Recycling effort on high seas has down-to-earth uses


Peter McGraw's machine could help save the oceans.

The mechanical engineer from Arnold has invented a processor that will shrink plastics to one-thirtieth their original size, allowing them to be stored as 20-inch circular discs aboard Navy ships at sea until they return to port.

The Navy, meanwhile, is working with Seaward International, a private company, to turn the discs, called bricks, into marine pilings to be used in shoreside construction.

"I don't see [bricks] as the end-all solution, I see recycling," said Mr. McGraw, who works for the Naval Surface Warfare Center. "But for the Navy, getting [the plastic] to shore is the main priority."

After Congress banned ocean dumping of plastics from U.S. ships, Mr. McGraw and fellow engineers at the surface warfare center went to work on finding ways to store all of the plastic products used by sailors, who spend up to two months at sea, aboard ship.

A crew of 6,200 sailors aboard an aircraft carrier could fill an entire trash bin with discarded plastics in one day, Mr. McGraw said.

"Before, [sailors] were allowed to dump a certain amount of trash," he said. "Now it's going down to zero." So Mr. McGraw developed the machine that shreds the plastic, then melts and compresses 10 to 15 pounds of it into disks about 2 inches thick. The bricks can be stored in four six-foot stacks and keep the oceans free of plastic, he said.

The USS George Washington is the first ship to be outfitted with the processor, he said. By 1998, all Navy ships will be outfitted with the machinery.

One of the discs made from the machine, and pictures of the ma

chine, will be on display at the National Museum of Natural History this weekend as part of the Smithsonian's Ocean Planet exhibit.

The exhibit opens Saturday, and after January will travel to 11 other cities, including Baltimore.

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