On the deepest dive ever made by a human inside a submarine, a Texas investor found something he could have found in the gutter of nearly any street in the world: litter.
Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, made the unsettling discovery as he descended nearly 35,853ft (10,927 meters) to a point in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench that is the deepest place on Earth, his expedition said in a statement on Monday. His dive went 52ft (16 meters) lower than the previous deepest descent in the trench in 1960.
Undersea explorer Victor Vescovo pilots the submarine DSV Limiting Factor in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters
Vescovo, the Dallas-based co-founder of Insight Equity Holdings, a private equity fund, found the manmade material on the ocean floor and is trying to confirm that it is plastic, said Stephanie Fitzherbert, a spokeswoman for Vescovo’s Five Deeps Expedition.
Nearly all countries agree to stem flow of plastic waste into poor nations
Plastic waste has reached epidemic proportions with an estimated 100m tonnes of it now found in the world’s oceans, according to the United Nations.
Quick guide Plastics and our throwaway society
Why is plastic being demonised?
Since the 1950s, 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced. Plastic is seen as a versatile, indispensable product, but the environmental impact is becoming more stark. Plastic is now so pervasive that recycling systems cannot keep up and the leakage into the environment is such that by 2050 plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish. Last year scientists found plastic fibres in tap water, and plastic has been found in the stomachs of sea creatures in the deepest part of the ocean. Most plastic waste ends up in landfill sites or leaks into the natural environment, where it is causing huge damage to eco-systems on land and sea, creating near permanent contamination. According to academics in the United States, by 2015, of all the plastic waste generated since the 1950s, only 9% has been recycled, with 12% incinerated and 79% accumulated in landfill sites or the environment.
Why are the supermarkets under fire?
Producers of plastic include retailers, drinks companies and supermarkets. The Guardian revealed that supermarkets create more than half of the plastic waste in the household stream in the UK. But they refuse to reveal how much they put on to the streets and how much they pay towards recycling it. Supermarkets are under pressure to reduce their plastic packaging and campaigners argue they have the power to turn off the tap. Much of the packaging they sell to consumers is not recyclable: plastic film, black plastic trays, sleeves on drinks bottles and some coloured plastic. The Recycling Association and other experts believe supermarkets could do much more to make packaging 100% recyclable and reduce the use of plastic.
Who pays to clean up the waste?
The taxpayer, overwhelmingly. Producers and retailers pay the lowest towards recycling and dealing with their waste in Europe. In other countries, the “polluter” is forced to pay much more. In France, a sliding system of charges means those who put more non- recyclable material on the market pay more.
What can shoppers do to help?
Supermarkets are under pressure, not least from the prime minister, to create plastic-free aisles. A growing number of zero-waste shops are springing up and consumers are being encouraged to ask for products to be sold without plastic.
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In the last three weeks, the expedition has made four dives in the Mariana Trench in his submarine, DSV Limiting Factor, collecting biological and rock samples.
A technician checks the submarine DSV Limiting Factor. Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters
It was the third time humans have dived to the deepest point in the ocean, known as Challenger Deep. The Canadian film-maker James Cameron was the last to visit in 2012 in his submarine, reaching a depth of 35,787ft (10,908 meters).
Prior to Cameron’s dive, the first-ever expedition to Challenger Deep was made by the US Navy in 1960, reaching a depth of 35,800ft (10,912 meters).