Project making waves for a cleaner future - WECT, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Project making waves for a cleaner future

Researchers work to turn plastic into oil. (Source: Molly Oak) Researchers work to turn plastic into oil. (Source: Molly Oak)

People with the Plastic Ocean Project work to clean up the world’s oceans.

Researchers collect plastic from the ocean and turn it into oil. The goal is to create a more sustainable future.

Bonnie Monteleone, the founder of the project, explained the idea came from her graduate project.

“Through that experience, I realized that we have got to figure out a way to really understand what this plastic is doing to our environment and to ourselves,” Monteleone stated.

She explained plastic is not an easy thing for nature to decompose.

“The real problem with plastic, because it’s man-made, nature does not know how to break it down,” Monteleone said.

She explained up to 80 percent of marine debris is plastic.

"About every piece of plastic you've ever used is still on the planet somewhere, think about that,” Monteleone urged. “And with 80 percent of the plastic that's ending up in the ocean coming from runoff, so rivers lead to rivers that lead to the oceans, it's a reason for us to try to figure out a way to capture it in order to give it the value so that we turn it into something that we can use."

The project stationed at UNCW uses a machine that ingests the plastic, and 80 percent of plastics put through the machine are turned into oil.

“The really beautiful thing about the work that we are doing is that we are taking the non-recyclable plastics, we’re talking about the stuff that’s destined to go to the landfill, and we’re taking that and turning it into fuel,” Monteleone said.

She explained students are helping too. They are working to find the “greenest possible fuel.”

Monteleone said one day she hopes people will put all of their plastics in one recycle bin, allowing some to be recycled and the others to be converted into oil.

“Plastic has become the apex predator of the sea, because it kills all marine life,” Monteleone explained. “So if we could figure out a way to give plastics value, then we know people are going to be much more careful about where it ends up.”

She said the global effort needs volunteers to continue to make a difference.

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