Dimitar Dilkoff via Getty Images
When scientists and entrepreneurs first started engineering polymers to make plastics in the 1950s, they didn’t realize that their creations would change the face of the earth.
Today plastics are literally everywhere. In our clothes, in our cars, in our furniture. Plastic has revolutionized manufacturing and brought down the price of goods in nearly every sector, making products more affordable and driving prosperity around the world. But with this proliferation of plastic has come the alarming growth of plastic waste, most visible in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This massive floating island of trash is 1.6 million square kilometers wide, roughly three times the size of France and two times the size of Texas.
While images of the garbage patch are shocking, what lies below the surface is more concerning. Though large macroplastics are the most visible waste in the patch and contribute to the greatest portion of its mass, upwards of 94% of plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are microplastics less than .5 µm (micrometers) in size.
Mircoplastics, Gigantic Concern
The Ocean Cleanup
These plastics are small enough to be swallowed by people and animals and are significantly more difficult to remove from the ocean than the larger pieces they break off from. The Ocean Cleanup–the largest clean up project ever attempted–found that sea turtles caught by fisheries operating near the patch have diets composed 74% of plastics. Furthermore, experts estimated that any marine animals that come into contract with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch ingest large quantities of plastic as they feed. Because 84% of the plastic in the patch has been found to have at least one Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic chemical, animals that eat these plastics consume these toxic chemicals as well. When those animals are fished or hunted by humans, the contaminants enter the human food chain.
The Ocean Cleanup
Perhaps most worrying is the fact that this problem isn’t unique to the ocean. Microplastics have been found in waterways and in the air all over the globe. In the past few years, minute microplastics and fibers have been found in a huge range of products, from honey and sugar, to bottled and tap water, beer, processed foods, table salt and soft drinks. In one study, 83% of tap water samples tested in seven countries were found to contain plastic microfibres. Another study found microplastics in 90% of bottled-water samples from 11 different brands!
The Trouble With Bottled Water
Rob Maccoll for AusAID / Wikimedia Commons
Despite these shocking statistics, bottled water brands want you to believe that their product is the cleanest, purest water around. The irony is that the very act of consuming bottled water packaged in plastic bottles adds to plastic waste pollution. To give you some context, 500 billion water bottles are consumed globally every year, much of which ends up in the 8 million tons of plastic waste that are dumped into the ocean during the same time period. That’s 1.44 billion bottles of water every day. The US alone produces and discards 50 billion water bottles annually. It takes 17 million barrels of oil to produce that many water bottles, enough to fuel 1 million cars for an entire year.
Oil and Gas People
All of that plastic in circulation breaks down over time, a process that is significantly accelerated if the plastic is floating in the ocean or other waterways. Waves, sunlight, and animals swimming through and around the plastics wear them down, eroding large pieces into smaller ones, until they become microplastics. Microplastics can be picked up by wind and pass through mesh filters, leading them to be found in many surprising places including, as mentioned earlier, bottled water. If you can’t trust the bottled water you drink to not be tainted with plastic, where can you find clean drinking water?
rOcean: A Step Towards a Solution
Because this is a relatively new problem involving extremely small and varied particulates, the scientific community hasn’t developed a unified method for testing the presence of microplastics. In the absence of such as standard, reduction testing is the best alternative, and the National Science Foundation and American National Standards Institute’s 42 Mechanical Reduction Testing and Nominal Particulate Reduction Performance Testing are the industry standards. These tests allow for particulate reduction testing across six classes of particle sizes, ranging from as small as 0.5 µm to as large as 80 µm. The tightest, most efficient particulate filters like those we use in our products, are tested to Class I performance. Class 1 submicron filters need to reduce greater than 85% of particles ≥0.5 µm to < 1.0 µm to pass the test.
At rOcean, we care deeply about addressing the full extent of the plastic waste crisis, from overall reduction in plastic waste to microplastics from drinking water. Our advanced submicron carbon filters reduce 99% of microplastic particles as well as 75+ other contaminants according to the NSF/AMSI particulate reduction standards (a full list of contaminants that our filter removes can be found here. Because rOcean connects directly to your tap, you have a virtually limitless supply of microplastic-free drinking waste that can also be carbonated and flavored the way you like it. We built all of this into a single device to ensure that your water is not only always plastic free, but that you never need to consume your favorite water beverages from plastic containers again.
Time For Action
Our company is taking a stand against plastic waste and the proliferation of microplastics by designing home-appliances that make tap water cleaner, safer, and exactly how you like it. But this is just the start of something much larger than any one company or consumer product. Governments around the world need to develop comprehensive plans for dealing with plastic pollution. For starters, countries can actively reduce plastic production and encourage development of alternatives materials. Whole categories of chemicals used in plastic that are toxic and don’t break down can and should be phased out, and consumers need to be better educated about recycling, composting and burning waste.
As a planet, we are faced with a growing crisis. To survive, we need to change our collective relationship with plastic and alter how we make and consume goods in the future. This will require unified action from citizens, businesses, and governments, all working to break our global addiction to plastic goods. For our part, rOcean is committed to removing 1 million plastic bottles from circulation in 2 years, both by creating innovative devices like the rOcean and by supporting ocean cleanup efforts around the world. But we need your help to make to do it. Join our cause and showing your commitment to reducing plastic waste by signing up for our mailing list. We’ll send you information about our products and how you can get involved in the movement to reduce single use plastic waste. Together we can end ocean pollution and stem the proliferation of microplastics.
Join us in taking water out of plastic...and plastic out of water.