Sunday, April 24, 2016

What happens to trash at sea?

Everyone has read a story of someone marooned on a remote island somewhere in the ocean. They throw a bottle with a message into the water hoping it will float to a location where someone will read it and respond with a rescue.

That message in a bottle is subject to an unbelievable number of factors that determine if it will reach a destination, float aimlessly in circles for years, or sink to the bottom of the sea. The same fate happens to unwanted and discarded trash that is dumped into the ocean. Wether it's random, or deliberately dumped, ocean trash is a huge problem that threatens ecosystems and destroys the beauty of one of the earth's greatest resources. Eco-friendly vessels use marine compactors to compact waste and manage it before coming back to land. Unfortunately, not everyone on the seas takes such precautions.

Trash in the ocean becomes virtual “flotsam and jetsam” tossed around according to the ocean's warm and cool current behavior. A great deal of waste finds its way to the ocean floor, but an even greater amount stays afloat and collects in huge synthetic islands. There are floating, mobile trash islands in some of the world's oceans that are as big as some states! Prevailing conditions like currents and winds do little to direct trash to places that it can be managed. Special ocean-going equipment must be used to filter ocean trash from the water and deliver it to locations where it can be recycled, or disposed of completely.

These specialized marine vessels use elastic and metal filtration units that skim ocean water at the surface, or at varying depths. The filtration systems can collect items as small as cigarettes butts, or as large as discarded packing containers, and compact them for transport and processing. Most of the material that is collected is non-biodegradable and can be hauled to recycling plants near a vessel's dock of origin.

There are very few international laws on the books regulating the disposal of trash in ocean water, so these marine trash collection service boats provide a much needed service to the international community.

  • Image credit: By Gerry & Bonni (Trash on beach) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons