This is how far plastic floats in the sea

Where does plastic that is discarded in the sea go? A capsule equipped with GPS provides answers.
Photo Eelco Leemans

The capsule, made of plastic, was thrown overboard some 25 kilometres west off the coast of Texel. The buoy is currently still floating around in the North Sea, and its exact location can be tracked online. And, that is precisely the point, the capsule plays a key role in the Plastic in a Bottle project.

Plastic in a Bottle is a communicative project aiming to engage the public in the plastic issue in a playful way’, plastic researcher Wouter Jan Strietman explains. Launching the Texel buoy is an initiative of the Arctic Council and WUR’s Arctic Marine Litter Project. The floating device draws attention to the global plastic waste problem in the seas and shows where such waste goes.

It is, in fact, a contemporary message in a bottle. The buoy contains equipment that emits a GPS signal once a day. A small solar panel provides the required energy. It also contains instructions for the finders, should the capsule get stranded somewhere. This could happen soon, but could also take a very long time.

7000 kilometres

A capsule launched off the Icelandic coast in September 2019 travelled 7000 kilometres before it stranded 207 days later (in April last year) on the coast of Northern Scotland.  The  PAME website (an Arctic Council workgroup) shows the trajectory the buoy travelled via Greenland and the Atlantic Ocean.

We don’t know exactly where it will go; that’s what makes it so exciting and fun

Wouter Jan Strietman, Arctic Marine Litter Project

The project’s main focus is to demonstrate how far plastic can travel in the sea before it reaches the coast. However, how the Texel buoy will travel remains to be seen. Strietman: ‘The route depends on the winds and current. So, we don’t know exactly where it will go; that’s what makes it so exciting and fun. There was an Eastern wind over these past few days, which kept the capsule west-bound. Meanwhile, however, it has diverted to the North.’

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