SSU “Friend of the Earth” Charlie Moore, Gyre Researcher, Speaks on 15 Years of Findings During Earth Month
Since he began studying plastics in the Pacific Ocean in 1997, the amount of plastic in the ocean has doubled. Gyre researchers the world over are finding 1 piece per square meter, Moore told an audience at Salem State University on April 11, 2012 as he was honored as a “Friend of the Earth.”
Moore spends weeks at a time on a wind-powered research vessel slowly pulling a manta trawl. He collects and analyzes debris found in the top 20 cm of the Pacific Gyre and he has been to all the major garbage patches—the widespread debris fields of the North Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the concentrated gyres like the North Pacific.
The proof is in Moore’s petri dish. It’s “toxic synthetic drift,” he said; “It’s a compound nature can’t digest.” About 90 percent of the ocean plastics are dispersed throughout the water column. Plastic makes its way to the gyre because a ferocious amount of it is bursting from urban areas all over the globe, or it travels far down the Earth’s great rivers. Or, it’s dumped directly into the ocean as disposal. He has the pictures to prove it.
The problem, or challenge if you are looking from the vantage point of the “Plastic Makes it Possible” camp, is that plastic has no after life. The world’s currents simply carry it all to debris fields in every ocean. Plastic is free to spend an eternity lollygagging and creating mayhem.
Supply and Recycling
In the U.S., we make more plastic than steel—“it’s ubiquitous in our lives,” said Moore. Plastic is the solid state of petroleum, so it never biodegrades. However, plastics break down, releasing a cocktail of chemicals. Some mimic estrogen, others are carcinogens like DDT.
When it comes to recycling, we “downcycle” plastic, he said. The melting point of plastic is the challenge—it’s a lot lower than the temperature needed to kill bacteria. We can’t recycle plastic into food containers.
Moore said food safety law prohibits use of recycled plastic for food containers without a liner. Once materials are fused, packaging is no longer recyclable. Plastics that are recycled can only be used in “lesser” products, like plastic decking and park furniture. He showed how such products are inferior, cracking with pressure and warping with heat.
According to Moore’s recycling colleagues, we’re only recycling “diddly point squat” of plastics—55 percent of all plastic is single-use. We’re the “Throw Away Society,” he said, showing us a 1955 Stackpole image. The market is calling for it.
“Recycling is not taking care of the problem,” Moore said.
Plastic as Predator
Moore’s research shows an ocean covered in plastic. There are floaters, sinkers, and bits awash in the water column. His three main findings are: Continue reading