The Ocean Cleanup project was founded by then 18-year-old Dutch inventor, Boyan Slatin 2013. Plastic in the ocean ends up in five main “ocean garbage patches,” also known as gyres. Once trapped in these patches, the plastic disintegrates into microplastics that sea animals mistake as food, making it toxic. Funding vessels and nets to clean up the plastic pollution will cost millions which are inconceivable. That’s why Slat created a floating device that drifts with the ocean and eventually gets to the gyres to perform its function without any extra use of resources or harmful emissions. This effort has finally come to fruition as the ocean cleanup project successfully collected plastic for the first time.
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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of the five main gyres. It is three times the size of France. In early October 2019, Slat posted on Instagram the good news, “Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?”
The device is a nearly 2000-foot C-shaped tube that is driven by wind and waves. There is a nearly 10-foot shirt that allows sea animals to pass underneath. To keep it at a good pace and slow it down, there is a sea anchor. This allows the plastic to catch up and collect. Every few weeks, a support vessel goes to collect all the collected pollution for recycling. For easy detection, satellites and sensors are placed in the device. Eventually, the objective is to improve the device so the debris can be collected once a year instead of every few weeks.
When the project first started, the goal was to collect half the plastic pollution from the gyres in five years. However, it hasn’t happened as planned. Previously, the device failed due to its movement and inability to retain the plastic. In a press conference in Rotterdam, Slat said, “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. 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.”
There have been many revisions to the device since its conceptions. The goal still remains the same; to remove at least half the plastic pollution from the gyres. But the first step has been achieved in that the Ocean Cleanup project successfully collected plastic for the first time in seven years.
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