A whale washed up on the beach in Washington state with a stomach full of trash. Treehugger mentions that along with the usual assortment of algae and swallowable sea creatures there was “20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball” in its gut.
I’ve speculated in the past on the utility of filling the ocean full of garbage-eating whales to clear up trash clogged gyres but the key difference is that those whales would be designed by us to process such junk. No such luck for the dead juvenile gray whale.
Seeing as that we can’t seem to help bilging out awful crap directly into the mouths of majestic but sorta dumb animals, isn’t it about time we put an actively protective layer between us and the natural world? We’ve gotten pretty good at deploying low-cost semi-autonomous drones for distributing shrapnel and explosives. Couldn’t we work a bit at drones to poach and digest all the floating pairs of sweatpants clogging up the ocean?
Let’s call the robot whale gleaners version 1.0. What’d come next would be mats of biomechanical organisms, reconfigurable into various digestive organs, glomming onto whatever useful debris they encounter to create floating islands humming with thought. It’d be a fat, loose bubble with diving tentacles to strain and capture, slurping up the plastic and carefully maintaining a website via satellite up-link that lists the tonnage cleaned up.
And why stop there? Land-based envirobots with specially tuned digesters could gulp toxic soils and crap out fertile crop land. Picture ‘em: big ugly sandworm-looking things, pushing themselves face-first into the dirt at a glacial pace, sucking out the heavy metals and converting them into new skin or internal components while the biomass is fired, cleansed and recombined into healthy soil with nitrogen fertilizer sucked from the air. Today’s bored youth could grow up to find themselves working as mahouts of the wasteland, strolling in hazmat suits tending to their plodding mechanimal charges as they suck the depleted uranium from the topsoil, rehabbing the land.
Again, beats working retail.