Project To Clean Worlds Ocean Of Plastic Officially Launches
Over 5 Trillion Pieces Of Plastic Currently Litter The Ocean. Project To Clean Worlds Ocean Of Plastic Officially Launches
The Ocean Cleanup develops advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. A full-scale deployment of our systems is estimated to clean up 50 % of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years.
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
Algorithms help specify the optimal deployment locations, after which the systems roam the gyres autonomously. Real-time telemetry will allow us to monitor the condition, performance and trajectory of each system.
Our systems fully rely on the natural ocean currents and do not require an external energy source to catch and concentrate the plastic. All electronics used, such as lights and AIS, will be powered by solar energy.
By gradually adding systems to the gyre, we mitigate the need for full financing upfront. This gradual scale-up also allows us to learn from the field and continuously improve the technology along the way.
Our models indicate that a full-scale system roll-out could clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years.
Research shows the majority of plastic by mass is currently in the larger debris. By removing the plastic while most of it is still large, we prevent it from breaking down into dangerous microplastics.
Combining the cleanup with source reduction on land paves the road towards a plastic free ocean by 2050.
FROM CONCEPT TO REALITY
Recent milestones on the path to the cleanup.
By systematically eliminating technical risks through rapid iterations, we aim to begin the cleanup in 2018, and reach full-scale deployment in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 2020.
ROAD TO THE CLEANUP
2018: START PACIFIC CLEANUP
THE FUTURE: 2020 GLOBAL
Follow the journey as we finalize engineering, procurement and testing system components in the months leading up to the deployment.
• On September 8Th, The Ocean Cleanup Launched The First Of Many Massive Plastic-Cleaning Arrays Into The Pacific Ocean.
• There’s A Lot Of Plastic In The World’s Oceans, With Much Of It Congregating In Places Like The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
• Dutch Innovator Boyan Slat Came Up With The Idea For These Systems, Which He Hopes Can Scoop Plastic Out Of Water.
• But There Are Big Questions, Including Whether The Systems Will Survive The Ocean’s Forces, Harm Marine Life, And Collect Plastic.
• This Is The First Time The Systems Are Really Being Put To The Test – If They Work, They Could Be Part Of A Solution To A Massive Problem.
It was 11 p.m. on Boyan Slat’s birthday when he realized he had a problem.
“We were having this barbecue [at the office],” he told Business Insider. Because of that, most of Slat’s team was still available when the call came in. There was an urgent structural problem with the giant plastic-cleaning device that the team had been working on.
Slat, who turned 24 on July 27th, is the creator of the Ocean Cleanup, an organization attempting to remove plastic from some of the most trash-filled areas of the ocean, starting with a region so full of debris that it’s referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Slat and his team of scientists and engineers have designed – and redesigned – massive floating cleaning arrays that will theoretically help trap plastic debris floating near the surface.
With the launch of the first 2,000-foot array scheduled for September 8th, the Ocean Cleanup’s test was just over a month away.
But the call that came in on the night of July 27th meant that a serious issue had to be quickly solved.
The plastic-cleaning system is made of sections of large durable floating plastic pipe, with a 10-foot barrier underneath it to trap debris.
To stop that system from rolling, especially when facing intense seas like those in the Pacific, steel stabilizers had been added to the design. While working on assembly, the team realized these stabilizers were crushing the rubber components that helped hold everything together.
Over the next five days, the team adjusted the design at the shipyard in Alameda, California, where the
cleanup array was being built.
The actual assembly wasn’t finished until a week before the launch.
Then, under the bright sun on September 8th, a supply ship and offshore tug called the Maersk Launcher towed the cleanup system out under the Golden Gate Bridge towards the Pacific.
A First Test With Serious Implications
Slat’s system will soon face its first true test: seeing whether it can maintain structure and stability while still moving in the open sea.
But removing ocean plastic is a complex enough problem that scientists question whether or not it’s possible to do efficiently or safely at all.
The stakes are high – there’s a mind-boggling amount of plastic in the world’s oceans. So far, no one knows if the Ocean Cleanup array will effectively capture much plastic, and if something goes wrong, the floating array could cause harm. Some scientists fear that as a large, floating structure, it will attract marine life that could then ingest plastic or be caught up in the mess. Some fear it could also be broken up by a storm and contribute to the problem.
Perhaps The Biggest Question
If it does work, can it collect the massive amounts of plastic necessary to make a dent in the ocean plastic problem
On September 8th, Slat’s organization began the journey out to sea with its first official 2,000-foot-long plastic cleaning array, System 001, named “Wilson” after Tom Hanks’ volleyball friend in the movie “Castaway.”
The Maersk Launcher’s first stop for the system is a testing site about 240 miles offshore. The Ocean Cleanup crew traveling with the array plans to spend two weeks there.
In order to collect plastic, the long tube system will be pulled into a U-shape that will theoretically be able to move faster than drifting plastic, catching large quantities inside the U.
At the testing area, the team will pull the system into the U-shape for the first time to see if it can maintain structural integrity, watch how it moves, and see if it can turn in case the ocean spins it a different direction. If all goes well, the system – which will face storms and waves that can regularly top 40 feet – will be dragged another 1,200 nautical miles to the garbage patch.
Once at the patch, Slat and colleagues hope the system can collect up to 50 metric tons of plastic in its first year – a little more than three garbage trucks-full.
Over the past several years, the Cleanup group has redesigned the contraption several times. In the current system, a tapered wall that reaches 10 feet down at the middle is supposed to help corral plastic until a boat can pick it up every six weeks to a couple months.
“I’m confident that we’ve been able to eliminate all the risks that we can eliminate before actually launching the system,” Slat said.
A Mind-Boggling Problem
We don’t have a perfect picture of how much plastic is in the ocean, or how much pours into it every year. We do know it’s a stunning quantity.
A lot of garbage washes back to shore, as beachgoers and viewers of certain viral videos noticed earlier this summer, but a good amount of plastic eventually drifts into one of five massive ocean regions called gyres. Enough plastic converges in these regions that many refer to them as “garbage patches.”
The area targeted by The Ocean Cleanup is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s the best-known of these regions and is often referred to as the largest gyre, though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there’s no reliable measurement of the size of any of these patches.
More than 320 million metric tons of plastic are produced every year. “Our current estimates are that at least 8 million metric tons of plastic get into the ocean every year, which is the equivalent of one city garbage truck of plastic getting dumped into the ocean every minute,” said Emily Woglom, the vice president for conservation policy and programs at the Ocean Conservancy. That’s a low estimate, because it counts only waste from shore and not items like fishing nets discarded at sea.
The Ocean Cleanup researchers have studied the garbage patch and estimated there are at least 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the region, weighing 79,000 metric tons. According to the group’s research, 1.7 trillion pieces are tiny microplastics, but more than 90% of the overall plastic mass comes from larger pieces of plastic – frequently from lost fishing nets – that has yet to break down into smaller pieces.
All this plastic affects at least 800 marine species, according to Woglom. It gets into the food chain, strangles animals like turtles and seals, is eaten by whales and albatrosses that starve with stomachs full of indigestible trash, and breaks down into tiny pieces that are devoured by fish. Ocean fish that humans eat have plastic in them.
Yet there’s still debate about where exactly the plastic is. Some scientists believe most of it is already too broken down and distributed throughout the ocean for it to be worth skimming what’s accessible at the surface, as the Ocean Cleanup is attempting.
Eben Schwartz, marine debris program manager for the California Coastal Commission, told National Geographic that only about 3% of what enters the oceans is eventually found on the surface of the gyres.
Slat points out that the Ocean Cleanup’s research expedition found most plastic in the gyres to be close to the surface. Some plastics are more likely to sink from the start, but that’s not what the cleanup arrays are focused on.
“Once it’s out there, it doesn’t go away by itself,” Slat said. “It has to be cleaned up and it gets more harmful over time,” since it does continue to break down into smaller plastics.
Eventually, the expedition may reveal more about where plastic does settle in the water, said Laurent Lebreton, lead oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup. In an upcoming mission, the team plans to sample water down to the seabed, both to figure out where in the water column plastic is most common and where it comes from.
Some Scientists Are Skeptical
While Slat’s plan is widely considered inspiring – check out the comments on any story about the project – a number of scientists have raised questions about the initiative.
Some of these questions are the same ones posed by Slat and his colleagues, including whether the system can collect plastic and survive the forces of the Pacific. As a large plastic structure itself, it could get broken up and become a lot more ocean plastic debris, oceanographer Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association told Wired. Plus, it could gradually shed more plastic particles into the ocean over time, she said.
A survey of 15 experts in ocean plastic pollution found that many were concerned the system would attract and kill marine life. Even though the Cleanup has tweaked its designs to help deal with these problems – it’s just a solid wall corralling plastic now, not any sort of netting that could entangle animals – animals will still be drawn to a floating mass and may end up entangled in the debris.
The Ocean Cleanup has conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment, responded to concerns, and made changes to the system. The group has also said it’s willing to redesign the system as needed.
“As with any novel technology, success is not guaranteed, but this is exactly why we test, test, and test again. Until the final risks and uncertainties have been mitigated, System 001 is still labeled a ‘beta system,'” a representative for the group told Business Insider.
“I do think that as the Cleanup goes forward we need to make sure that there’s close monitoring and that the Cleanup folks are transparent about the effectiveness as well as any unintended impacts on marine species or navigation,” said Woglom of the Ocean Conservancy. “I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how it plays out.”
Even if the Ocean Cleanup system works and can stand the forces of the sea, scaling it up to the point that it can remove a significant proportion of plastic will be a massive challenge.
The Cleanup estimates that a full deployment of 60 systems, some larger than the first one, could remove 50% of plastic currently in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years. That depends on everything working perfectly and on continuous funding – two things that are far from guaranteed. And of course, more plastic continues to flow into the water as time goes on.
Designing and building the first system cost about $23 million, though Slat estimates future systems could be built for under $6 million. The Ocean Cleanup plans to make and sell products out of the collected ocean plastic in order to raise money, and the group hopes companies and charities fund and create their own future cleanup arrays.
So far, the project’s funding has almost exclusively come from individuals, including big donors like Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and entrepreneur Peter Thiel.
“If we have all the money in the world, that’s fantastic, let’s do it, but I’m encouraged that that is not the only solution being pursued,” said Woglom.
Other existing efforts focus more on stopping plastic from flowing into the ocean altogether. The Ocean Conservancy organizes an annual volunteer effort to pick up trash from beaches (the next one is September 15th). In 2017, volunteers collected 9,000 tons of trash. It would take a lot of cleanup arrays to gather a similar quantity.
Slat knows that cleaning up the garbage patch is not the only solution to our plastic problem. He also thinks that stopping plastic from getting to the gyres in the first place will require big technological leaps forward.
Right now, Slat believes, we have a chance to take a shot at plastic in the garbage patch itself – something that no one else is trying.
“If we do fail, I think there would be a risk that [a gyre cleanup] will not happen for a very long time,” he said.
“Everybody wants there to be one simple thing we can do, and then everybody fights about whether or not their thing is the thing,” said Woglom. “And the truth is, that just like climate and just like any global environmental challenge, we’re going to have to work across a range of strategies.”
We are now looking to bridge the funding from System 001 to scale-up. With your help we can continue our research, improve our system and accelerate the largest cleanup in history.
If you are interested in funding your own cleanup system or making a large contribution, please contact us through email@example.com.
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The Ocean Cleanup Device Has Returned From The Pacific Garbage Patch With Its First Load Of Plastic
Now the plan is to recycle that plastic into products you can buy to help fund the effort.
After months of research, failures, and re-configurations, and weeks spent at sea traveling to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and back, The Ocean Cleanup’s device—a 2,000-foot long floating tube that skims the surface of the water to catch plastic trash—has returned to shore. And with it, it brought back 60 bags, sized one cubic meter, full of plastic trash, everything from fishing nets to plastic bags to microplastics one millimeter in size.
The end of the first voyage for The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch nonprofit that hopes to rid the world of ocean plastic, is the end of a long journey for founder and CEO Boyan Slat, who first presented the concept of his device at a TEDx talk in 2012, and has spent the last seven years designing, funding, and deploying it. Now that it’s actually working—pulling debris from the giant vortex of trash that has collected in the Pacific ocean—the next step for the organization is turning that plastic into sustainable products, so you can own a piece of the Garbage Patch and help fund future missions.
“To make the clean up happen, it’s not just a technical challenge but also financial, because [with] international waters, there’s not an owner of the Garbage Patch that sees the value in cleaning it,” says Slat. “Basically it’s no one’s problem, but at the same time, we believe it’s everyone’s problem What we hope is that by making beautiful, sustainable products out of this catch, we can give an opportunity for everyone to be part of the solution and participate in the cleanup.” The idea is to turn this refuse into consumer products that won’t end up back in the ocean and then invest 100% of those proceeds into more cleanup missions.
It’s not yet clear what type of products The Ocean Cleanup hopes to make from its haul, but the nonprofit is already working with partners to create an infrastructure that can clean, sort, and recycle this plastic. They expect to be able to launch the first products in September 2020. If you’re eager to own an item made from ocean plastic, you can guarantee your place in line now with a $50 donation.
Consumers have shown more interest in items made from recycled materials lately, and Slat thinks that products made with this ocean plastic could be somewhat of a novelty that garner even more appeal. “It’s not just plastic, it’s plastic with a story, like the difference between a normal rock and a piece of the moon,” he says. “Hopefully, eventually we’re successful, the Garbage Patch is history and will not be there anymore, and then there will still be these cool products that will remind us of it existing back in the day.”
That novelty could mean other companies jump on the bandwagon, labeling their products as made from ocean plastic even if they’re not. The Ocean Cleanup says its venture to make products with materials recovered from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the first of its kind, and to ensure that these materials are coming from the ocean it’s collaborating with a third-party certification specialist, DNV GL, to verify ocean plastic.
“There are already products that exist that are being labeled as ocean plastics, but there’s no real transparency in terms of where the plastic is coming from, how much of the plastic is actually coming from the ocean,” Slat says. “We believe it’s important that when people buy something made from plastic from the Garbage Patch, that they know for sure that that is actually the case.” Other companies and foundations can join this effort, as well, to certify that their own plastic is coming from the ocean, if they so choose.
The system that returned with the first Garbage Patch-captured plastic has been dubbed System 001/b, and The Ocean Cleanup has already begun preparing for System 002, a new full-scale, fully operational design. For this first voyage, crew members had to follow the device in a boat and empty the system of its caught plastic every few weeks. Slat hopes to extend that retention ability to months, because fewer trips back and forth with a boat means a more cost-effective cleanup process. “Our goal is to clean up 50% of the Garbage Patch in five years,” Slat says. “For that, we’re going to need a whole fleet of them, and the systems need to be bigger than the ones that we have trialed so far.”