The Ocean Cleanup promises to clean 50% of the North Pacific Garbage Patch in just 5 years. The cleaning process will begin in mid-2018.
Until relatively recently, it was thought that cleaning the oceans of plastic was practically impossible. After all, it´s more than 7.25 million tons of plastic in various sizes (from massive to molecules) that has been accumulating since the beginning of the 20th century, and which becomes more harmful as the decades pass. It is not surprising that experts on the subject chose to recommend that we concentrate on prevention, for example through education, instead of attempting a clean-up operation.
However, in 2012, Boyan Slat presented the world with an alternative. The young man, who at the time was only 17 years old, surprised the audience by proposing in TEDTalk (Delft) that we remove plastic from the oceans using the marine currents. Specifically the marine currents that form the so-called 'oceanic gyres' - five points on the globe where the marine currents and the circulation of the wind, due to the rotation of the earth, move in a circular motion (vortex).
His idea?, to deploy a prototype able to filter the plastic in oceans (both large and small) in each of these points, anchor it on the site, and allow the movement of the currents to drag the material in naturally . Something that actually happens, and the reason behind why in each of these five points there are huge "Patches" or "Islands" of decade-old accumulated garbage.
The approach was quite popular and, in 2013, Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup; a non-profit entity whose mission is to develop advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. Shortly thereafter, he managed to raise (with the help of 38,000 donors from 160 countries) US $ 2.2 million in funds, and that is when the initiative officially becomes a large scale project.
According to the latest advances,made public, in a presentation given by Slat on May 11, 2017, the first prototype will be deployed in mid-2018. An announcement of great importance, not only because of the significant advance that this implies in a matter of time (originally planned for 2020) but also in regards to what this means in terms of efficiency, energy and profitability. All thanks to a small design change.
The system (which previously consisted of a 100 km long floating barrier with a solid collection screen, an anchor, two lines connecting them and a central passive collection point to buffer the plastic) now includes a much smaller mooring line instead of an anchor. A change that not only reduces the weight, size and cost of manufacturing the machine (allowing it to move freely along with the currents instead of staying in one place, and catch between five and ten times more plastic), but also makes it easier to install and more resistant to the force of the elements (a storm, for example).
The plan? Create a fleet of smaller cleaning systems that grow in proportion to the donations and / or investments received, the results of the operation, the risk assessments, and the parallel development of transportation capacity and recycling on land. Especially recycling, since the entity, in an attempt to be partially self-sustaining, plans to cover a large part of the costs through the sale of extractable material. This is an important point, since the project is estimated to cost several hundred million dollars.
Not only will it be much easier to finance smaller systems on an individual basis, but it will also be possible to cover more space and clean ata quicker pace. In fact, if all goes well, it´s estimated that The Ocean Cleanup will succeed in physically cleaning 50% of its first and largest target (the North Pacific Garbage Patch; halfway between Hawaii and California) in just 5 years. Not to mention that removing the plastic from our seas will also help decontaminate the water chemically (plastic absorbs polychlorinated biphenyls, a main threat to the environment and public health).
Corporations are already welcome to express their interest in being part of the largest cleanup in history. Do you want to sponsor one system, or part thereof? Get in contact The Ocean Cleanup to discuss a potential collaboration opportunity.
Written by: Clara Gómez
Style and Format: Clara Gómez
Provita Jan 20, 2018