We have been talking about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for several years. Two years ago, we reported on the activities of a company called Ocean Cleanup, founded five years ago by an 18-year-old Dutch entrepreneur named Boyan Slat. Two years ago, the company was conducting comprehensive surveys of the patch, which covers an area twice the size of Texas and contains some 80,000 tons of plastic debris.
Ocean Cleanup has now tested a massive contraption – with the unexciting name of System 001 – that is designed to act as an artificial coastline that will corral plastic into one easy-to-sweep area by contouring itself into a U shape driven by ocean currents and winds. A 10-foot long net will drape under the structure and capture the debris to be picked up by a garbage-truck-like ship.
In its first year of operation, Ocean Cleanup hopes to collect 50 tons of plastic. Ultimately, the company aims to roll out a fleet of 60 plastic catchers and reduce the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 50% over five years.
According to Boyan Slat, the three challenges are whether the system will behave in the ocean environment as expected and form the U shape it needs to. Also, will the system not only collect plastic, but retain it as well? And, last but not least, will the system endure the destructive environment of the ocean?
Ocean Cleanup is both crowdfunded and supported by several prominent millionaires. While some environmentalists are skeptical about the technology and some critics even think it could be harmful to marine life, we should all hope that the project is successful at cleaning up the garbage patch.
Photo, posted February 23, 2015, courtesy of the Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken via Flickr.