The planet started revealing the consequences of our actions towards our environment, and plastic pollution remains one of the main ways we mistreat it.
We became addicted to single-use or disposable plastic. One million plastic drinking bottles are bought every minute, and up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used every year around the world.
Scientists even warn that plastic waste is so present in the environment now, that it could serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era!
There is a gigantic island of plastic debris built up by ocean currents in the Pacific ocean, North East of Hawaii, referred to at the North Pacific Gyre, or more commonly known as “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
The patch is huge, with its size approximately the size of Queensland, Australia, drifting halfway between Hawaii and California. The swirling vortex of current has trapped more than a trillion pieces of debris.
After a year spent on testing, the Ocean Cleanup system, created by Boyan Slat, started successfully collecting plastic debris from the ocean.
According to their website, this device “ uses the natural oceanic forces to rapidly and cost-effectively clean up the plastic already in the oceans. “
“With a full fleet of Cleanup systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we aim to clean up 50% of its plastic every five years.”
The design of the device has been revised several times since the beginning of the project in 2013.
The 600-meter long floating boom was launched from Vancouver in June 2019, and the cleanup team described the results as ‘a feat we were pleasantly surprised to achieve.’
Now, apart from discarded fishing nets and large visible plastic objects, the System 001/B vessel collects microplastics too.
Slat shared a picture of the collected rubbish, including a car wheel, and wrote:
“Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?”
At a press conference in Rotterdam, he stated:
“We are now catching plastics … After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates that our vision is attainable and that the beginning of our mission to rid the ocean of plastic garbage, which has accumulated for decades, is within our sights.
We now have a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastics … This now gives us sufficient confidence in the general concept to keep going on this project.”
The plastic gathered so far will be brought to shore in December for recycling. The project believes there may be a premium market for items that have been made using plastic reclaimed from the ocean.
“I think in a few years’ time when we have the full-scale fleet out there, I think it should be possible to cover the operational cost of the cleanup operation using the plastic harvested.”
They now plan to make the device more durable, so the next ocean cleanup system, System 002, a full-scale cleanup system, is expected to be able to endure and retain plastic for up to a year or longer before collection is necessary.
Moreover, now that the device is actually working, the organization plants to turn to plastic-made sustainable products as well, and thus help fund their next missions. They want to convert the refuse into consumer products that won’t end up in the ocean again, and the proceeds would be completely invested in their future work.
“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. 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.”
“It’s not just plastic, it’s plastic with a story, like the difference between a normal rock and a piece of the moon. 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.”