The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

    Source Francis Perez

    The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

    What’s Going On?

    You've heard about the mind boggling amount of plastic in the ocean by now, but have you heard of the 24 year old Dutch innovator trying to clean it up? Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of the non-profit The Ocean Cleanup, created the project to combat large accumulated masses of ocean plastic. Currently, there are five large offshore islands of amassed garbage sitting half way between California and Hawaii and covering an area twice the size of Texas, the biggest of which is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP).

    Trash Size

    Image Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

    The team of researchers at The Ocean Cleanup has been analyzing the type and quantity of plastic in the GPGP and its effects on human and marine life since 2013. The actual clean up system consists of floating solar-powered U-shaped booms that sit on top of the water with screens to trap plastic extended ten feet below the water. The booms act like mini coastlines and passively collect plastic, which can then be picked up by boat for recycling. The first beta test will be be deployed on September 8 from San Francisco — The Ocean Cleanup plans to have it fully up and running in 2020, with 50% of the patch cleaned up in 5 years.

    Why You Should Care

    Time is a big factor here. Currently The Ocean Cleanup estimates that just 3% of the GPGP is made up of microplastics and that most pieces are still large enough to fish out easily. If left untouched, these plastics could break down over the next decade, making it significantly more difficult to remove from the ocean.

    What the Critics Are Saying

    This project is somewhat controversial among the scientific community, with many experts voicing their concerns about the feasibility of the project and the unintended consequences on wildlife caught in the screens intended to pick up plastic. Some scientists argue that stopping plastic from entering the ocean in the first place is a better solution.

    Ugly Food For Thought

    What’s Going On?

    Bay Area venture backed food startups like Imperfect Produce and Full Harvest have been getting a lot of press recently for their efforts to reduce food waste by delivering "ugly" produce from farms to customers at a discounted price, through a subscription model. It sounds great, right? Especially since a third of all food produced globally is wasted.

    The food justice nonprofit Phat Beets Produce offers a different take on these companies — claiming that they are commodifying food waste and creating a system of corporate supported agriculture. They suggest that although these startups claim to be magnanimously tackling the issue of food waste and supporting farmers by buying "ugly" produce that farmers would otherwise throw out, in reality they are simply rebranding food that would have gone to food banks and selling it to "conscious" consumers to make a profit. California food banks alone collectively receive and distribute 164 million pounds of fruits and veggies annually. Food banks are at risk of losing a large supply of their fresh produce and making it available to those in need. In order to work with Imperfect Produce or Full Harvest, farms need to be able to supply truck loads of produce regularly, leaving the little guys out, supporting larger global agribusiness and the systemic overproduction by industrial farms. Companies like these don't have any ties to the community or local economy, like CSA's do, and won't get us closer to a more equitable and sustainable food system.

    Why You Should Care

    Although the marketing is catchy, selling "ugly" produce from industrial farms is likely not going to get to the core of the issue, overproduction. It is estimated that we produce 1.5 times the amount of food needed to feed each person in the last half century, yet people still go hungry.

    "The key to feeding people is not by commodifying ugly fruit, but by paying living wages and making good, healthy food readily accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford it."

    -Eric Holt-Giménez

    What You Can Do

    Do your research before getting an ugly produce subscription box. Join a CSA that supports small farmers instead, or buy directly from smaller farms.

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