The Ocean Cleanup shared some good news in October. It officially announced that after the successful completion of its “System 002” test campaign, The Ocean Cleanup achieved proof of technology and was ready to return to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to begin cleanup. In celebration of this milestone, a marine parade was coordinated to welcome the offshore crew in Victoria, BC, Canada. The video below captures just a few special moments of that celebration.
Some History On The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is exactly what you envision, only it’s not that visible. It’s an actual patch of garbage mixed with marine debris particles located in the center of the North Pacific Ocean. The collection of plastic and floating trash originates from continents bordering the Pacific Rim — Asia, North, and South America.
The patch was first mentioned in a 1988 paper published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after researchers measured neustonic plastic in the North Pacific Ocean and found high concentrations of marine debris growing in areas governed by ocean currents.
The patch is so big that it’s divided into two areas. The Eastern Garbage Patch is located between Hawaii and California. The Western Garbage Patch extends east from Japan to the Hawaiian Island. Due to the patch being in a widely dispersed area and consists mostly of microscopic particles (microplastics) in the upper water column, this means there’s low density that prevents the patch from being detected by satellite imagery or even casual boaters or divers in the area.
Cleaning Up The Ocean
Researchers from The Ocean Cleanup have found that the patch is over 50 years old, and it includes items and fragments of items such as toothbrushes, water bottles, cell phones, plastic bags, and more. The Ocean Cleanup is focused on cleaning up 90% of the floating plastic pollution in the ocean and is developing and scaling technologies to try to achieve this goal. The nonprofit goes into detail as to how System 002 works.
The solution is designed to concentrate the plastic, which then allows them to collect and remove large quantities. First, they create artificial coastlines where there are none. The system is made up of a long U-shaped barrier that directs the plastic into a retention zone at its far end. Through active propulsion, a slow forward speed is maintained with the system.
Using computational modeling, The Ocean Cleanup is able to determine where hotspots — areas made up of higher concentrations of garbage that are formed by the circulating currents in the patch — are, and then place cleanup systems in these locations.
Next, the plastic is caught in the retention zone of the cleanup system and extracted once the system is full. After this, the back of the retention zone is taken aboard, sealed off, and detached from the system, and then emptied onboard the vessel. The retention zone is put back in place, ready to be refilled with more trash.
The Ocean Cleanup brings the trash it has collected back to the shore for recycling. It plans to make durable and valuable products with each system batch. The nonprofit added that its supporters buying these products will help fund the continued ocean cleanup. One example of a product is these sunglasses, which are the first product made with plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The shades are designed by Yves Béhar and produced in Italy by Safilo. They are designed to be easily recycled.
Cleaning Up The Ocean By 2040
The Ocean Cleanup noted that its systems are made to capture plastics ranging from millimeters in size up to large debris such as ghost nets, which can be 10 meters wide. According to computer modeling, it will take around 10 full-sized systems to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The nonprofit expects that it will be able to remove 90% of the floating ocean plastic by 2040. It plans to deploy fleets of systems into every ocean gyre and combine them with source reduction.
Now that System 002 has been proven to work, it will continue to collect and recycle the plastic in the patch. While this is happening, The Ocean Cleanup is working on System 003, which is an upscaled version that will be the blueprint for scaling up operations.
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