Co-Founder and CTO, Green Framework
The Green Paradox
Standing on a beach looking out at the ocean, it’s difficult to gauge the vastness of the area that the oceans cover on our world. That feeling of immensity is only multiplied if you take to the water and sail over the horizon, where land is not visible and the rolling swells and wind dictate every facet of life.
It is easy in such overwhelming scale to believe that tossing the remnants of your cold coffee over the side of your ship makes no difference, with such a volume of dilution.
Chances are, your cold cup of joe doesn’t make any difference. So, what about the leftovers from your lunch? That apple core, or the stale crust from your sandwich?
Well, they’re all food, and likely to break down. Shouldn’t make much difference. Or so it would seem.
Ah, but the cork from the Prosecco just went over the side, all on its own. But that’s alright, too. I think! It was just cork.
We are still the only vessel out here on this bright sunny day. Just one vessel with 5,000 of our fellow cruise ship passengers and crew. That’s a lot of stale crusts from a lot of lunches, but that’s just more of the same. No problem, right?
It’s a great day to be at sea, Just one other tiny speck of a ship on the horizon now. Does that make it 10,000 lunches? Then dinners and breakfasts, too. Sound like it can build up quickly. But even in our little corner, the ocean is vast.
One of the biggest changes in the shipping world to happen since the advent of the diesel engine is the International Maritime Organization’s 2020 regulation to cut back on the amount of sulfur in the exhaust from ships. Big ships. Ships that use between 20 and 200 tons of fuel per day, creating spiderwebs of tracks all over the blue marble as they bring us the grain for bread and the Prosecco for lunches everywhere.
Sulfur is the main cause of acid rain, which can turn verdant, lush forest into baron wasteland in just a decade, as was the case in the 1980s in Scandinavia, when sulfur from factories in Britain mixed with the wet southwesterly winds and fell as sulfuric acid rain, destroying miles of woodland.
Then there’s the 60,000 humans lost to chronic respiratory conditions each year, due directly to contributors like ship exhaust.
It would seem to be a great idea to remove the sulfur from the exhaust of this ship before it ruins our sunny day. This is achieved by use of an exhaust scrubber, which sprays water and caustic solution into the gas stream to remove the sulfuric compounds as a wash.
Excellent! Well, not so much. Once the sulfur is captured, it must then be disposed of. This is done by either separating the water (and reusing it to catch more sulfur) or simply flushing the whole lot – water, caustic and sulfur – into the ocean, as is done with “open loop” scrubbers.
So, we stop putting the pollutant into the air, but put it instead into the sea. That’s exactly what 63 percent of all scrubbers on ships currently do.
There are about 90,000 big, big ships on our oceans, ranging from cruise ships to military and cargo vessels. Almost all use heavy fuel oil and discharge sulfur. But fortunately, the ocean is large enough to absorb the sulfur from that many ships. Isn’t it?
The truth is, ocean acidification is happening at an alarming rate, as is the rate of plastic turning up in the human food from fish eating the discarded packets and water bottles we can’t live without.
It’s no longer a case that we have such a vast ocean capable of diluting our sins to such a minute size that we can brush it away as something that can never be over-exploited or over-polluted. The question should be this: Although it’s legal to dispose of our industrial or domestic waste in the sea, should we?
We really need to think about that cold coffee before we throw it overboard.