plasticreef.com is a website containing information about the growing sculpture of artist Maarten Vanden Eynde, but also gives a brief summary of the history of plastic and offers a platform for various organisations and institutes working with plastic (production, collection, recycling and research) aiming to find solutions for emerging plastic problems.

‘In March 2008 I found out that there was a “floating landfill”, about the size of continental US and made up of plastic particles, swirling about 1,000 miles west of California and 1,000 miles north of the Hawaiian Islands. Almost nobody knew about it at that time so I wanted to raise awareness for this incredible phenomenon and find out what could be done with this new ‘raw’ material. In January 2009 I visited Charles Moore, marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach, who discovered the Plastic Garbage Patch in 1997. He gave me a first sample of plastic debris from the North Pacific Gyre which I melted into a small plastic coral reef, the size of a football. The trash became beautiful again and seemed to solve two problems at the same time: the plastic in the ocean and the disappearing of coral reefs world wide. I decided to make the Plastic Reef as big as possible and went to the Hawaiian Islands which are located in the center of the North Pacific Gyre and are getting an incredible amount of plastic flotsam on their beaches. For one day I joined the volunteer group B.E.A.C.H. who is collecting, categorising and counting every piece of plastic they find. They shipped five boxes after my departure which made the reef grow to about 1 m3. In February 2010 I joined the Pangaea Explorations on their research boat Sea Dragon, which is doing research on the plastic pollution worldwide. We crossed the Atlantic Ocean to gather as much plastic as possible and melt it into the growing Plastic Reef.’

A total of five Gyres is spread out over the globe. While the plastic trash floats along, instead of biodegrading, it is “photodegrading,” — the sun’s UV rays turn the plastic brittle, much like they crack the vinyl on a car roof. They brake down the plastic into small pieces and, in some cases, into particles as fine as dust. Charles Moore, who has been studying and publicizing the Garbage Patch ever since his discovery, said the debris — which he estimates weighs 3 million tons in the North Pacific Gyre alone — is made up mostly of fine plastic chips and impossible to skim out of the ocean. The plastic is undetectable by overhead satellites as it is translucent and moves just beneath the surface, from one inch to depths of 300 feet, according to samples Moore collected[1]. And only 30% of all the plastic is floating, the rest already lays at the bottom of the oceans.

Ironically, the debris is re-entering the oceans whence it came; the ancient plankton that once floated on Earth’s primordial sea gave rise to the petroleum, being transformed into plastic polymers. That exhumed life, our “civilized plankton,” is, in effect, competing with its natural counterparts, as well as with those life-forms that directly or indirectly feed on them. Inside the North Pacific Gyre the natural plankton is outnumbered 6 to 1 in favor of the plastic plankton. The scale of the phenomenon is astounding. Plastic debris is now the most common surface feature of the world’s oceans. What can be done with this new class of products made specifically to defeat natural recycling? How can the dictum “In ecosystems, everything is used” be made to work with plastic[2]? So far no organism is  able to digest plastic plankton or transform it again into something organic, closing back the broken chain of life.

[1] Based on a text by Justin Berton / San Francisco Chronicle

[2] Based on a text by Charles Moore

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