Plastic reefs could solve landfill and coastal erosion

Another recycled blog from Recycling ideas makes as much sense as recycling materials. Context moves on and an old idea may come back. Some of the UK coastline suffers badly from erosion. Many landfill sites are filling up. Plastics can stay around in the environment for hundreds of years, and recycling them isn’t always an ideal solution due to contamination with other materials. Coastal waters are often polluted. All of these problems could be addressed in part by deploying carbon reefs, made up mainly of plastic refuse. Instead of making concrete blocks to prevent erosion, and bearing in mind the enormous amount of CO2 generated during concrete manufacture, the large plastic bales made at recycling plants could be used instead. If these were dumped into the sea at erosion sites, they would protect just as well as concrete, but would also serve to dispose of low grade plastic waste, locking the carbon up for a long time. The waste could be blended with other sorts of waste too, designing the bales in such a way that pollution is minimised, but density is kept high enough for the bales not to be washed away. If organic waste is heat treated and carbonised, gas can be extracted during this process that could be used for energy production. The carbonised waste would act to absorb pollutants from the seawater, making a positive contribution to seawater quality. This would make beaches more pleasant for swimmers and also create a healthy environment on which corals and other sea creatures could make a home. In short, a plastic/carbon reef would result. Over time, this could be left as a reef or further dumping could result in reclaimed land. Ironically, although this idea could help the environment significantly, it would be illegal under current environmental protection legislation, which forbids dumping plastic in the sea. (Since I wrote this, Len Rosen @lenrosen4 informs me that this is not true, see his comment for details, thanks Len). Perhaps it could be circumvented by arguing that it is not dumping, but it isn’t obvious what line of distinction would be used. Environmentalists are once again shown to be enemies of the environment they claim to want to protect. Sad, very sad.

3 responses to “Plastic reefs could solve landfill and coastal erosion

  1. It is only illegal to dump plastic into the ocean from ships. In out throw away world plastic gets washed into our rivers, lakes and oceans at an alarming rate. Unless you can stabilize plastic so that it doesn’t react to sunlight it will begin to breakdown into smaller pieces which will break free from your reefs and further pollute. Plastic reefs sounds impractical and potentially a further environmental insult.


    • Thanks for your comments. I got the info about illegality of plastic dumping in the sea from Greenpeace – it was one of their reasons for disliking the idea, so maybe next time I’ll check. Plastic didn’t used to break down in sunlight until other environmentalists insisted on biodegradable plastic, which also damages other parts of the plastic recycling chains. If we went back to normal plastics, it would be much better, and in any case, if the reef is built up reasonable fast, surface layers of plastic would only be exposed for a short time, so UV breakdown shouldn’t be unmanageable. As for overall impracticality, that depends on how competently it is implemented – I’ve only presented the basic idea, not a fully engineered solution, and on what the alternatives are, and we are currently very fast running out of landfill sites. None of the current solutions is pretty.


  2. Look at the loose bits at the base, its the baling that will get expensive. If they were not weighted down they would float and could be skewered onto rods and work producing wave energy as well, but it was always the baling that was the problem, and now they’ve sorted wave energy in a totally different way and it’s far more effective. Re-using plastics as plastics is the best option however they achieve it.


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