. Even if plankton feeding animals learned to know what is plastic and what is not, there are 5 times more micro plastics than plankton in some parts of the oceans and if you were a whale, you could not help but ingest more plastic than food.

If we are lucky, sea life may evolve to be able to digest plastic. I wonder how long that will take?

The cost of doing nothing about plastics in the oceans is much higher than the cost involved in undertaking high seas cleanup operations; particularly if the cost is incurred by a profitable plastic reclamation process that can contribute back to the economy.

  • The area of the trash vortex is HUGE

The oceans indeed are vast, Upcycle the Gyres Society approaches plastic deposits as an extractable resource.

There is very little difference between catching thousands of kilos of fish a day to feed the planet and harvesting hundreds of tons of plastic waste a day. Both, fish and plastics are moving targets in the immensity of the oceans.

There are also similarities between mining operations that process tons of rock to extract only grams/ounces of precious materials over very large claims of land.

Upcycle the Gyres Society intends to adapt existing and proven technologies from the mining and fishing industries and create new ones to effectively, efficiently and proactively clean up plastic pollution from our marine environment.

  • The plastic is in various states of break down and some pieces are too tiny to collect

With the right equipment, plastics that are too tiny, also known as micro plastics will be effectively harvested, and safely separated from plankton.

Large plastics floating on the surface are the greatest economic potential at the beginning of our plastic recovery operation. However, micro plastics can also be extracted in attractive quantities. Very small plastic pieces, resulting from plastic-degradation processes that are the size of plankton, end up swirling at different depths and resting on the seabed . These, in particular, will be high on the reclamation list because they end up being consumed by marine life such as fish, and eventually, consumed by humans.

Plastic waste has to be shredded into 10mm pieces in order to be processed for recycling or upcycling anyways. Micro plastics are good feedstock for converting them into something else without undergoing the shredding step of the process. Most micro plastics can be converted into oil more easily than they can be separated for recycling. This makes micro plastics more suitable for upcycling into oil than for recycling.

  • The ocean is deep and the plastic is floating from the surface all the way down to the murky bottom

Cleanup operations can start by addressing the first ten to twenty meters deep from surface where the largest percentage of plastics is accumulated. In time, as the equipment and operations evolve and improve, we will extend our waste collecting and plastic-to-fuel production from only floating plastics in the gyres of all oceans, to more difficult underwater areas such as reefs and the bottom of the sea.

  • The amount of fuel it would take to get ships out there to capture marine plastic would emit so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the pros of a cleanup are greatly reduced by the cons

Upcycle the Gyres cleanup operations will not depend on non-renewable fuel usage. Instead, Upcycle the Gyres will use Zero Emissions – Zero Fossil Fuel Ships.

The harvesting equipment will be solar and/or wind powered. UpGyres will further minimize its need to consume conventional fuel by using fuel derived from waste plastic for internal operational purposes.

Plastic-to-fuel machines planned for the operations produce 186g per kg of emissions; the machines themselves can be powered by solar and wind energy. Upcycling land and marine plastic waste into fuel for vessels and Port use is 0.0005% SOx compared to the goal of 0.10 %, that will be effective from 1 January 2015 in North America and Europe. The product oil could also be used for plastic manufacturing other than combustion alone.

  • The types of plastics are mixed so recycling them into anything usable would be difficult if not impossible

The types of mixed plastic that would make it very difficult if not impossible to recycle into anything useful can be effectively returned to their original state by upcycling them into light, sweet crude oil.


Upcycle The Gyres (UpGyres) proposes to:

  1. Take our hypothesis
  2. Construct a scientific protocol
  3. Conclusively prove the results of our proposed solution

We have proven that it is possible to recover plastic waste from beaches and convert it into a resource.

We are in the process of modelling the right collection method, and equipment; after which we will build a prototype and test it in a pool first and at high seas after that.

Why make oil from plastic instead of recycling it?

Sadly, (plastic) recycle rate is dismally low around the globe. (Plastic to oil fantastic by Carol Smith)

When plastics are recycled, they are usually “downcycled,” that is, they are used to make a lower-quality form of plastic. Plastic water bottles, for example, cannot be recycled into new plastic bottles. Instead, the resins from plastic bottles are used to make fibers for pillows and insulating fill for winter jackets.

Common products that are made from recycled plastics include toys, car parts, imitation or plastic lumber, drainage pipes, clothing fibers, tables, park benches, parking lot bumpers, railroad ties, truck bed liners and garbage receptacles. Most of these items cannot be recycled any further, making plastics a “dead-end” waste stream.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the recycling of plastics. There is some disagreement over the “green” nature of plastic recycling which requires a significant amount of labor and energy (often from fossil fuels).

A report from the Ecology Center in Berkeley, Calif., states that processing recycled plastic costs more than using virgin plastic resins, which shrinks the market for recycled plastics.

The same Ecology Center report emphasizes that the best way to minimize the impact that plastics have on the environment is not by recycling, but by first reducing the use of plastics overall.

Recycling alone won’t fix the problem, as only a fraction of produced plastics can be recycled, Marcus Eriksen, the director of project development for the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, says. He wants better regulation of the plastics industry, including rules restricting what kind of plastics can be produced for consumer products as well as regulation on the destruction of non-recyclable plastics.

UpGyres is working with the following parameters:

  • Many plastic products are reaching the end of their life cycle, forming non-biodegradable, non-recyclable mountains of waste plastic.
  • Most marine plastic waste is more likely non-recyclable.
  • The proposed regulated destruction of non-recyclable plastics could include upcycling them into oil.
  • Oil derived from waste-plastic has many more applications than just burning it. Synthetic oil can be used to produce useful plastics and can be restricted from being used in high-end products ranging from makeup to food items.
  • UpGyres advocates that consumers read labels and do not purchase makeup and food items that contain petroleum-based products.
  • Recycling plastics and Upcycling plastic-to-oil are not solutions by themselves. Both solutions need to be implemented in combination.


Upcycling Plastic into Fuel Diagram

How is making oil from plastic waste (re-olification) to burn beneficial to the Environment?

  • The emissions from the conversion process vary between plastic-to-oil equipment manufacturers, but most of them are limited to clean off-gas and small amounts of waste water. Producing plastic fuel through plastic-to-oil technology has no emissions compared to drilling and extraction operations.
  • Plastic to oil conversion companies offer, in more or less percentage, that their end product –fuel derived from waste plastic– produces (60)% less CO2 emissions compared to waste incineration plants per unit of electricity produced.
  • Due to process conditions the product oil is free of heavy metals and virtually sulphur-free, so consuming (or burning) plastic fuel in a vehicle, generator, tractor, or fishing boat emits less CO2 than fossil fuel.
  • Burning fuel from waste plastic is less damaging to the environment than burying plastics in landfills or burning them in incinerators.


Land and Marine Plastic-to-Fuel Reports January 24 and 25, 2014:

What are the Risks of Oil Spills?

Upcycle the Gyres Society Risk Assessment includes the very real risks of oil spills.

  • The likelihood of occurrence of an Oil Spill from UpGyres operations  at sea and from tankers transporting the plastic fuel to port are as high, or as low, as oil spills from fossil fuel offshore platforms, or tankers, and  pipelines.
  • The severity of the consequences is very high.
  • UpGyres is seeking to create a symbiotic relationship with the oceans. Whenever two organisms of different species exist in close physical contact to the benefit of both organisms, that’s symbiosis. Symbiosis can occur between animals, plants, fungi or any combination thereof. Each organism contributes something that benefits the survival of the other, and in turn receives a survival benefit of its own. 
  • The animal kingdom offers many examples of how species can coexist under mutually beneficial terms, or at least by causing the least amount of annoyance to each other.
  • UpGyres is applying animal kingdom behaviour to its harvesting and conversion technology and equipment to cause the least amount of damage and the maximum regenerative, restorative and therapeutic environmental benefit to the oceans. UpGyres contributes the clean up of the oceans to the benefit of marine wildlife survival, while the oceans in turn contribute raw material for UpGyres business survival and the oceans also contribute healthy seafood for human consumption and survival.
  • UpGyres and its For Profit Social Enterprise arm will maximize safeguards and minimize possible risks through proactive safety and operational plans and procedures such as using its plastic harvesting drones as oil spill response drones with absolute immediacy.
  • UpGyres is committed to follow and incorporate Biomimicry principles in its operations. We are investigating the possibility of having oil spill response drones acting as Remoras to escort the tankers to port.
  • Remoras can exist in mutualism with its many different types of host species, including dugongs, sharks, sea turtles, and manta rays by cleaning their skin of bacteria and parasites. The remora drones could exist in mutualism with its tanker host by immediately cleaning any potential en-route oil spills; (the second a drop of oil is spilled, the drone will be there cleaning it up).

Will Plastic Fuel be considered a Renewable Resource?
No it will not. Since the plastic in the ocean is derived from a non-renewable resource, the plastic itself is non-renewable. Therefore plastic fuel would not be considered a renewable resource.

Will Plastic Fuel be considered a Biofuel?
No it will not. It is not derived from a biological source. 


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Thank you for your interest in UpGyres work Please contact us when:
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Contact Us
  • José Luis Gutiérrez-García
  • Co-Founder and Project Director
  • joseluis@upgyres.org
  • (01) + 604.984.4327
  • 1.877.580.9725