After weeks of picking up marine debris along the Alaskan and Canadian shoreline, the 300-foot-long barge Dioskouroi arrived at its final destination, Seattle, on August 6. Waste Management was among many partners, including government entities, nonprofits and businesses, involved in the large-scale cleanup effort to package and relocate the materials to Seattle for possible recycling. Waste Management Sustainability Services – specialists in ways to advance environmental efforts within companies and projects – handled logistics for the project.
A significant amount of the debris washing up on the coastlines was the result of the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The elaborate plan to remove the materials from the harshest and most remote shorelines in the U.S. and Canada involved packaging the debris in heavy duty bags and airlifting the bags by helicopter onto the barge.
The cleanup removed more than 3,400 bags, or an estimated 800,000 pounds of debris from the U.S. and Canadian coastline. That’s enough debris to fill 36 rail cars. The next step is to unload the barge— the size of a football field—and sort the debris for recycling. Any remaining materials will head by train to WM’s Columbia Ridge facility in Arlington, Oregon, for final disposal.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), impacts of marine debris are extensive and can affect the environment, economy and human health and safety. Marine mammals and birds can get entangled in debris or ingest it, causing injuries, infections or death. Plastic, including foam products, breaks down into tiny pieces, which eventually enter the food chain. In Alaska, winter storms blow the debris hundreds of yards from the beach where it impacts terrestrial wildlife. Many of the plastic objects collected had chew marks from bears. A fishing net dragged along the ocean floor by strong ocean currents can scour habitat on the bottom critical to the survival of many species. Fishing lines can float along the ocean surface and catch vessel propellers, causing costly damage. The problem persists, yet coastal communities often don’t have the resources to continually clean up debris that washes ashore.
The Japanese government donated $5 million to the United States to support cleanup efforts in the five Pacific states that were impacted. Alaska has so far received $2.5 million. The coalition will continue working together to collect marine debris along the Alaskan coastline but they urge everyone to do their part to lessen marine debris by simply reducing the use of disposable packaging, reusing plastic containers, and recycling in your homes. Securing trash outside the home, reduces the amount of trash that can be blown into our waterways, and disposing of trash properly keeps litter from ending up on our shores.
The barge travelled through the Gulf of Alaska and then south to British Columbia. To follow its journey click here. Video courtesy of our friends, Gulf of Alaska Keeper (GoAK).