Monday, April 9, 2012

"These buoys and bottles are new... and suspicious"

NBC News on Friday had an interesting story related to the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster that occurred over a year ago.

It seems that significant pieces of debris that were washed out to sea during the tsunami have made their way across the Pacific Ocean. The largest and most notable — and the most hazardous — has been the "ghost ship" that had been drifting toward the North American coastline. The US Coast Guard decided to torpedo it and let it sink in waters 6000 feet (1800 meters) deep.

The ghost ship is fascinating enough (and it's too bad they couldn't sink it in a more favorable location so that it could become an artificial reef and perhaps a diving site), but what got me interested enough to post this was their discussion of the everyday items from Japan that they've noticed coming ashore.

One biologist in Sitka who routinely helps with cleaning up the beaches around Sitka, in the Alaska Panhandle, says they've noticed more and more debris. Quoting NBC's Miguel Almaguer, "These buoys and bottles are new... and suspicious."

Not to make light of their obvious plight, but here's an example of the suspicious stuff from Japan:

Yup. That's a Korean bottle of Minute Maid Fresh juice (looks to be apple). To be fair, they said that Japanese debris washes up on their shore all the time (something about the geography makes it prone to collecting floating garbage) and they would need to verify if this is from last year's tsunami. Hint to NBC News: The Korean bottle probably isn't, but go ahead with the geiger counter anyway.

Sure, it's not entirely implausible that the Korean bottle came from northern Japan. A realistic scenario would be that someone from Japan visited Korea and brought this bottle back on the plane as a beverage or even a souvenir, but my guess is that it actually floated over from Korea.

I've done beach cleanup along northern Oahu long before the tsunami, and it's easy to see Japanese, Korean, and even Chinese goods washed upon the shore and partly buried in the sand. Lest you think it's only East Asians dumping things in the ocean, we see lots of stuff from the US (much of it local, but some of it from the Mainland).

And except for the local stuff, I'm not so sure that these are examples of people carelessly dumping things into the ocean. I remember The Lost Nomad used to put up atrocious pictures of garbage dumped along rivers or reservoirs where he'd fish.

I had assumed that 100% of that had been left by some careless person, like the people who toss their cigarette butts into subway vents, but after experiencing some minor flooding due to torrential rains that are frequent during Korea's changma (rainy season), I've concluded that a large portion, perhaps even the vast majority, comes from garbage and other debris that had been secured being blown away or washed away by heavy rain.

Of course, that doesn't make it any healthier to wildlife or the environment, but at least it restores some of my faith in humanity. That is, until I see a smoker toss a cigarette butt into a subway vent again.



  1. Research the amount of garbage koreans dump into the ocean. This is the way most of the trash in korea is disposed of. Articles in korean papers lists the amounts. Its not some individuals, its the trash companies dumping trash at sea.

    1. Got a link to your claim that "most" of it is dumped in the ocean? I've seen a number of sites talking about the problem in general, but no specifics about portion, trends,etc. I know that an unhealthy amount of untreated sewage is dumped, I've read upwards of over 95%, but that's different from trash.

      I know that trash is also disposed of at sea, and what we see at Sitka could easily be from that (and I think I was remiss in my language if it seemed I was suggesting that interior Korean garbage along lakes and rivers and exterior garbage found in places like Oahu or Alaska are from the same source).

      Korea has supposedly been making stride toward compliance with the London Protocol since joining in 2006, and we'll have to see where we're at by the end of this year.

      Korea has gone a long way toward reducing domestic trash since the early 1990s, when it was clear that draconian measures like charging a disincentive fee for disposal of non-recyclables was needed as the huge landfill at Nanjido was full.

      I don't see why Korea couldn't work on something like power-generating incinerators, which would injure two birds with one stone (not kill since they're imperfect solutions).

      Anyway, dumping at see is not cool. We should shoot it out into space. Maybe North Korea could use its satellite launchers for that purpose and earn some hard currency in the process.

  2. (Mar. 02, 2008) South Korea dumped 2.02 million cubic meters of sewage from livestock farms, 1.71 million cubic meters of leftover food, and 1.61 million cubic meters of urban sewage into the ocean in 2007. Although South Korea ratified the 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter in 1993, Korea has not made significant efforts to reduce dumping into the ocean. Rather, Korea's dumping of wastes into the ocean has increased. Moreover, citizen groups have pointed out that more has been dumped illegally than is shown in the government statistics. In 2007, the Marine and Fisheries Ministry and the Environment Ministry came up with a plan to gradually reduce the dumping of wastes into the ocean and to ban such dumping by 2012. After the media paid attention to the fact that two of the dumping sites crossed the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) line between Korea and Japan, the Marine and Fisheries Ministry announced its plan to amend the Marine Environment Management Act Enforcement Order by June 2008 and to re-designate the dumping sites so that they will not infringe on Japan's EEZ. (Un-hoe Pak, Haikibutsu toki [Dumping wastes], CHOSUNILBO, Feb. 12, 2008; Ui-je Yi, Kankoku no gomi kaiyo toki no jittai [Korea's waste dumping into the ocean], CHOSUNILBO, Feb. 11, 2008; Our Oceans Are Not Giant Trash Cans, CHOSUNILBO, Feb. 12, 2008, available at

  3. Another link
    Korea Explores Sludge & Odor Control Alternatives

    This concerns sludge but still mass amount disposed at sea.

    By Hyunyoul Kim

    An ACE Korea study looks at use of an electric-osmosis dehydrator to decrease sludge from wastewater and save on costs, too.

    Sewage and wastewater treatment is essential to maintain clean aquatic environments, such as rivers and oceans. As for sludge produced by facilities that treat sewage and wastewater, many advanced countries have been reutilizing the sludge as an energy resource and have abandoned traditional treatment methods such as reclamation and ocean disposal. Until 2008, Korea relied on ocean dumping for disposal of over 70% of total sludge produced.

  4. Article and link cited from Chosun Ilbo

    Our Oceans Are Not Giant Trash Cans
    The London Dumping Convention, concluded in 1972, marks a promise between countries to refrain from disposing of trash or sewage in the ocean. On the website of the convention, it says that South Korea and Japan are responsible for most of the industrial waste dumped into the ocean during the 1990s and that South Korea, Japan and the Philippines are the only countries in the world that discard sewage into the sea.

    Since 1988, the Korean government has designated areas in the waters off the coast of Gunsan, Ulsan and Pohang as maritime dumping zones. Since the three zones were legally authorized, the amount of waste has grown from 550,000 cubic meters in 1988 to 7.45 million cubic meters last year, marking a 13.5-fold increase. It makes one wonder whether Korea’s membership in the London Dumping Convention (1993) and the launch of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (1996) were steps that were taken to pave the way for more trash to be dumped into the ocean.

    On top of that, it has been discovered that portions of the dumping zone in waters off the coast of Ulsan were inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. To put it bluntly, Korea had been dumping its waste in Japanese waters. The Japanese government verified this fact three years ago and lodged a protest. But the Korean government has yet to come up with a solution. This is simply embarrassing.

    Most of the waste dumped into the ocean last year was sewage from livestock farms (2.02 million cubic meters), leftover food (1.71 million cubic meters) and urban sewage (1.61 million cubic meters). Half of the soggy, leftover food waste that Korean households separate from dry trash has ended up in the sea. Fish cannot survive if the water Biochemical Oxygen Demand level exceeds five. Sewage from livestock farms that has been dumped into the ocean has contamination levels of between 4,000 to 5,000.

    It's no wonder the ocean is suffering considering how much waste is being dumped into it. The Korea Ocean Research & Development Institute surveyed the quality of the water in the maritime dumping zone near Ulsan and found that about 20 percent could not even meet the lowest grade. Last year, the maritime ministry banned fishermen from catching red king crab near the dumping zone off the coast of Pohang. The government threw away waste there and then banned fishermen from harvesting the ocean there.

    The reason waste is dumped into the ocean is because doing so involves no handling cost other than transporting it. Burying sewage in the ground costs W37,000 per cubic meter and incinerating it costs W44,000 (US$1=W945). It costs only W14,000 to dump it in the ocean. These are the only factors that are motivating the dumping of waste into the ocean. But such thinking fails to address the reality that dumping waste into the sea pollutes it, which in turn ends up hurting all of us since we consume the fish that live there.


    By Jaeyeon Woo

    Will South Korea have a waste crisis? Maybe so, unless the government makes progress in talks with the country’s waste haulers soon.

    It’s a dispute that’s a classic instance when Dynamic Korea turns out to be Slow-Moving-Not-Really-Ready-to-Change Korea. This time, there are smelly side effects.

    The Wall Street Journal
    Food waste outside a Seoul restaurant — heading for sea, or land?

    Some parts of the country are suffering from the overpowering stench of uncollected wastes as the nation’s sea-dumping companies – 19 in total – have been on strike since August 29. They’ve protesting a decision announced by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs earlier in August that a ban on dumping wastes in the sea will finally go into full effect next year.

    The ministry said South Korea will stop dumping sewage sludge and livestock excretions next year and food waste water in 2013. With the bans, South Korea will at last be in compliance with the 1996 Protocol to the London Convention to prevent maritime pollution, the so-called “London Protocol” that South Korea joined in 2006.

    Last year, the country dumped 4.5 million tons of garbage waters into the ocean. It peaked in 2005 with almost 10 million tons.

    “The law is aimed at dealing with various problems ranging from maritime pollution by the increasing ocean dumping to the disgrace of being the only one to dump sewage sludge into the sea among the nations that joined the London protocol,” said the ministry in a statement.

    However, waste haulers are arguing that it is too early to enact the law because the country doesn’t have enough land-based waste processing facilities.

    “We should adopt the law when the necessary infrastructure is in place. Otherwise it will only encourage illegal dumping, which will do more harm to the maritime environment,” said Lee Hui-do, an official at the Association of Sea-dumping Firms.

    “We understand that we should eventually stop doing this, but not now,” he said.

    But the government says the country is ready.

    “There is no way we further delay the policy. We have been hugely investing in the garbage processing facilities since 2006. It might not be 100% now but we will keep working,” said Yoon Jong-ho, chief of Marine Conservation Division at the ministry.

    Due to the strike, approximately 275,000 tons of waste that is usually disposed of at sea is piling up. Some of it isn’t being picked up at all. Some of it is stuck at waste-processing facilities and transfer points.


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