Cleaning Up Our Oceans
OVER 5 TRILLION PIECES OF PLASTIC CURRENTLY LITTER THE OCEAN
Trash accumulates in 5 ocean garbage patches, the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.
Ocean garbage patches are vast and dispersed
Ocean currents concentrate plastic in five areas in the world: the subtropical gyres, also known as the world’s “ocean garbage patches”. Once in these patches, the plastic will not go away by itself. The challenge of cleaning up the gyres is the plastic pollution spreads across millions of square kilometers and travels in all directions. Covering this area using vessels and nets would take thousands of years and cost billions of dollars to complete. How can we use these ocean currents to our advantage?
A 22-year-old Dutch man has an ambitious plan to try to clean plastic from the ocean by installing long booms in the water, near the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, to collect trash swirling in the currents.
Boyan Slat founded the nonprofit The Ocean Cleanup in 2013, and he’s managed to raise millions of dollars for the project, which is on track to get underway next year.
On inspiration for the project
“When I was 16 years old, I was diving in Greece and I realized I came across more plastic bags than fish, and thought, ‘Yeah, I will clean this up.’ And, that for me started this mission to invent a structure that could actually clean this up, and now we recently announced we can indeed do so and in just five years’ time.”
On how the collection systems would work
“At first it was, the world had a perception that it was sort of a solid mass of plastic, and in the past people proposed to clean this up with boats and nets, but the thing indeed is that it’s very much dispersed. The plastic, it’s not a solid mass, so doing so would cost many, many thousands of years and tens of billions of dollars to complete. So what I proposed was to, instead of going after the plastic, we let the plastic come to us. And over the past four years, our team has been developing a technology that uses very long floating screens, which are in a u-shape, and what we do is we, attached to this u-shaped boom, we have a suspended anchor, which is at a depth of about 1,500 to 2,000 feet. And what’s the case is that the deeper you go in the ocean, the slower the current gets … and by suspending this anchor in this deeper water layer, we are able to slow down the system enough so that the plastic moves faster than the system, hits these barriers and then gets concentrated.
“So, in a way we let the natural ocean currents do the hard work for us, and now we’ve been able to show that with a fleet of 50 or such systems, we should be able to clean up about half of this Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just the next five years.
“About once a month, a vessel visits each of these clean-up systems, almost like a garbage truck of the ocean, would bring the plastic back to shore where it would then be processed and recycled into new products that we would then sell, at a premium, of course, because we could sell it as being made out of ocean plastic. So there’s this branding value to this material.”
Click the link to read more about Boyan Slat
Click the link to read more about The Ocean Cleanup