Awareness of the problem of plastic waste in the ocean is rising, but keeping it at the front of enough people’s minds to cause action is proving hard. So hard, some people are making epic expeditions in the hope of drawing the world’s attention. Ben Lecomte is currently swimming from Japan to America, while Liesbeth and Edwin ter Velde are about to drive to the South Pole in an electric buggy they built out of waste plastic.
Lecomte isn’t just raising awareness. It may literally be a drop in the ocean, but he is hauling the plastic he encounters aboard his support vessel. Larger items have been geotagged for another ship to collect before they can break up.
Having crossed the 1,000-nautical-miles (1,805 kilometers) point of the journey after four months of daily swimming, Lecomte can confirm the problem is not confined to the rapidly growing “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. Instead, he is finding plastic items throughout the ocean.
In 1998 Lecomte became the first person to swim across the Atlantic. At 51 he decided there was only one way to top that. He spends an average of 8 hours a day in the water, and while the prevailing current is helping him he starts each swim at the geolocated spot he left off previously. Daily updates can be found on Seeker, who is documenting the journey, while 27 scientific agencies provide support or use data Lecomte collects.
The ter Veldes’ journey, Clean2Antarctica, is less physically straining, but possibly more dangerous. They fed plastic into 3D printers to create hexagonal panels they call HexCores. Around 4,000 HexCores were combined to make an electric vehicle and two trailers. Besides making a point about the potential for recycling, the use of plastic makes the vehicle surprisingly light, minimizing the energy required to allow it to crawl across the ice.
The buggy is to be powered by 10 solar panels, which is a brave move in a location where the Sun never gets all that high above the horizon, even if it shines 24 hours a day. Moreover, Antarctic’s famous storms could cut off the Dutch couple’s source of power for days at a time. Even the ter Veldes’ water supply will depend on melting snow using solar vacuum tubes. The vehicle is known as the Solar Voyager and Electrek reports it nudges along at just 8 kilometers per hour, (5 mph). The mission will start in November, having survived testing in Iceland, and is expected to be the first solar-powered and zero waste mission to reach the pole.
With projections that by 2050 the oceans will have more plastic than fish, and microplastics in the food chain, let’s hope these help make a difference.