Plastic Pollution
Spindrift for schools

By  Dona Bertarelli

I want to thank all our partner schools, in France and Switzerland, and the 2,000 students who are following us. Whenever I can, I will be answering your many questions throughout this journey around the planet, a journey that we are taking together to discover the wonders of our world.
With all the crew of Spindrift 2, through our observations and our encounters, not only with marine life, but also with the islands and peninsulas that we pass, with the meteorological phenomena we experience, and with the birds and the stars that accompany us during our voyage, we will help you to live this adventure, like Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous book. We are calling our Spindrift for Schools series - Out of the Classroom.

Plastic Pollution

A shocking statistic was published this year - by 2025 the ocean could contain 1kg of plastic for every 3kg of finfish. This assumes we will continue to extract fish from the sea and dump plastic into the sea at the rates we currently do.

As we race the clock at about 30 knots, the spray in our face means we can’t see plastic, and it’s easy to forget the serious impact on the health of the ocean caused by plastic pollution.  

The amount of plastic produced rises daily as emerging markets expand and production becomes cheaper. If we imagine that everything roles downhill and the ocean is at the bottom of this hill, it is easier to understand how the ocean acts as our giant global dustbin. Over 80% of plastic pollution found in the sea is not rubbish that is dumped at sea by vessels, but it enters from the land. It comprises single-use packaging and everyday consumer products, such as food packaging and even toothbrushes. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, decompose back into nature, it photo degrades, which means its structure is broken down by the sun into smaller and smaller pieces. It is thought that every item of plastic that has ever entered the ocean is still there, in some form, today.

The United Nations highlights plastic marine pollution as a critical threat to the productivity and resilience of the seas. This is a clear and present danger, but yet one that mainly looms under the surface of the ocean and is largely invisible. Hundreds of thousands of sea creatures get entangled in plastic and die unnecessarily each year. Sea birds choke on the colorful bite-size pieces of plastic that they mistake for food. As the material breaks down into dust-sized particles they attract pollutants, such as pesticides, toxics used in farming.  Filter-feeding marine organisms from shellfish to dolphins consume these toxic plastic particles. 

© Zep - courtesy of Race for Water

The Race for Water Foundation founded by Marco Simeoni, friend and fellow competitor on both the D35 and MOD70 Championships, sailed around the world with another fellow competitor, renowned Swiss skipper Stève Ravussin, to explore the problem of marine plastic pollution. They collected water and beach samples on 11 islands located in 5 key hot spots. The crew reported finding plastic in every location they sampled. Their data is currently being analysed by universities to increase our understanding of the amount of plastic in the sea, its origin and its toxicity.

I find it interesting to reflect on the fact that plastic was the first manmade material that used ingredients that cannot be found in nature. It only came out of the laboratory and into real life application after the Second World War. If we could create and exploit it in such a short timeframe, I am sure we can also use our best endeavors to turn the tide on the problem of marine plastic pollution. 

© Zep - courtesy of Race for Water

If we are to succeed we need to increase the value of plastic, so that it becomes too precious to be discarded into the sea. The Race for Water Foundation has committed to implement solutions that will give end-of-life plastic a value.  One method they are exploring is to ensure more plastic waste is collected, through paying waste collectors. Waste could be then cleaned and processed to generate energy.

Before I set sail for the around the world - Jules Verne Trophy - attempt, I went to meet Dame Ellen MacArthur to share experiences but also to get some advice. No need to introduce her in the world of sailing, she has many records and impressive victories of her own, one of which was breaking the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe. Ellen has now retired from sailing and thanks to what she witnessed and experienced at sea, she set up The Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

’Sailing around the world against the clock in 2004, I had with me the absolute minimum of resources in order to be as light, hence as fast, as possible. At sea, what you have is all you have, stopping en route to restock is not an option and careful resource management can be a matter of life or death – running out of energy to power the autopilot means you can be upside down in seconds. My boat was my world, I was constantly aware of its supplies limits and when I stepped back ashore, I began to see that our world was not any different. I had become acutely aware of the true meaning of word ‘finite’, and when I applied it to resources in the global economy, I realised there were some big challenges ahead.’ - Ellen >MacArthur

I was thus fascinated to learn from Ellen that about 80% of a product’s environmental impact is locked in at the concept design stage. The majority of products are designed with only their first use in mind and therefore waste is effectively locked in. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s focus on the circular economy works to maintain the value of materialsfor as long as possible: rethinking the linear model of make, take, dispose, and moving instead towards a service economy where you purchase the use of products but the materials are borrowed and returned. This results in materials becoming too valuable to waste. Perhaps that would be one way of cutting the thousands of tonnes of plastic that currently end up polluting our oceans.​