A Modular Approach to Plastic Ocean Waste Recycling
Posted by Patrick Simpson | Alaska, United States
Dear Sir/Madam --
I am writing to inquire about potential funding opportunities for a new development effort.
PKS Consulting, Inc. proposes the development of a set of Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste Recycling Modules that convert Plastic Ocean Waste into various reusable products. Recognizing the variety of plastics, the variability in each region’s POW characteristics, and the need to provide mobile solutions that can operate in remote locations, a series of modules that can interoperate with each other will be developed (See Figure Below). Each module will be fit within a 40- ft. shipping container to maximize mobility.
Below is the Executive Summary of a White Paper that details this effort. If you would like to receive a full copy, please reply to my email (Patrick.K.Simpson@gmail.com).
-- Patrick K Simpson
PKS Consulting, Inc
The Problem. The proliferation of plastic waste in our oceans and waterways is a growing concern. In a recent and rather comprehensive study, it was estimated that a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tons was in our world’s oceans (Eriksen et al. 2014). The United Nations reported that 90% of the world’s floating debris is plastic (UN 2018). It’s estimated that derelict fishing gear that remains in the ocean, often referred to as ghost gear, makes up 10% of this plastic pollution (Karli Thomas 2019). One study found that 70%, by weight, of macro-plastics found drifting on the surface of the sea was from fishing gear (Bergmann et al. 2015). Fishing gear is primarily nets and rope, which is made mostly of Polyamide (PA, Nylon), Polyethylene (PE), and Polypropylene (PP) (Brown & Macfayden 2007; Dagli et al. 1990). Another study of the great “Pacific Garbage Patch,” estimated that it had 42,000 tons of mega-plastics, of which 86% was fishing nets alone (Steffen 2019).
The Challenge. Producing useful and profitable products from this abundance of Plastic Ocean Waste (POW) has several challenges: collection, cleaning, sorting, and processing. Each stage impacts the next. Poorly cleaned material produces inferior products. Improper sorting might lead to an ineffective processing methodology being applied (Hennøen 2016). And a significant impact on feasibility is the remote locations where much of this POW is found, resulting in sometimes insurmountable logistical challenges (Löhr 2017; Lavers et al. 2019).
Recycling of POW becomes increasingly complex as you move from end-of-life recycling (e.g. discarded fish nets collected dockside), to plastic flotsam and jetsam (e.g. illegally dumped trash), to abandoned and discarded fishing gear (e.g. ghost nets), to plastics collected from the shore (e.g. bottles, nets) (Macfadyen et al. 2009; Stolte & Schneider 2018) or from the seafloor (Tekman et al. 2017). There are six common polymers present in POW (NMFS 1988; Dagli et al. 1990 & 1995; Bertelsen & Ottosen 2016) including: (1) Polyethylene (PE) in the form of low density polyethylene (LDPE) and high density polyethylene (HDPE); (2) polyethylene terephthalate (PET); (3) Polypropylene (PP); (4) Polystyrene (PS); and (5) Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). There are a large number of companies currently developing technologies that focus on these primary polymers using thermal and chemical approaches (Closed Loop 2019). The sixth most common polymer is Polyamide (PA) in the form of either Nylon 6 or Nylon 6.6. There are very few companies focusing on recycling PA because it is not as common in residential and industrial waste, resulting in few recycling options for large amounts of this POW.
Straws and plastic six-pack rings aren’t the biggest problem. Discarded fishing gear, known as “ghost gear,” is now the leading cause of plastic in our oceans, and marine life is suffering greatly because of the mounting ghost gear problem (O’Beirne 2019). In the infamous Pacific Garbage Patch, microplastics make up 94% of an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the patch. But that only amounts to 8% of the total tonnage. Surprisingly, of the 79,000 metric tons of plastic in the patch, most of it is abandoned fishing gear—not plastic bottles or retail packaging drawing headlines today (Parker, 2018). In Alaska, the marine debris that has been collected on the shores of islands in the Bering Sea was predominantly PE line and PE/PA web (King 2008; Lestenkof & Zavadil 2008) and plastic containers (GoAK 2017).
The Proposal. One of the primary challenges faced when producing products from POW is the non-homogeneity of the material. As an example, fishing gear is typically a mixture of PA, PP and PE (Dagli et al. 1990 & 1995; Bertelsen & Ottosen 2016). Each polymer requires specific processing to produce a usable recycled plastic product. PKS Consulting, Inc. (PKS) proposes the development of a set of Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste Recycling Modules that convert Plastic Ocean Waste into various reusable products. Recognizing the variety of plastics, the variability in each region’s POW characteristics, and the need to provide mobile solutions that can operate in remote locations, a series of modules that can interoperate with each other will be developed. Each module will fit within a 40- ft. shipping container to maximize mobility.
The Benefit. This approach will result in a POW solution that is local and feasible. The processing will be decentralized and modular, allowing a much larger percentage of the available POW to be recycled into useful products. Furthermore, by creating products locally it will be possible to gain greater community engagement in the recycling effort either through compensation for collected beach POW and by directly benefitting from the products produced through local utilization.