You might have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage patch, and if so you are probably aware of a whole host of issues stemming from the use of plastics in modern developed society, and of the extent of their presence in our natural environment. Microplastics especially have given us much reason to worry.
Microplastics, are fragments of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters, they can be specks of glitter, which are created at that size in the factory, or broken down pieces of larger plastics, like plastic bags or bottles, which often get torn to pieces by wind and waves in the ocean.
In a normal human habitat, microplastics are inescapable, especially an urban one. They are in the water, the food, the clothing we wear (this is often a source of microplastics in fact) and even in the air that we breath. Although they present only a very mild health risk, most people still aren’t comfortable having them around. When it comes to our oceans however, the damage to its natural beauty is obvious, and the damage to marine life, though less obvious, can be a lot more dangerous than what it does to us.
Plastic in the ocean can kill animals who swallow it thinking it is prey, like a jellyfish. In microorganisms it can release small amount of chemicals which may negatively affect reproduction on those creatures, leading to an imbalance in the food chain. And larger chunks of plastic can often be found floating at the surface, looking very ugly and unsightly for most visitors. The country of the Philippines suffers from this problem the most , as one third of all plastic ocean waste comes from the Philippines alone, meaning this area of he world has a lot to gain from seastead oriented plastic cleanup. A seasteading community wouldn’t want to uglify its own surroundings, so keeping plastic in the ocean to a minimum is clearly desirable, but how do we do it?
There are a few different methods to start with, some people know about plastic eating bacteria and others may have heard about these amazing plastic eating worms, but there are ample methods of breaking down and recycling plastic already. What we really need to figure out, is how to get a hold of it all. By placing a community in the middle of the ocean, and especially a place like the Pacific Garbage Patch, we are now in proximity of the most heavily plastic polluted areas. Placing a community along an ocean current, or trade route is also likely to bring it into contact with rogue ocean plastic. From here the plastic can be collected broken down, turned into useful products (some seastead design use plastic as a primary construction material for the hulls people will live in) and can be recycled to make any of the infinite number of things that plastics are useful for.
Microplastics can be filtered out of the water by OTEC systems (discussed here) or strained out of the water when being pulled into a water desalination machine to produce independent fresh water for the community. While larger chunks of plastic can be netted using the method shown above and melted down alongside the microplastics to produce new, reusable goods for sale inside the seasteading city, or available for export to nearby communities. Once we are in position to capture and refine these materials, the possibilities are endless, and the profit to be made in restoring the ecosystem becomes immediately apparent.