World’s largest ocean cleanup

Let’s get rid of the plastic soup!

My previous article described the existence of country-sized ‘islands’ that are completely made out of rubbish. While most of us didn’t even realize its presence, in the end, we all contributed to the build-up.

Why don’t we just clean it up?‘ is what the then 16-year old Boyan Slat (CEO of the Ocean Cleanup) thought while seeing more plastic items than fish during a diving trip. And his thought combined with his perseverance results in the biggest ocean cleanup we’ve ever seen!

It can not be done

Boyan Slat heard that sentence a lot. For example, Charles Moore, the discoverer of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, mentioned it would take thousands of years to gather al the plastic! Why? Because the garbage spreads out over millions of square kilometers, all across the oceans (see the image below). Imagine the tremendous emission of carbon dioxide when using regular boats to chase the waste. The use of nets could entangle aquatic life. What about storms and waves that occur at open waters? And what to do with all the gathered plastics? Above all, the plan cost billions and is, therefore,  not profitable. It cannot be done.

ocean cleanup goal earthlyiris
The 5 major plastic patches in the ocean currents – Wikipedia

Obviously, it would take a tremendous amount of effort to chase the plastic around. Winds, waves, and currents scatter the waste all across the oceanic parts of our globe.  As a manner of fact, Boyan used this as an opportunity instead of a problem. ‘Why move through the water, while the water moves by itself?‘. The idea of a passive concentration system was born! It took Boyan quite some time and effort to achieve his goals. Eventually, enough funds were generated to form a team. All thanks to a TED talk going viral!

The Ocean Cleanup

It still took years of experiments, research, and building prototypes for the team to accomplish the model they build now.  But the outcome tackles all the arisen problems. The design is fully autonomous and energy neutral. It doesn’t entangle any aquatic life and it can endure severe weather. The solution to all these problems is a 600-meter long, U-shaped, buoyant floater connected to a 3-meter skirt underneath the surface. The 2-minute video explains the technique:

September 8, 2018

A historic day for the Ocean Cleanup Team (and the rest of the World!). After years of effort, their ‘System 001’ was released from the San Fransico Bay. In fact, it is currently traveling towards the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, autonomously. And the most exciting part? The team plans to launch a fleet of 60 systems! On the condition that this final trial goes according to plan. The expectation is that these designs will clean the GPGP with 50% in 5 years time. The journey of the Ocean Cleanup and their ‘System 001’ can be followed via their website or social media channels.

So remember: something that could not be done is being done. And it only took one person to make this difference.


12 thoughts on “World’s largest ocean cleanup

  1. What a great idea! I had no idea that this was happening! Have heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch but didn’t know there were so many others! It’s great to hear that something major is being done to tackle our plastic problem. I do think the manufacturers need to be held accountable too, but at least things are starting to change 💚

    1. I can’t agree more! In the end our plastic use need to change, otherwise the oceans keep filling up. Let’s hope that big companies make a sustainable decision in the future!

  2. Hi Iris.
    I love this story. My son is always telling me can’t and I am trying to teach him he can do anything. He’s 6 years old and when he grows up he wants to be a “Nature Protector”. He’ll love this story too, very inspirational! Goes to show you with some passion, an idea and the internet to share, ANYTHING is possible!

    1. According to their website, a lot of recycling companies are already showed interest in the gathered plastic. Since they’ve just started gathering, we’ll have to want for the outcome. But we still need to reduce our single-use plastic in the first place. Otherwise the patches keep existing!

    1. Let’s hope the Ocean Clean Up team tackles this problem. And the dumping of single-use plastic comes to an end, ofcourse!

  3. I had read about the buoyant plastic System 001 but had no idea there were so many planned. Next step – stop dumping plastic as the fact some plastic can be cleaned from the oceans must not be used as an excuse to continue dumping more.

    1. I agree! This is just the wake up call – otherwise it will be fighting a running battle. Awareness is the key and hopefully we’ll all change our habits!

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