The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is just one of several gyres that swirl in the world’s oceans, holding tiny bits of degraded plastic that threaten fish and sea birds. According to a new and ambitious project’s web site, there is hope for cleaning up the debris and turning it into a highly useful and prized commodity.
The @Altitude project’s web site says, “Wings of Waste is the world’s 1st 100% recyclable plastic fuelled flight, piloted by Jeremy Rowsell. The flight route is Sydney to London, Spring/Summer 2012 (ETD October – now changed to early 2013), along the old barnstorming routes of the original United Kingdom/Australian air pioneers: Charles Kingsford-Smith, Amy Johnson and Bert Hinkler.
Rowsell will fly a Diesel-powered Cessna 172, according to modified plans for the flight and is also “attempting to break two records:
“1. To be the first to fly via plastic waste fuel at 100% treatment; and
“2. To break a flight time from Sydney to London for a single engine piston plane.”
He’s logged 25,000 kilometers (15,500 miles) over the Pacific, performing attention-getting flights to help raise money for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. A placement service director for a major insurance brokerage, Rowsell is also an author, often pondering the immensity of the Pacific and dangers of flying over its expanses. He could be the environmentalist Saint-Exupery.
The beauty of his planned flight is that it uses plastic waste from the Pacific gyre and converts it to useable Diesel fuel for his airplane, powering it from Sydney, Australia through stops at Darwin, Christmas Island, Sri Lanka, Oman, Jordan, Malta, and finishing in London. Fuel processing will be done by Cynar Plc, an Irish firm specializing in turning end-of-life plastics (ELP) into useable fuel. EU directives regarding landfills make this mission imperative, and changing economics make it potentially profitable.
Besides collecting plastic-laden sea water and extracting the polluting waste, refining it into fuel and powering the proposed flight, On Wings of Waste will burn only 100 percent plastic-derived Diesel. Many airlines use biofuel blends and the Navy has demonstrated front-line fighter aircraft burning such blends, but Rowsell’s trip will be all post-waste fuelled.
The blog has covered two approaches to converting waste plastics into viable fuel oil, both promising to clean up landfills which crest with billions of plastic bags, cups, and other disposed items which were once petroleum.
On Wings of Waste marks a way to clean up ocean-borne waste in the Pacific Garbage Gyre or Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Texas-sized accumulation of plastic debris that photodegrades over the years and becomes –sub millimeter wide spots of plastic floating amidst the krill and plankton that feeds the great and small creatures in the ocean. Phil Barnes, an expert on the Albatross, has reported that these birds inadvertently kill their offspring by collecting this waste and feeding it to their fledglings.
The Clean Air Council estimates over one billion disposable plastic shopping bags are used each year in the U. S. alone, and only one percent are recycled. The Council explains, “When the small particles from photodegraded plastic bags get into the water, they are ingested by filter feeding marine animals. Biotoxins like PCBs that are in the particles are then passed up the food chain, including up to humans.”
Jeremy’s flight will be a wakeup call for many who do not understand the consequences of small, negligent acts repeated millions of times. We will be following his progress with great interest.