Global Estimate of Marine Plastic Pollution
In 2014, international scientists collaborated with 5 Gyres to publish the first Global Estimate of Marine Plastic Pollution, and determined that 5.25 trillion particles of “plastic smog” surface pollution—weighing in at 270,000 tons—pollute our oceans worldwide. The Estimate is informed by Expedition and TrawlShare research; it will update again in 2018.
Launched as the Travel Trawl program in 2014, TrawlShare now includes 50 trawls made specifically for 5 Gyres. We provide trawls and protocols for citizen scientists to collect data on marine plastic pollution, raise awareness about this important issue, and contribute to a more robust global dataset.
Citizen scientists and partners provide data used to update our Global Estimate of Marine Plastic Pollution. This program provides a unique hands-on experience to carry out research that is essential to the 5 Gyres mission. Soon, our TrawlShare map will allow our community to watch in real time as our partners collect data from around the globe.
Solar Plastic Kiln
How can we avoid incineration of plastic trash in island communities? That was the question answered by the development of The Solar Plastic Kiln, which uses the power of the sun to melt common plastic ocean pollution into useful materials like bricks or boards. The 5 Gyres Institute worked with Swift Engineering, STEAMtank, and Packaging 2.0 to develop and execute the project.
The Solar Plastic Kiln piloted in the Bahamas in 2016 and was further developed with the support of 11th Hour Racing to also include a plastic shredder. This consumer-oriented practical solution, developed under the direction of Dr. Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyres' Co-Founder and Research Director, is displayed through June 2017 in the 11th Hour Racing Exploration Zone at the Bermuda base of Sir Ben Ainslie's British America's Cup team, Land Rover BAR. Visitors—including an anticipated 1,500 school children—are able to shred plastic, which is not recycled in Bermuda, and turn it into flower pots.
The design uses solar panels to create electricity, elements (like those found in a toaster oven) to heat metal plates, and simple aluminum molds to reform durable plastic goods, such as buckets and crates made from polyethylene and polypropylene. The plastic is melted to prevent the formation of furans or dioxins. "We're not about to tell someone, 'Stop using plastic buckets to fetch water,'" Eriksen said. "But now we can say, 'Don't burn that broken bucket. We have a better idea.'"
San Francisco Bay Microplastic Program
Beginning in 2016, 5 Gyres partnered with the San Francisco Estuary Institute to design and execute a research program designed to foster better understanding of the pathways and distribution of microplastics in the Bay and adjacent National Marine Sanctuaries. The findings will provide essential baseline data needed to evaluate the effectiveness of recently implemented pollution prevention policies, including the federal microbeads and state-wide plastic bag bans, as well as future bans of single-use plastic items such as bottles, shopping bags, and polystyrene.
Tracking California Trash (2014-2016)
5 Gyres partnered with the State Water Resources Control Board, the Bay Area Storm Management Agencies Association (BASMAA), and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to carry out the Tracking California’s Trash Project (TCT), a project that included multiple large-scale efforts to track and understand trash in California's waterways. TCT aimed to help cities and counties better understand if current efforts to reduce trash (product bans, increased street sweeping, catchment basins, etc.) from entering the marine environment are effective.
5 Gyres was responsible for developing and testing methods to monitor trash (defined by the state as >5mm) in a range of receiving waters (rivers, channels, streams, and creeks). Monitoring was done at four locations in California, three in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Los Angeles. In addition to selecting receiving waters ranging in size, channelized and natural rivers were analyzed. Samples were collected using five different trawls during dry and wet weather, with a focus on collecting the "first flush," after it rains. Please visit our Publications for the final report.
Plastic Beach Project (2013-2014)
The Plastic Beach Project aimed to better understand the distribution of microplastics on beaches around the world by working with a network of citizen scientists. This information helped support local policy initiatives to limit single-use plastic items, determined that microplastics are a concern on the beaches analyzed, and helped others comprehend the vast scale of global plastic pollution.
Long-term goals of the Plastic Beach Project were to gather information on plastic pollution on an international level. Between 2013 and 2014, 5 Gyres focused on the West Coast of the United States, carrying out research at 16 beaches and reaching over 350 people directly. 5 Gyres also collected data in Bermuda and Iceland in 2014 during the 2014 Arctic Expedition, along with carrying out additional events in Rhode Island after the 2013 Expedition from Bermuda to Rhode Island.
Though the Plastic Beach Project is not actively hosting beach events in 2016, our citizen science protocols are used by individuals and organizations around the world.