The age of plastic
By Javier Rubio.
A project carried out by the University of Vigo, Spain, provides for the use of drones to identify what kind of waste reaches the sea coast, what are the areas where it is most concentrated, and at what time of year, differentiating between the rubbish due to human activity on land and that coming from the sea.
Impressive and alarming images show us the large masses of floating waste in the waters of the oceans. It is estimated that only in the Pacific Ocean there are 87 thousand tons of waste: plastic bottles, toys, residual pieces of household appliances, fishing nets, and millions of small fragments that the sea currents mix in certain nautical coordinates. The Mediterranean Sea is not exempt from this “disease” of the plastic age. The most cautious calculate more than 1,400 tons of waste, others instead (mainly ecologists) give an estimation of 20 thousand tons, perhaps adding different categories of rubbish to floating waste.
In these very days, we got the news about a global agreement to eradicate plastic pollution signed in Bali, Indonesia, on 29 October. Not only governments and environmental NGOs, but also important plastic producers are involved. The list of signatories includes large companies that use 20% of all plastic containers produced worldwide (Danone, H&M Group, L’Oréal, Mars Incorporated, PepsiCo, The Coca Cola Company, Unilever…). The Executive Director of the United Nations for Environment, Erik Solheim, said that “Sea garbage is a visible and disturbing example of the plastic pollution crisis,” and he urges, almost pleading for it, to “fight against this global problem.”
A unique private initiative in the framework of this ecological commitment to clean water and seashores was recently launched by a group of professors of the University of Vigo (Spain): the LitterDrone Project, funded by the European Commission. The objective of this pilot project is to create a working method for easier identification of waste on European coasts through the use of drones. High-resolution images and specialized software would help specify what type of waste reaches the coasts, what are the areas where it is most concentrated, and at what time of year, differentiating between the rubbish due to human activity on land and that coming from the sea. The Project director, Fernando Martín, professor of Telecommunications at the University of Vigo, believes that the information obtained by this method will be useful for the bodies that will be in charge of designing and establishing protocols to combat the problem. Later on, with the development of this technology and according to the results of the first phase of the project, it will be possible to examine other possibilities to detect floating waste in the open sea or underwater.