Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the ocean

Trash accumulates in five ocean garbage patches, the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. To solve it, we not only need to stop more plastic from flowing into the ocean, but also clean up what is already out there. Floating plastics trapped in the patches will keep circulating until they break down into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming harder to clean up and increasingly easier to mistake for food by sealife. If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health, and economies for decades or even centuries.

Cleaning the ocean garbage patches

The fundamental challenge of cleaning up the ocean garbage patches is that the plastic pollution is highly diluted, spanning millions of square kilometers. Our cleanup solution is designed to first concentrate the plastic, allowing us to effectively collect and remove vast quantities. This is how it works:

CREATING AN ARTIFICIAL COASTLINE

To clean an area of this size, a strategic and energy-efficient solution is required. With a relative speed difference maintained between the cleanup system and the plastic, we create artificial coastlines, where there are none, to concentrate the plastic. The system is comprised of a long U-shaped barrier that guides the plastic into a retention zone at its far end. Through we maintain a with the system.

System 002 catch on deck, October 2021
System 002 deployed for testing in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
System 002 deployed for testing in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
System 002 retention zone hauled on deck for emptying, October 2021

How it works

Target

The circulating currents in the garbage patch move the plastic around, creating natural ever-shifting hotspots of higher concentration. With the help of computational modeling, we predict where these hotspots are and place the cleanup systems in these areas.

  1. Step 1 Target
  2. Step 2 Capture
  3. Step 3 Extraction
  4. Step 4 Recycling

Expected impact

Our floating systems are designed to capture plastics ranging from small pieces, just millimeters in size, up to large debris, including massive, discarded fishing nets (ghost nets), which can be tens of meters wide.

Modeling predicts we need around 10 full-size systems to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

After fleets of systems are deployed into every ocean gyre, combined with source reduction, The Ocean Cleanup projects to be able to remove 90% of floating ocean plastic by 2040.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2030 with and without cleanup. [scale units : kg/km2] With cleanup
Without cleanup
Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2030 with and without cleanup. [scale: kg/km2]
  • Smart steering

    Active steering and computer modeling enable us to target plastic hotspots -areas of higher concentration- to improve efficiency. Our models will be steadily improved using field data collected during our offshore missions, allowing for continually smarter operations and more focused cleanup.

  • Carbon neutral

    We aim to offset all carbon emissions from the System 002 campaign. In addition, in collaboration with Maersk, we are experimenting with low-carbon fuels for our support vessels.

  • Scalable

    By taking a careful step-by-step approach, the modular fleet of systems can be gradually scaled up while we learn from the field and improve the technology along the way. The more systems deployed, the faster the cleanup will be.

System 002 deployed for testing in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

System 002

System 002 is currently trialed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is our first large-scale cleanup system, with which we aim to prove the technology. Once proven, we can create the blueprint for scale-up.

The system at sea

MANAGING ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

The main reason we clean up plastic is to reduce its negative impact on sea life and protect the ocean. But as with any operation, there is always some risk involved. While conducting cleanup, we must ensure that we limit any adverse effects of our operations on the environment.

During our first mission with Systems 001 and 001/B, no substantial interference with the surrounding ecosystem and/or marine life was observed. When designing System 002, we incorporated the insights from previous campaigns and had close internal and external feedback loops to limit potential negative impacts. We have also conducted an independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for System 002, CSA Ocean Sciences, which did not identify any major risks of our method to the environment, provided we maintain close monitoring of our operations.

Sperm whale mother and calf. Observed on System 001’s first mission.
Sperm whale mother and calf. Observed on System 001’s first mission.
Over and underwater cameras will monitor the retention zone on System 002, set to be launched end of July 2021
Over- and underwater cameras will monitor the retention zone on System 002, set to be launched end of July 2021

As we continue to learn more about the technology and the behaviors of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we have trained observers on board the System 002 mission to monitor how this new system interacts with the natural environment. We are also committed to offsetting all carbon emissions associated with the System 002 campaign. For more about our approach to topics like these, see our Environment page.

SURVIVING STORMS

Because the cleanup systems are meant to stay in the patch for long periods, it is crucial that our systems can withstand ocean forces. We are closely monitoring the loads on the system and adapt the speed and span in the case of rough seas. We also follow the latest weather forecasts and plan the trajectory to avoid storms, and by understanding the patch climate, we can conduct operations in less critical locations. In the case of a particularly severe storm, the system can be temporarily withdrawn from activity.

Wind map
Our computational modeling team plans the route based on plastic accumulation and weather conditions.

Fund future cleanup systems

Having the necessary funds, we deployed System 002 into the Great Pacific Garbage in July 2021. As we progress towards System 003 and onward, we welcome individuals and companies to join the mission. If you would like more information on how to make a major contribution to help us scale to a fleet of cleanup systems, please contact us.

Technology Roadmap

Following our iterative design principle, we have been able to adapt and update our technology with every offshore deployment. From System 001 to System 001/B to System 002, we have confirmed various principles and concepts behind our ocean cleanup technology. The latest iteration, System 002, is our most effective to date, which led to proof of technology, as announced in October. With this system, we can effectively capture and harvest ocean plastic with a scalable design. With System 002, we are now rounding out the Development Phase and nearing the Validation Phase of our Ocean project. We will continue operations in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to capture more plastic and gather more insights during the harsher winter sea-state. In parallel, we will start working on System 003. This iteration will incorporate modifications to the system’s hardware and will be three times the size of System 002, allowing us to collect even more plastic. System 003 will serve as the blueprint for scale-up – we estimate to need a fleet of 10 systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to effectively clean it up.

The roadmap to scale-up illustrated
The roadmap to scale-up illustrated

The evolution of The Ocean Cleanup concept

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