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Pacific Trash Vortex To Become Habitable Island? 323

thefickler writes "The Pacific Ocean trash dump is twice the size of Texas, or the size of Spain combined with France. The Pacific Vortex, as it is sometimes called, is made up of four million tons of plastic. Now, there's a proposal to turn this dump into 'Recycled Island.' The Netherlands Architecture Fund has provided the grant money for the project, and the WHIM architecture firm is conducting the research and design of Recycled Island. One of the three major aims of the project is to clean up the floating trash by recycling it on site. Two, the project would create new land for sustainable habitation complete with its own food sources and energy sources. Lastly, Recycled Island is to be a seaworthy island. While at the moment the project is still more or less a pipe dream, it's great that someone is trying to work out what to do with one of humanity's most bizarre environmental slip-ups."
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Pacific Trash Vortex To Become Habitable Island?

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  • by Renderer of Evil ( 604742 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @12:32AM (#32909738) Homepage

    We already have that. It's call Los Angeles.

  • Tiny bits... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Microlith ( 54737 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @12:33AM (#32909750)

    The greatest problem with the gyre is that the plastic in question is untold quadrillions of tiny, sometimes microscopic, bits of plastic that have broken down under UV light and descended somewhere in the water column. You would need to filter several meters deep to filter all the garbage out.

    Of course, bean counters will kill this because it's unprofitable, and everyone else will ignore it because it's so far out to sea.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Psaakyrn ( 838406 )

      Singapore, as a tiny island in the middle of (not-quite) nowhere, was also initially unprofitable. Look where it is now.

    • Well... scientists and engineers are able to filter micro-organisms (which are microscopic, and almost the same density as water - similar to our problem here)out of water , also when it's quite diluted. I am sure there's a way to get the tiny bits out.

      The basic question is what the concentrated waste is worth per metric ton. If it's worth 1000 euro / ton, then quite a lot is possible... but it's gonna be an expensive island. If it's only 10 euro/ton, then the island is cheap, but only the crude bits will b

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NevarMore ( 248971 )

      Right on! Since we can't filter all the garbage out it isn't worth picking up ANY of the garbage at all.

  • Hyperbole (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Beardydog ( 716221 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @12:34AM (#32909756)
    The first story I read about the patch made it sound like it was bordering on becoming an island on its own... an area the size of texas made of milk bottles and grocery bags, all rustling against each other in the waves. No other article I've seen has been that bad, but all of them making it sound much worse than it actually is.

    I'm certainly not going to defend a vast region of polluted ocean and poisonous chemicals, but here's what Wikipedia has to say:
    "the patch is not visible from satellite photography since it primarily consists of suspended particulates in the upper water column. Since plastics break down to ever smaller polymers, concentrations of submerged particles are not visible from space, nor do they appear as a continuous debris field. Instead, the patch is defined as an area in which the mass of plastic debris in the upper water column is significantly higher than average."

    Moore's claim of having discovered a large, visible debris field is, however, a mischaracterization of the polluted region overall, since it primarily consists of particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye."
    "A similar patch of floating plastic debris is found in the Atlantic Ocean."

    It really doesnt sound terribly island-able. I'm sure you can scoop up enough solid material to build something, but you may have to drag a net for a couple of thousand zig-zagging miles to do it.
    • It is kind of bad in some ways, there are always little pieces of plastic floating up on the beaches in Hawaii. I haven't noticed that problem so much in, say, California. I heard there are effects like killing birds and stuff, but to selfish me the worst part was plastic pieces washing up on the beach. Kind of ugly.
    • Re:Hyperbole (Score:5, Informative)

      by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @01:10AM (#32909910) Journal
      Twice the size of Texas = 537,202 square miles

      4,000,000 Tons plastic = 8,000,000,000 pounds

      14,892 lbs/square mile - 23.29 lbs per acre. [2.61 grams/meter square]

      Of course that is only surface area... how deep is it?
      • That is the whole (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SuperKendall ( 25149 )

        Of course that is only surface area... how deep is it?

        That's the thing. There is no surface area, it's all particles submerged.

        You just calculated the whole of it (by weight).

      • Re:Hyperbole (Score:5, Informative)

        by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @02:27AM (#32910196) Homepage
        According to wikipedia []:

        A study of marine debris near the center of the gyre as part of the Southern California Water Research Project found 334,271 pieces of plastic per square kilometer with a weight of 5.1 kilograms per square kilometer.[3]. If this 11.2 lb/km found near the center were the same throughout its estimated 20 million square kilometers expanse, the gyre would contain 225 million pounds or 113,000 tons of plastic waste. This is less than some estimates of from three to 100 million tons of plastic in the gyre.

      • 4000000 tons of floating plastic is at least 4000000 m^3 in volume, which would allow to build a nice plastberg with dimensions 10x400x1000 m. This is a severe underestimate, so there is gotta be a way to make it into a floating plastic island with the area of about 1 km^2. Then we can throw some dirt on top and declare it an international wild-life preserve.

    • Scale (Score:4, Informative)

      by C10H14N2 ( 640033 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @02:03AM (#32910080)

      Down to more tangible scale, it is roughly 3 grams per square meter. A typical cube of sugar is roughly 4 grams. Now consider that's just surface area, not volume. You're not going to be able to see much of it even if you're swimming in it.

    • It's actually worse (Score:4, Interesting)

      by LKM ( 227954 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @03:19AM (#32910400) Homepage

      I don't really understand your reasoning. The patch wouldn't be as bad if it were actual plastic things that one could somehow remove. The fact that the plastic has broken down into small particles is worse than what most people seem to imagine; the way it is now, it can enter into the food chain, and there is no reasonable way to remove it. Your logic seems to be "Wikipedia says it's invisible, so it can't be too bad." How does it being invisible make it any better?

      So the stories don't make it sound worse than it is; they make it sound better than it actually is!

  • by jddj ( 1085169 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @12:34AM (#32909758) Journal

    If they could slice it up like one of those "all edge pieces" brownie pans, everyone would get beachfront property!!

  • (1) Build a ****-load of WALL-E robots.
    (2) Use them to fill the ocean with trash.
    (3) Sell the land.
    (4) ???
    (5) Profit!

  • Slip up? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tokyoahead ( 743189 )

    What an euphemism!

    This is not something that just happened one day because someone made a mistake. It's the result of decades of carelessness and ignorance.
    We can be only happy that the stuff accumulates all in one place so we have at least the hint of a chance to fix it.

    Try to do that with the space debris!

  • by Neptunes_Trident ( 1452997 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @12:41AM (#32909784)
    I have heard of this huge mass in the Pacific Ocean for quite some time now. But I never seem to be able to find actual pictures or satellite images of this "Double the size of Texas" island. The only images I ever see are ones that show land mass on the horizon. Which means images that are NOT in the middle of the pacific Ocean. Won't someone help a skeptic out?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 15, 2010 @12:58AM (#32909854)

      It's not visible, even when you're in the middle of it. It's tiny (mostly microscopic) pieces of plastic in the top several metres in higher concentrations than elsewhere. You need special instruments to detect it.

    • I'd really like to see a decent pic too.
    • by OctaviusIII ( 969957 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @01:00AM (#32909862) Homepage
      I'm unsure if "skeptic" is the right term, but a quick jaunt to Wikipedia ought to help. To summarize: it's a large area of the ocean where the concentration of plastic particles is significantly higher than normal. Most of the particles are too small to see and are essentially dissolved into the ocean. There are some bits of visible garbage floating along, but the patch still looks and acts very much like normal ocean.
    • It is a huge mass, it's just a huge mass of very very small pieces that you can't photograph.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It doesn't exist in the form that is being presented in articles such as this. The numbers given by North Atlantic Garbage Patch page on wikipedia are "200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre". This translates into one piece every 5 square meters. Keep in mind that in general these are broken down pieces (cm^2 scale or smaller). So, you won't find any pictures, because it probably isn't possible to take one that looks like anything. That having been said, the increased concentration of plastics is pro

    • As I understand it, this is an area in the Pacific Ocean where floating plastic bits accumulate due to ocean currents. In this area, the amount of plastic per unit area of ocean is far higher than in the rest of the ocean. However, the density the plastic bits is not remotely island like. You would likely not be able to see it from satellite photos. The best way to see it would be to sail there. and then to drag a fine screen behind the boat. When you pull in the screen, you would find quite a few litt

    • I heard it described that way.... You wouldn't necessarily see it by flying overhead, but if you were in the "soup" apparently, you would have very small plastic particles all around you - I forget how deep - maybe 5 feet or so? I can't recall correctly.

      You won't really see a picture because only the water in a glass jar would then look "funky." I believe the article I read about it did have samples of different parts of the "island" and you could definitely see the little particles... So like
  • Rishi Sowa [] is gonna be so jealous...

  • When Chrissie Hynde wrote about putting up parking lots and breaking up concrete, do you suppose she had PLASTIC parking lots in mind?

  • It's a Casio on a Plastic Beach
    It's a Casio on a Plastic Beach
    It's a Styrofoam deep sea landfill
    It's a Styrofoam deep sea landfill

    It's sort of made a computer speech
    It's sort of made a computer speech
    It's a Casio on a Plastic Beach
    It's a Casio
  • Welcome to the Plastic [] Beach []
  • by kainosnous ( 1753770 ) <> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @01:03AM (#32909876)

    This all sounds like a great idea, but from what I've gathered, the mass isn't really solid enough to make anything out of it. The logical conclusion is that we need more plastic.

    As a general rule, I have tended to throw my plastic into landfills. I figure that, if time lasts long enough, someday they may provide us with (potentially kid-friendly and bouncy) mountains. However, seeing that science has granted us this new frontier, I suppose that I should be throwing my plastic out to sea.

  • by Itninja ( 937614 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @01:04AM (#32909886) Homepage

    ...twice the size of Texas, or the size of Spain combined with France...

    Or how about 1/7th the size of Brazil! Or maybe the size of 5 Ecuadors! Or the size of 1 1/10 Chads! This is fun! Who's got one?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by H0D_G ( 894033 )

      But how many libraries of congress is that?

    • by dlgeek ( 1065796 )
      But if they didn't include the Spain/France comparison, Europeans would be up in arms for giving a US-specific size metric that once again demonstrates /.'s US-centrism. :-P
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by delinear ( 991444 )
        I just assumed the European countries were used as a metric equivalent to the US measurement...
    • by deniable ( 76198 )
      Are those normal or hanging Chads? What if I've only got metric Vaticans?
  • Stupid idea (Score:3, Funny)

    by RT Alec ( 608475 ) <alec&slashdot,chuckle,com> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @01:05AM (#32909890) Homepage Journal

    Stupid... but cool as hell. There is such a fine line between stupid and clever.

  • by Soloact ( 805735 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @01:05AM (#32909892) Homepage Journal
    ... to where this supposed "dump" was located, and only found small pieces of broken-down plastics, and no massive dump like the article indicates? Seems there was a documentary done about this "dump" being an exaggeration, and over-hyped in the news.
    • by delinear ( 991444 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @05:23AM (#32910908)
      Well the article (and other articles on the subject) are all very counter productive. They all suggest massive mounds of floating trash because it's easier for human minds to picture those as evil. This downplays the fact that the real danger are the chemical-laden particles of plastic being eaten by wildlife and entering the food chain. In other words, in trying to build people up into some kind of frothing state of hysteria, the people behind these articles are detracting from the issue and giving sceptics an easy out at the same time.
  • What is so bizarre? We manufacture plastic, make products out of it and carelessly throw the used products into the ocean where they disintegrate into little bits that accumulate over time. Sad and disgusting, but not bizarre.

    And don't get me started on "slip up"...
  • by deboli ( 199358 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @01:37AM (#32909996) Homepage

    Most of the flotsam there consists of small particles that are distributed in the first 10m of the water column. What would need to be done is to filter it out and bind it similar to how pebbles are bound with cement to create concrete to create large enough bits that can be combined into an island.

    Eventually we (the world community) will have to clear this patch as the plastics now enter the food chain and threaten to poison us all. Already there are areas in the ocean where plastic is more prevalent than krill and plastic is being ingested by marine animals, accumulating in higher organisms and ultimately in us too.

    Collecting plastic there would be a nice occupation for all those fishermen that have been made redundant due to overfishing and the necessities to conserve fish stocks. Get them to fish plastic instead and pay them for the trash catch they return.

    Two articles on that matter, a bit lengthy but worth your time: [] []

  • Get off my lawn. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by adolf ( 21054 )

    Maybe I'm old (I do have a birthday coming up this weekend), but: Back from when I was a kid, I remember a few things about the environment:

    1. First, at a young age, it was totally appropriate to throw garbage out of the car window.

    2. It then became less appropriate as volunteers started making a lot of press about cleaning up litter on roadways, which (presumably) had previously been left to be mowed into tiny pieces and otherwise never degraded (plastics last forever, don't you know?).

    3. Six-packs of

  • by Somegeek ( 624100 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @02:06AM (#32910092)

    They are saying that there are 4 million tons of plastic out there, and they want to build a 10,000 square km island.

    Assume a basic building unit of a plastic floating barrel and a square plastic platform to sit on top of it. Assume that 40kg of plastic are used in the barrel/platform and it will provide all of the necessary flotation for a square meter chunk of island.

    In the above scenario, 4 million tons of plastic gets you one hundred million barrel/platform units, and therefore a surface area of one hundred million square meters. That means an island that is TEN square km. Not really enough land to make self sufficient home complete with farmland for half a million people.

    What are they going to build the other 9,990 square km of floating island out of?

    • Assume a basic building unit of a plastic floating barrel and a square plastic platform to sit on top of it. Assume that 40kg of plastic are used in the barrel/platform and it will provide all of the necessary flotation for a square meter chunk of island.

      Remember that your barrel is built of plastic which breaks down in seawater and sunlight. You'll have to keep replacing barrels.

  • ^^Read That^^ While reading TFS I was itching to say that amidst the laughing I did after reading the acronym "WHIM" and hitting what some people would call crucial points of this whim of insanity.
  • More and more frequently, the news reads like segments from a Neil Stephenson novel. One of his earlier ones.


  • Probably just vapourware but someone came up with a way to turn plastic back into oil... is that viable for this mess?

    Are we worse or better off having that amount of carbon in the ocean as plastic vs in the air as CO2?

  • The Numbers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Thursday July 15, 2010 @03:27AM (#32910448)

    The Pacific Vortex as it is sometimes called, is made up of four million tons of Plastic.

    Recycled Island would be 10,000 Km2

    4,000,000,000 kg / 10,000,000,000 m^2 = 0.4 kg/m^2

    Anyone else have a problem with this?

  • There has to be a cash value for waste plastic. It is hard to understand why this plastic can not be scooped up and either turned into new plastic items or turned into fuel.
    I do notice that recycled plastic lumber is too expensive for most people yet railroad ties are now being made of recycled plastic so it must be possible to deliver plastic boards into the hands of home owners at a reasonable price. That plastic lumbar looks great and handl

    • Re: Valuable Waste (Score:4, Insightful)

      by delinear ( 991444 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @05:38AM (#32910964)
      I guess the issues are removing tiny particles of widely distributed plastic from an area of the ocean twice the size of Texas while at the same time not removing everything living from said ocean. Apparently most of the particles are no bigger than a grain of rice, so any system to sieve them out of the ocean would likely scoop up anything larger than plankton. I've not heard any specifics about how they plan to perform the separation.
  • I've noticed that if you throw something into a water body, like a lake or an ocean, that the next day you come back and it's gone. So somehow it takes it away and filters it through and it just cleans it up like a garbage compactor or whatever, so it's not really littering if you ask me.
    - Ricky, Trailer Park Boys
  • This looks like a good opportunity to create Utopia [].

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."