FAQs | UPGYRES

FAQs

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 costs of environmental plastic remediation for governments and the tourism industry

-reducing equipment loss & repair costs for the fishing industry

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 capture 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 collect/pick up the plastic garbage dumped in our oceans.

No one has proven that it is possible to transform plastic pollution onboard of floating processing vessels at high seas into streams that will bring in more revenue than the cost incurred in remediation.

However, no one has scientifically proven that ocean restoration from plastic is impossible.

Until then, the possibility exists.

The risk associated with dismissing ocean restoration as impossible is a 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 crude oil and refine that into fuel.

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.”
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20140120STO33184/html/Plastic-garbage-from-waste-to-resource

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…”
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&reference=P7-TA-2014-0016&language=EN&ring=A7-2013-0453
Mr. Prodi’s statements validate what UpGyres has been saying all along and the results of our marine plastic trials are proof that Upcycle the Gyres is the right organization to support the development of new technologies needed for the recovery of plastics from the oceans.

Why and How could we take our plastics from the oceans?

The general consensus among academic circles is that rescuing plastics from the oceans is an exercise in futility. They dismiss well-intentioned programs designed to take the fight to the high-seas calling proposals for using technology for ocean plastic recovery operations: “technofix in the ocean is a bandaid solution”.

By concentrating on 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 encourages our readers to 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 that we cannot afford to not Collect the plastic that is affecting the animal and human freshwater and seafood webs.

UpGyres and other like-minded stakeholders in key industries such as ship design, robotics, and risk identification choose to believe that recovering plastic from 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 reclaiming marine plastic resources sooner and faster.

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

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

  • A real remediation operation 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 remediation 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 plastic pollution remediation operation 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 microplastics 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 waste plastics in the oceans is much higher than the cost involved in undertaking high-seas restoration operations; particularly if the cost is incurred by a profitable plastic reclamation process that can create employment and contribute back to the economy.

  • The area of the trash vortex is HUGE

The oceans are indeed 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 support the creation of new technologies 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 microplastics will be effectively harvested and optimally processed.

Large plastics floating on the surface and microplastics deep in the water column have the greatest economic potential of our recovery operations and the most impactful in regenerating the health of food webs. Very small plastic pieces, resulting from plastic-degradation processes and from laundry effluent that are the size of plankton, end up swirling at different depths and resting on the seabed.

Plastic waste has to be shredded into 10mm pieces in order to be processed for recycling or upcycling anyways. Microplastics are good feedstock for converting them into something else without undergoing the shredding step of the process.

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

UpGyres proposes reclamation operations from deep in the water column to the surface using biomimetic robots.

  • 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 recovering it are greatly reduced by the cons

Upcycle the Gyres Society ocean plastic rescue operations will use Zero Emissions – Zero Fossil Fuel Ships.

The harvesting equipment will be solar and/or wind-powered.

  • 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 chemicals.

Conclusion

Upcycle the Gyres Society (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.

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

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

What are the Risks of recovered plastic spills?

Upcycle the Gyres Society Risk Assessment includes the very real risks of spilling the plastic that we collected while it is being stored, in transit or converted.

  • The likelihood of occurrence of a Recovered Plastic Spill (RPS) from UpGyres operations at sea and from tankers transporting the plastic raw material, feedstock or finish product to port are as high, or as low, like oil spills from fossil fuel offshore platforms, tankers or 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 annoyance to sea life and the maximum regenerative, restorative and therapeutic environmental benefit to the oceans and its inhabitants. UpGyres ocean plastic extraction operation will contribute 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 Community Contribution arms will maximize safeguards and minimize possible risks through proactive safety and operational plans and procedures such as using its plastic harvesting robots as oil spill response monitoring units with absolute immediacy.
  • UpGyres is committed to follow and incorporate Biomimicry principles in its operations. We are investigating the possibility of having plastic spill response robots acting as Remoras to escort tankers and supply vessels 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 robots could exist in mutualism with their tanker host by reporting and collecting any potential en-route plastic spills.

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Resources | FAQs 

Thank you for your interest in UpGyres work Please contact us when:
  • You have any questions or concerns
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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