Plastic brains

The following actually happened to a friend of mine, it did not happen to me. He’s no small guy, but he also doesn’t look like a street fighter, more the quiet intellectual type. He was sitting in his car, waiting at a traffic light, when the window of the car in front of him opened. Plastic bottles and other shit came flying out of the window. His adrenaline levels spiked, and just then, more litter was thrown out the window on the other side, so he jumped out of his car. He snatches the garbage off the street, pulls open the car door and throws the mess back inside. What happens next took him off guard.

Three broad-shouldered and short-necked guys with barrel heads step out of the car, and they don’t look like the sharpest tools in the shed. The three of them walk over to the car, chests out, gorilla-style. When my friend tries to explain that you can’t just dump your waste on the street, one of them yells out: “It’s not your street.” My friend is speechless, not so much because of the threat of violence, but more due to the stupidity of the remark. After some pushing and shoving, it ends up alright, mostly because the people in the area start to get involved as well, and another heavy-built and even more broad-shouldered guy takes his side.

This past week was World Oceans Day. Everyone heard the disturbing stories about the plastic soup, areas the size of France, where millions of square kilometers of plastic are driven together by the ocean currents. Last week there was much ado about a whale that died with 80 plastic bags in his stomach.

Those kind of stories still generate more attention than the good news that there are more and more inventions that can clean up the plastic soup or, better yet, prevent it. Everyone knows about the young Dutch guy who created a mechanical boom that collects plastic while floating in the oceans. But there are more and better solutions. For example, the three Dutch researchers who developed The Great Bubble Barrier; a large tube placed under water at the mouth of a river, which releases a wall of rising bubbles. The plastic that is on its way to the ocean gets pushed to the shores, where it can be collected. In an experiment in a Dutch river, about 80 % of the plastic waste was trapped this way.

In any case, it’s solving the problem closer to the source than in the middle of the ocean. Even closer to the source is mankind itself, throwing plastic bottles or bags out of car windows or, I fear, people like me, who leave it up to others to intervene.


This post is also available in: Dutch

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