COPLARE - Coastal Plastics Recycling

The adventurous Voyage of Discovery has come to an End - but it is still going on!

About three years ago, in summer 2011, we set off in the harbor Wiesbaden-Schierstein, two and a half years later we reached New Zealand’s North Island with our sailing ship PAGENA and since recently we are back home. Our sailing route mainly followed the trade winds belt (also called “Barefoot route”). In the second year of travel however, we integrated an extended loop through the North Pacific, a rarely sailed route which led us through the territory of the largest known garbage patch (the „North Pacific Gyre“). Always on board was the project COPLARE – Coastal Plastics Recycling e.V. by means of which we intended to bring ideas for the recycling of plastics to developing countries. We were hoping that it would be possible to generate an unexpected source of income for the local people out of an ecological problem in seemingly exotic places of the world and to help the people help themselves.

 

It is hard to say whether we succeeded in doing so or not. What we know for sure is: we have left marks, we threw light on the matter of recycling and waste in many places of the world, we have conveyed useful information and contacts, we have provided suggestions and food for thought. Meanwhile, our two websites are visited several thousand times per month.  But a lot of things turned out differently than from what we expected at home. In most of the places we mainly observed, asked questions and did research and documented and published this knowledge. After that, we received e-mails from people from all over the world who found this website while looking for solutions for the handling of plastic waste.

 

During the trip we learned something new almost every day, e.g. about contexts in different geographic and climatic regions as well as about historico-cultural influences which you should be aware of if you start thinking about waste management and recycling in foreign countries.  We shared a lot of this new knowledge with our readers in „COPLARE’s Observations“ and in the „Remarkable !” articles, but not everything.

 

For example the fact that processes of change take time, in most cases a lot of time. This is even more true for other cultural environments rather than for Germany. None of the things we initiated seem to have produced tangible results after almost three years.  We hoped very much that we would be able to announce that the Cape Verde Island Sal would now sell its PET bottles to Portugal where they are reprocessed in one of the largest PET recycling companies of Europe and returned into the cycle of materials.  We were able to establish the relevant contacts by means of Plastics Europe; hoteliers as well as representatives of the municipal waste management listened to our presentations with interest and the recycler asked for product samples. But nothing seems to have happened up to now - at least we did not learn anything about any progress. „In Africa, everything takes forever, five years do not mean anything here“, this is what a connoisseur of the Cape Verde Islands told us when she heard about our project.  And yes, the representatives of the municipal waste management facility mentioned that they intend to come to an arrangement with other Cape Verde Islands and that they are currently still busy with the analysis of the waste flows. Of course, this makes sense! And let’s face it: innovations mostly take many years of preparation before they are ready for implementation also in Germany and Europe. For the most part it proves to be counter-productive if not all objections are listened to, not all suggestions are checked and not all persons or parties concerned are persuaded of the project in advance.

 

The farther we moved away from Europe the clearer it became that it is downright absurd to talk about recycling in many places of the world. If only because the potential material flows are insufficient or because the distances are much too large, because the responsibility for the waste has not been resolved or because the basic requirements such as electric current and the simplest technologies by means of which it would be possible to produce useful things out of the waste are missing.   With every additional mile travelled we realized that it is required to establish many basic requirements before any recycling would be possible. For example the understanding what waste actually is and under which circumstance waste is harmful to humans and the environment.  However, the worst problem in general is that “waste disposal”, almost all over the world, means that the waste is simply deposited on landfills. Out of sight, out of mind! The mindset that as much of plastic waste as possible has to be rescued from incineration and returned to recycling which is right for Germany is a utopia for most of the places in the world.  When it comes down to the question whether to deposit or to incinerate then all environmental protection organization agree: incineration is the better way – if exhaust gases are filtered and the combustion energy is used for the generation of electricity. (key word „Energy Recovery”). If it is possible to make use of the waste heat from the incineration – all the better.

 

We experienced a growing desire to help getting the waste away from open landfills, away from the wind, away from the coasts even without recycling. We began to investigate how waste is disposed of in places which do not possess any huge and expensive waste incineration plants and which will probably never be able to afford those plants.   We came across small incineration plants which are e.g. installed in cruise ships and which are used by the US military in its camps. With great interest we learned about the technology of a Dutch company which uses all kinds of waste heat in order to e.g. desalt salt water. This is done in small not particularly expensive and low- maintenance devices.  With this technology it would for example be possible to use the waste heat from the incineration of waste for the production of drinking water.  This would be an ingenious concept for locations such as the Cape Verde Islands and many other places which we got to know. We also followed reports on the recovery of oil from plastic. Research in terms of two processes has been carried out for more than two decades. Those processes are pyrolysis and gasification. Those processes could also lead to technologies which would convert previously worthless ocean plastics into a valuable commodity.   

 

We did not include those things in our reports because this was a digression from our actual project namely the promotion of the recycling of plastics. And we were not able to extent our investigations far enough in order to consider them ripe for the public. All processes involve unresolved issues, are so far uneconomic or can not be recommended without qualifications in terms of ecology. Many things are in the making but not definite yet.

 

Outlook:

 

We will continue our adventurous voyage regarding an intelligent recycling and waste management even if our journey has come to an end. The reports already issued will definitely remain valid for several years before they will have to be considered outdated.  We will gladly supplement them by new knowledge and insights which we will from now on gain at home. We will gladly direct any attention paid to this website to new initiatives which we consider remarkable.  At present e.g. the videos by Roman Lehner and his “Expedition Plastics” in the Indian Ocean. Thus, things will for the time being stay as they are. We will probably also report about our “reintegration” into our normal life, we will let our readers know what we notice in Germany and what will become of us. New reports will as usual be announced in the news column and by means of our newsletter. We are looking forward to your next visit!

 

We are also pleased to share our knowledge and insights gained during the trip with all institutions, companies and initiatives which have a reasonable use for this knowledge. What characterizes COPLARE’s in- and output is that we never loose sight of the overall picture – across borders, continents and fields of expertise.