Ninety-two percent of the Oceans’ plastic pollution, by one estimate, is due to microplastics: pieces of plastic under five millimetres in size, which contaminate deep-sea sediments and infiltrate sealife, with unknown consequences on the health of humans eating that fish. The Atlantic Ocean alone is thought to harbour as much as 21 million tonnes of microplastics.
A surprisingly major source of these microplastics? Paint. Industrial structures in the ocean – such as oil rigs, wind turbines, and bridges – are covered with paint protecting them from corrosion. Preventing rusting is necessary, but paint lasts a maximum of 25 years. When a touchup is due, old paint and rust are typically removed using abrasive blasting and high-pressure water jets. Much of the debris falls into the water below, and as many of the constituents that make up paint are plastic, that means microplastics tumble into the ocean too. This has resulted in paint being the second largest source of microplastics in the ocean, according to the Norwegian Environment Agency.
Pinovo, a Norwegian company, wants to clean it up. It has designed a cleaner way of maintaining the paint which involves, to put it simply, sticking a vacuum cleaner at the end of the blasting tube. This can then catch all the old paint and blasting materials as they come off before they can drop into the ocean. Capturing the grit used to blast the surfaces means it can also be reused, and the old paint can be safely disposed of. “We can stop paint microplastic emissions,” Declan Mc Adams, the chairman of Pinovo, explains. “You go from 100 per cent paint microplastic emissions to zero.”
Pinovo aims to license this technology, and current users already include Equinor, EDF and the UK and Norwegian navies. A big part of Pinovo’s mission is also raising awareness about paint as a major source of microplastics, and lobbying regulatory bodies like the EU to enforce stricter regulations on industry to curb these microplastic emissions. Mc Adams thinks that over 90 per cent of companies still rely on these traditional, dirty methods of paint removal. “You've got to force the people who own the assets – their oil rigs, ships, nuclear power stations – to maintain them cleanly,” he says.
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