The Ocean Cleanup Is Starting, Aims To Cut Garbage Patch By 90% By 2040
A massive cleanup of plastic in the seas will begin in the Pacific Ocean, by way of Alameda, California. The Ocean Cleanup, an effort that’s been five years in the making, plans to launch its beta cleanup system, a 600-meter (almost 2,000-foot) long floater that can collect about five tons of ocean plastic per month.
It’s a start. The launch date is September 8, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being targeted is more than 1,000 nautical miles from the launch point and on the move.
The Ocean Cleanup plans to monitor the performance of the beta, called System 001, and have an improved fleet of 60 more units skimming the ocean for plastics in about a year a half. The ultimate goal of the project, founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat when he was 18, is to clean up 50% of the patch in five years, with a 90% reduction by 2040.
The organization will take time to learn lessons from System 001, but “we are in a big hurry,” said Lonneke Holierhoek, chief operating officer at The Ocean Cleanup. “We really see the urgency in starting the cleanup because there’s so much harm that could happen with this plastic that’s floating out there.”
You’ve probably heard the latest stunning study on ocean plastic: By 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish, according to the World Economic Forum.
The garbage patch is so large, it is easily detectable from space via satellites and covers roughly 1.6 million square kilometers and 1.8 trillion pieces of debris. The trash is collected and trapped within a circulating ocean current, called a gyre. This prevents the distribution of the garbage patch, a benefit when creating a system to collect the plastic.
The floating boom system, after undergoing testing, will be towed out 1,400 miles to the garbage patch around mid-October and begin collecting trash. The floating boom drifts along with the local currents, creating a U-shaped formation. As the boom floats, it collects trash in the U shaped system, which has 10 feet of netting below it to collect smaller fragments of plastic. Once the boom is full, a vessel will meet the boom to collect the plastic and transport it to land for sorting and recycling.
The idea is that the 10 feet of netting is not deep enough that fish can’t swim below it, with the hope that the boom will collect trash and not fish. However, this is something that remains to be seen in the open ocean.
While the organization has ambitious plans and the technology still remains unproven in the open ocean, they are the closest to a solution to cleaning up the garbage patch we have. No other company has a deployable system able to clean up the garbage patch on this scale.
The company is backed by some heavy hitters in the tech industry, including Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce.com
Continued testing and deployment of additional boom systems will help further refine the systems to be more efficient and less disruptive to ocean ecosystems.
Trevor Nace is a PhD geologist, founder of Science Trends, Forbes contributor, and explorer. Follow his journey @trevornace.