Dreams are a funny thing. Sometimes they come full circle in surprising ways.
For many years I dreamed of a ship that would sail through the North Pacific, it would be completely self sustaining, and complete with an aquaponic garden. What we need, I would argue, is to put the proverbial boots on the ground. Our lack of understanding of marine debris stems from our inability to get out there and make the most basic of scientific observations. We’d pull plastic out of the ocean, and melt it down, reusing it for equipment, or diesel. The ship was meant to be a semi-permanent platform for open ocean science and observation. A lot of the dream was (at the time) unrealistic. I had some vague sense that the ability to melt plastic into diesel was possible, but I am no engineer.
After college, I got a job as a kayak guide, and the dream shifted. What we need, I would argue, is to foster the curiosity and creativity of a students mind, before it becomes stunted by society and culture. Only through understanding will we get people to change their behavior.
I arrived at graduate school, having carried these two dreams with me for most of my life. With all I’ve learned and all I’ve experienced, there is a new dream. This one brings me back to wanting a ship (I think my father’s influence is starting to rub off). But this time my ship, roams the waters of southern Asia (65% of all marine debris comes from the 5 major countries bordering the South China Sea). We are no longer scooping plastic out of the open ocean (sadly, that technology has not been perfected). Instead we will be working with local communities to remove the plastic waste that is already inundating their lands, and helping them create waste management regimes to keep the trash from accumulating again.
What do we do with the trash we collect? Perhaps we have a pyrolysis machine (remember that machine that can take plastic and make diesel, companies sell that machine now, I don’t know if it fits on a boat, but a girl can dream), or maybe we recycle it in a way that helps the native peoples build the infrastructure they require. Make brick building blocks for houses and schools or forge small boats. Plastic is an amazing and versatile material, the possibilities are endless. With recycling and pyrolysis machines mobile, we could take our capabilities island to island, coastal town to coastal town. Towns could donate their plastic waste to help build the roads or schools of a neighboring community.
Who knows what I will actually do with my time on this planet…but you can’t stop a girl from dreaming.
Read about pyrolysis here
Read about plastic building blocks for houses here