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The Ocean Cleanup OrganizationSeven years ago, The Ocean Cleanup organization launched as a Dutch nonprofit dedicated to eliminating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch using autonomous, solar-powered cleaning systems. Now, as part of a new initiative, the organization is rolling out barges in major rivers as an upstream solution to global, prolific marine debris.

Marine Plastic Pollution

At least eight tons of marine plastic enter the oceans each year, where a majority floats on the surface before breaking down into non-biodegradable microplastics. Around 80% of marine debris flows through rivers before reaching the ocean. Because a handful of countries are responsible for a majority of marine debris, cleaning just 10 major polluting rivers of waste would stop a significant amount of debris from ever reaching the ocean.

The Ocean Cleanup Organization

Based in the Netherlands and led by a 26-year-old entrepreneur, Boyan Slat, The Ocean Cleanup organization has plans that include fitting the world’s 1,000 most polluting rivers with waste removal systems over the next five years. The organization’s research indicates that 1,000 specific rivers are responsible for 80% of the pollution.

The Interceptor Concept

Solar powers the waste removal systems, and they are scalable and largely autonomous. Each one uses barriers to direct waste along the river to a floating “interceptor” barge, which loads waste with a conveyor belt into containers that local municipalities can then dispose of. Individual interceptors can collect 50,000 kilograms of waste each day, though “in optimal conditions up to double this amount can be achieved.”

The interceptor concept, designed in 2015, was first utilized in the Cengkareng Drain, Indonesia, where it has remained. The Ocean Cleanup has since partnered with local governments to deploy three more interceptors in Malaysia, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. By placing each one downstream from the last major source point in a river, they manage to fill all containers every few days, though they sometimes fill up in only a few hours.

Impact of Microplastics

Marine plastics’ widespread and harmful effects on marine life are well-documented, with hundreds of species ingesting, suffocating and entangling themselves in plastics. The global impact of aquatic microplastics, by contrast, is an emerging field of study. Appearing in tap water, beer and salt, they have appeared in water samples taken from every ocean. In 2019, the World Health Organization called for more research into microplastics and a drastic reduction in plastic pollution.

An environmental health report published in 2018 stressed the risk of consuming microplastics in seafood. “Because microplastics are associated with chemicals from manufacturing that sorb from the surrounding environment,” the report finds, “there is concern regarding physical and chemical toxicity.”

Consequences of Marine Plastic Pollution

While microplastics are under-researched, larger marine waste has concrete impacts on water-adjacent communities because marine plastics kill wildlife and disrupt local ecosystems, harming livelihoods and impeding tourism. More pressing, severely polluted waterways exacerbate poverty and poverty-related issues, especially among young children. According to experts at UNICEF, children living in South Asian slums frequently play in rivers and shores contaminated with waste, excrement and agricultural runoff. Since many lack access to clean water and sanitation facilities, this makes poor water-adjacent communities hotbeds for preventable illnesses.

The Ocean Cleanup found that marine plastic is responsible for between $6 billion and $19 billion of economic costs annually. These costs “stem from its impact on tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, and (governmental) cleanups,” and do not even account for the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost because of its public health impact.

Hopes for the Future

The Ocean Cleanup organization hopes to significantly reduce plastic pollution in oceans. Once fully implemented, the waste removal systems aim to reduce the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 50% every five years. The organization’s latest endeavor is a line of sunglasses made from plastic removed from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. With all proceeds going toward expanding cleanup efforts, this is the most stylish way an ordinary person can contribute to a greater cause.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr

Improved_Farming
In America, obesity has become a major issue.  According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Department, more than one third of United States adults are obese and as of 2012, more than a quarter of American children are obese.  Alongside the U.S., obesity has become a major issue abroad in countries such as China.

Obesity leads to serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.  Obesity increases the medical cost for individuals by more than $1,400 per year and government spending on healthcare costs by $147 billion.  Obesity also decreases the productivity of individuals, which with all of these combined demonstrate its negative effect on the economy.  As obesity is a highly emphasized global concern, much of that sentiment can be equally shared to its counter: the issue of hunger.

Even though it might seem that obesity and hunger are entirely different issues, they resurrect from the same origin – a nutritional system.  Understanding the causes of these two issues will further establish the significance to this underlying connection. Take, for instance that while the cause of obesity is an excessive consumption of unhealthy food and lack of exercise, the cause of hunger is a lack of food or conduct to establish a healthy diet.  For both, the root of the problem is the farming industry.

Most of the food supply comes from developing countries.  If the farmers do not have access to good farming equipment and farming technology, they will be more likely to use toxic farming chemicals on their land and cattle. In result, the produced food contains several unsafe chemicals that contribute to the potential causes of obesity.

In a TED talk, Ellen Gustafson suggested the solution to both of these problems is to increase the funding for farming industries and feed the hungry children in developing countries. By increasing the fund for farming, farmers can have access to better farming technology to enable producing healthier food for their home countries and exporting countries.  Additionally, more healthful diets help children in poverty countries grow up with both a healthy physicality and mental ability.

On a further note, hunger is a primary reason that children in poverty countries cannot go to school.  Improving the ethics in the farming industry and food supply to laborers, children in poverty can go to school, get educated, earn a better income and acquire a better livelihood while also contributing back to their society.

Phong Pham

Sources: Ted Talks, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obesity Society

Effects of Food Aid Reform

Since the proposed changes to the US system of food aid, many have voiced concerns about the shift away from domestic agriculture and towards local food supplies in developing countries. But how will food aid reform affect US shipping and agriculture?

Devex journalist, John Alliage Morales, reports after the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah testified before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations held May 7, 2013. Shah defended President Obama’s proposal to reform the $1.5 million US Food Aid Program: it would only affect about 300 employees in the shipping industry and 0.2 percent of American agricultural exports.

The six-decade old food aid program was designed primarily to help American farmers by purchasing their surplus, and American shipping companies by requiring at least 75 percent of the goods to be transported to countries in need on U.S.-flagged vessels.

Under Obama’s proposal for fiscal year 2014, the government would still buy food from farmers, but only up to 55 percent of the total, allowing the USAID to source the remaining 45 percent from local or regional markets closer to the crisis areas. USAID estimates that the $1.8-billion new program could reach an additional four million people simply by freeing up money spent on shipping and other costs.

Responding to queries from senators on the reform’s impact to local agriculture, Shah said: “We think the net change would be close to 0.2 percent of total value of U.S. agriculture export.”

“There are other sources of market demand,” added the USAID chief, who stressed that it is “inaccurate” to say that no one will buy the agricultural produce that would no longer be purchased by the government.

Ten years ago, USAID bought and shipped 5.5 million metric tons of food, but today this figure is down to 1.8 million metric tons. In addition, shipping costs have tripled over the same period of time, eating away about 25 percent of the budget, which could have been used to buy more food.

Shah noted that if the reform is approved by Congress, only about eight to ten ships or about 300 employees of the shipping industry will no longer benefit from the food aid program. That accounts for 0.2 percent of the total 15,000 workers in the American maritime shipping sector, he added.

“Of course, we expect that those ships will have other business activities, some of which will come from Department of Defense, some of which will come from elsewhere that they can pursue,” the official said.

– Maria Caluag

Source: Devex
Photo: US News