Hundreds of scale-model tests, a series of prototypes, research expeditions and multiple iterations have led to The Ocean Cleanup having sufficient confidence in its technology to launch its first full-scale cleanup system.
In parallel to finding clean alternatives to plastic, we need a radical solution to ocean plastic, and a young Dutch innovator may have found that.
The Ocean Cleanup said the system was created to act like a "giant Pac-Man", propelled by wind and waves, "allowing it to passively catch and concentrate plastic debris in front of it". According to the company's models, a system with 100 kilometers in barriers can clean up half of the plastic now in the oceans within 10 years.
The system is a giant U-shaped barrier that will float in the ocean, it is expected to trap some of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic.
The 2,000-foot long floating boom is being towed from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - an island of trash twice the size of Texas.
At just 23 years of age, Boyan Slat scooped the European Entrepreneur of the Year award for the system at a Brussels awards ceremony held as part of the European Business Summit.
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Equipped with sensors, cameras, and solar lights, the whole system is passive, meaning it needs no power to move except that of currents, the same that carry plastic waste.
Engineers will deploy a trash collection device to corral plastic litter floating between California and Hawaii in an attempt to clean up the world's largest garbage patch in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. "If you were to skim that with boats and nets, it would take around 79,000 years", said Slat. After delivery of the system to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Maersk Launcher will remain active as an observation platform for several weeks. They will stay in the water for two decades and in that time collect 90 percent of the trash in the patch, he added. The barrier provides buoyancy and prevents plastic from flowing over it, whilst the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath.
"I sort of wonder what kinds of microplastics this thing is going to be generating on its own, assuming that it's even functioning exactly as designed", says oceanographer Kara Lavender Law of the Sea Education Association.
It's estimated that about 8 million metric tones of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year. In addition to the risk of wildlife entanglement, there's a "medium risk" acknowledged in an environmental assessment performed by Ocean Cleanup that sea turtles would be attracted to the boom and begin eating the collected plastic.
"To make the claim, as the Ocean Cleanup Project is, that they will "clean the oceans" by 2040 or whenever, is disingenuous and misleading, when it will, at best, clean a very small percentage of what's found on the surface".