Drowning in Plastic
Every bit of plastic ever made is still with us—and it's wreaking havoc on the ocean.
Jun 14, 2007
By Kera Abraham
(L) Washed Up: An albatross gazes at a sea of trash on the Midway Atoll.
(C) Jarring: Captain Moore holds a sample of plastic-contaminated seawater from the North Pacific Gyre.
(R) Sick to the Stomach: The carcass of an albatross that died with a gut full of plastic trash rots of the beach. —Cynthia Vanderlip / Algalita Marine Research Foundation; (c) Matt Cramer / Algalita Marine Research Foundation
LIFE ON EARTH depends on little specks floating in the ocean. Tiny plankton convert sunlight to energy to form the base of the marine food chain, sustaining all seafaring creatures, from anchovies to whales and the land-based animals that eat them.
But increasingly, researchers are peering through their microscopes at the specks in seawater samples and finding miniscule bits of poisonous garbage instead of life-sustaining mini-critters.
It's plastic— broken by sunlight and water into itty bitty pieces, but still intact. And now scientists are discovering the implications of one troubling attribute of petroleum-based plastic, known since its invention, but ignored under the assumption that technology would eventually resolve it: Every plastic product that has ever been manufactured still exists.
Only 50 years since we began mass-producing it, our plastic waste has built up into a poisonous mountain we have never really learned how to deal with. It makes up 10 percent of California's garbage, is toxic to burn and hard to recycle.
Out in the Pacific Ocean a vortex of trash swirls and grows, forming a garbage dump twice the size of Texas. ...
rest of article
And a video:
Alphabet Soup - A Trip to the Eastern Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre
12 min 49 sec
A Canadian filmmaker travels to the north Pacific Ocean to discover a world of unknown plastic pollution.
For one solution to change material choices:
Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic?
"Product designer Eben Bayer reveals his recipe for a new, fungus-based packaging material that protects fragile stuff like furniture, plasma screens -- and the environment. Eben Bayer is co-inventor of MycoBond, an organic (really -- it's based on mycelium, a living, growing organism) adhesive that turns agriwaste into a foam-like material for packaging and insulation."
For another alternative on the same theme, find out what more durable wastes are (unlike plastics that are very fragile and unstable materially) and ingenious solutions can be found for using the more stable wastes as future materials as a natural part of the product cycle to have many social uses. For instance, tires as having multiple uses socially instead of only one categorical use of transportation: note the particular way the recycled products structurally are in sync with building materials in many different stages of use and conservation of this material throughout this eco-modernization home:
Dennis Weaver's Earthship
27 min 5 sec
"Dennis Weaver, the US retired actor, here builds himself a mansion made almost entirely from....old tyres and dirt. This is eco-modernisation, proving once and for all that eco-friendly design and construction/building does not have to smell or look funny. In fact, it is cheaper, quicker, easier and safer to construct such an 'earthship' than any conventional construction technique! This is eco-rationality in action. Prepare to be amazed."
Several interesting examples:
1. The recycled tires bulge structurally when packed with 300 pounds of packed dirt apiece, and, as if they were really designed for this, they serendipitously lock themselves into place against each other in the tire wall in that way.
2. Use of aluminum cans as filler in other places conserves concrete, making a cheap building matrix just like identical bricks would when stacked. Moreover, the cans' open end
3. serves as an inexpensive support and attachment point for the final adobe layer on the outside--almost as if they were intended for that purpose.
4. The dirt-filled tires in the wall core additionally have a form of coolant when it absorbs more heat from a hot room; and only in the winter, the reverse happens: the lower sun will come through and hit the walls in that season, warm these walls, and serve as a heat storage through the colder nights.
5. Most building materials are entirely free in this house--thus making it possible for building homes for the very poor with these techniques that can have a very modern, clean finish to them when complete.
Or grow your own home. Takes a few years though permanently renewable and integrated into the environment. However, depends upon a water source for environmental conditions as well as stable climates I presume year-round?
Mitchell Joachim: Don't build your home, grow it!
"TED Fellow and urban designer Mitchell Joachim presents his vision for sustainable, organic architecture: eco-friendly abodes grown from plants and -- wait for it -- meat. Soft cars, jet packs and houses made of meat ['printed' with cells from inkjet printers--printed into the 3D shaped desired without harming or killing anything sentient like an animal; all this is]...all in a day's work for urban designer, architect and TED Fellow Mitchell Joachim."
Or more durably, use straw bales, with have some additional benefits of putting in forms of infrastructure quickly like electrical and plumbing. For instance:
Straw Bale Building Methods
5 min 29 sec
"Straw Bale Building is the ultimate in rustic, self-build and ecological building technology. Simple, cheap and effective, straw bale is super-efficient in retaining heat and super-stable thus doing away with the need to build complex supporting frames. The plastering that you can choose means you can make straw bale look rustic or modern depending on your preference!"
1. Doesn't burn either. Harder to burn than regular timber frame due to compaction "like a telephone book", says the video.
Straw Bale Construction DVD from StrawBale.com
3 min 52 sec
The several steps are detailed here (less than four minute summary). A lot of the myths about this are addressed here: Straw Bale Building - Debunking the Myths StrawBale.com. Straw bale homes are three times the fire resistant of a common home, etc. and more. Water isolation and showers discussed here.
"Hempcrete": Hemp Waste Makes a Better Concrete
Hemp Waste + Lime = far stronger 'Hempcrete' than very pollutive industrial production of concrete: "How would like like a building material that is stronger than cement and SIX TIMES lighter?The film relates that people in France can build up to 300 cheap houses a year for people using hemp wastes, because hemp is legal in the far freer country of France.
Better yet, one of its main ingredients in the waste product of a plant that literally grows like a weed.
Here's the reality about [mineral based] cement [monopolies]:
1. The manufacture of traditional cement is incredibly energy intensive, so much so that many cement companies seek and receive legal variances to not only burn coal, but also medical waste and used automobile tires as fuel for their kilns.
2. After oil refineries and chemical plants, cement factories are the most polluting factories in the world, spewing tons of microparticles containing toxins like arsenic and mercury into the air."
Here's use of hemp to make a private house, by what looks like volunteer labor:
Here's an Irish architectural firm that have published a book about their method, using the same method see above on a larger scale. They mention that the insulation properties of hempcrete is very good: they say "zero" additional energy required to heating such a house made of the hempcrete because of its high thermal mass (keeping heat in itself) and other insulating properties as well as the tiny air pockets in the material itself.
Or is graphene the next environmentally sound plastic?
We have so many options for sustainability, being held back by degradative politics preserving old raw material regimes in the commodity ecology categories that are unintegrated in each other. There's nothing to stop full sustainability except a handful of psychopaths in their previous infrastructural investments gatekeeping against it and with violence and repression of our sustainable options as well.
With more knowledge assembled about how possible complete sustainability is, it is more likely unavoidable. For instance: graphene:
The wonder stuff that could change the world: Graphene is so strong a sheet of it as thin as clingfilm could support an elephant
By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 7:39 AM on 7th October 2011
Revolutionary: Graphene, which is formed of honeycomb pattern of carbon atoms, could be the most important new material [transparent, electric, and strong building material as well] material for a century [it's a completely unique mixture of consumptive categories in this material: a thin, transparent, super-strong (harder than diamond) structural building material that has electrical conduction properties better than copper (copper is hardly a structural material), though graphene's lack of semiconductor principles may make it difficult for some fantasy computer operations that currently are based on mostly silicon's physical capacities of 'on/off' switching in the material itself (there are other options for this switching though than polluting silicon industries: see the category on communication materials for more options); thus with graphene always 'on' in other words, and very efficiently so, it makes it difficult to do any anticipated Boolean/operations in the material itself in base 2--the insight of all computers from Shannon onward.]
Revolutionary: Graphene, which is formed of honeycomb pattern of carbon atoms, could be the most important new material for a century
It is tougher than diamond, but stretches like rubber. It is virtually invisible, conducts electricity and heat better than any copper wire and weighs next to nothing. Meet graphene — an astonishing new material which could revolutionise almost every part of our lives.
Some researchers claim it’s the most important substance to be created since the first synthetic plastic more than 100 years ago.
If it lives up to its promise, it could lead to mobile phones that you roll up and put behind your ear, high definition televisions as thin as wallpaper, and bendy electronic newspapers that readers could fold away into a tiny square.
It could transform medicine, and replace silicon as the raw material used to make computer chips [perhaps everything except this however, see note above.]
The ‘miracle material’ was discovered in Britain just seven years ago, and the buzz around it is extraordinary.
Last year, it won two Manchester University scientists the Nobel Prize for physics, and this week Chancellor George Osborne pledged £50 million towards developing technologies based on the super-strong substance.
In terms of its economics, one of the most exciting parts of the graphene story is its cost. Normally when scientists develop a new wonder material, the price is eye-wateringly high.
But graphene is made by chemically processing graphite — the cheap material in the ‘lead’ of pencils. Every few months researchers come up with new, cheaper ways of mass producing graphene, so that some experts believe it could eventually cost less than £4 per pound.
But is graphene really the wonder stuff of the 21st century?
For a material with so much promise, it has an incredibly simple chemical structure. A sheet of graphene is just a single layer of carbon atoms, locked together in a strongly-bonded honeycomb pattern.
Pledge: George Osborne, pictured visiting the University of Manchester lab where graphene is being researched, has said £50m will be set aside to help with development of technologies based on the substance
That makes it the thinnest material ever made. You would need to stack three million graphene sheets on top of each other to get a pile one milimetre high. It is also the strongest substance known to mankind — 200 times stronger than steel and several times tougher than diamond.
A sheet of graphene as thin as clingfilm could hold the weight of an elephant. In fact, according to one calculation, an elephant would need to balance precariously on the end of a pencil to break through that same sheet.
Despite its strength, it is extremely flexible and can be stretched by 20 per cent without any damage.
It is also a superb conductor of electricity — far better than copper, traditionally used for wiring — and is the best conductor of heat on the planet.
But perhaps the most remarkable feature of graphene is where it comes from. Graphene is made from graphite, a plentiful grey mineral mostly mined in Chile, India and Canada.
A pencil lead is made up of many millions of layers of graphene. These layers are held together only weakly — which is why they slide off each other when a pencil is moved across the page.
Graphene was first isolated by Professors Konstantin Novoselov and Andrew Geim at Manchester University in 2004. The pair used sticky tape to strip away thin flakes of graphite, then attached it to a silicon plate which allowed the researchers to identify the tiny layers through a microscope.
Discovery: Professors Andre Geim, left, and Dr Konstantin Novoselov first isolated graphene in 2004. They later won the Nobel Prize for Physics last year
Russian-born Prof Novoselov, 37, believes graphene could change everything from electronics to computers.
‘I don’t think it has been over-hyped,’ he said. ‘It has attracted a lot of attention because it is so simple — it is the thinnest possible matter — and yet it has so many unique properties.
‘There are hundreds of properties which are unique or superior to other materials. Because it is only one atom thick it is quite transparent — not many materials that can conduct electricity which are transparent.’
Its discovery has triggered a boom for material science. Last year, there were 3,000 research papers on its properties, and 400 patent applications.
The electronics industry is convinced graphene will lead to gadgets that make the iPhone and Kindle seem like toys from the age of steam trains.
Modern touch-sensitive screens use indium tin oxide — a substance that is transparent but which carries electrical currents. But indium tin oxide is expensive, and gadgets made from it shatter or crack easily when dropped. Replacing indium tin oxide with graphene-based compounds could allow for flexible, paper-thin computer and television screens. South Korean researchers have created a 25in flexible touch-screen using graphene.
Ancient history: If the development of graphene is successful it will make the iPad and Kindle seem like toys from the age of the steam train
Imagine reading your Daily Mail on a sheet of electric paper. Tapping a button on the corner could instantly update the contents or move to the next page. Once you’ve finished reading the paper, it could be folded up and used afresh tomorrow.
Other researchers are looking at many ways of using graphene in medicine. It is also being touted as an alternative to the carbon-fibre bodywork of boats and bikes [and car tires?] Graphene in tyres could make them stronger.
Some even claim it will replace the silicon in computer chips. In the future, a graphene credit card could store as much information as today’s computers.
‘We are talking of a number of unique properties combined in one material which probably hasn’t happened before,’ said Prof Novoselov. ‘You might want to compare it to plastic. But graphene is as versatile as all the plastics put together.
‘It’s a big claim, but it’s not bold. That’s exactly why there are so many researchers working on it.’
Dr Sue Mossman, curator of materials at the Science Museum in London, says graphene has parallels with Bakelite — the first man-made plastic, invented in 1907.
Resistant to heat and chemicals, and an excellent electrical insulator, Bakelite easily made electric plugs, radios, cameras and telephones.
‘Bakelite was the material of its time. Is this the material of our times?’ she says. ‘Historically we have been really good at invention in this country, but we’ve been really bad at capitalising on it.’
If graphene isn’t to go the same way as other great British inventions which were never properly exploited commercially at home — such as polythene and carbon fibre — it will need massive investment in research and development.
Core material: Graphene comes from a base material of graphite and is so thin that three millions sheets of the substance would be needed to make a layer 1mm thick
That’s why the Government’s move to support its development in the UK got a warm round of applause at the Conservative Party conference.
But compared to the investment in graphene in America and Asia, the £50 million promised by the Chancellor is negligible. South Korea is investing £195million into the technology. The European Commission is expected to invest one billion euros into graphene in the next ten years.
Yet despite the flurry of excitement, many researchers doubt graphene can live up to such high expectations.
It wouldn’t be the first wonder material that failed to deliver. In 1985 another form of carbon, called fullerenes or buckyballs, was hailed as the revolutionary new material of the era. Despite the hype, there has yet to be a major practical application.
And there are already some problems with using graphene. It is so good at conducting electricity that turning it into devices like transistors — which control the flow of electrical currents, so need to be able to stop electricity flowing through them — has so far proved problematic.
Earlier this year computer company IBM admitted that it was ‘difficult to imagine’ graphene replacing silicon in computer chips.
And sceptics point out that most new materials — such as carbon-fibre — take 20 years from invention before they can be used commercial use.
You might think from all the hype, that the road to a great graphene revolution has already been mapped out.
But its future is far from certain. In fact it’s barely been penciled out in rough.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2045825/Graphene-strong-sheet-clingfilm-support-elephant.html#ixzz1aMt2nBVJ