We’ve spent a lot of time reporting on efforts to reduce the impacts of plastics on the world’s oceans. Much of the activity in this field focuses on finding ways to reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean to begin with. Other efforts, such as the Ocean Cleanup Project, aim to solve the technical problems of collecting plastics and microplastics from the ocean.

However, arguably the most important area of research focuses on finding ways to make cleaning up plastic into a profitable activity. Although government initiatives to reduce waste do have an impact, providing an economic incentive to collect plastic debris is arguably one of the most effective ways to get it cleaned up.

Meeting that challenge is one of the goals of the Race for Water Foundation. The unique organization is currently engaged in a five-year, round-the-world journey to educate people in many nations about the challenges posed by plastics pollution. The journey dubbed the “Odyssey Expedition” is being undertaken in the Race for Water, a custom-built boat that uses three forms of renewable energy to propel itself.

Addressing Pollution at the Source

The organization’s founder,  Marco Simeoni, believes that plastic pollution should be addressed at the source. In an article in Forbes Magazine, Simeoni made his views clear: “I don’t believe in projects cleaning oceans. There is a soup of particles, only of which 10 percent are floating. Boats cleaning oceans will have little impact. So the fight is on land.”

Key to carrying out this fight, Simeoni believes, is a technology called Biogreen. Biogreen is a containerized portable system for converting waste plastic into electricity. Developed by manufacturer Etia, Biogreen uses high temperatures to convert various types of plastics waste into gases which can be burned for electricity. Capable of processing 13,000 kilograms of plastic per day, Biogreen can produce electricity at a cost of $0.30 USD per KwH (this includes the cost of paying people to collect waste plastics). One of the biggest benefits of the machine is that it accepts single-stream plastics inputs, reducing the labor required to operate it.

Solution Designed for Small Island Nations

Simeoni’s choice of visiting small island nations in the Pacific is sensible. There, electricity costs are high and there isn’t much space to bury plastics waste. Recycling is often difficult in such remote settings.

Providing an economically viable way to reuse plastics is key on small islands, where much plastic waste comes from outside sources, including cruise ships and ocean currents. Ideally, the technology will allow small islands to clean up plastic waste that washes ashore while simultaneously reducing energy costs.