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. If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health, and economies for decades or even centuries. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.
Cleaning the ocean garbage patches
The fundamental challenge of cleaning up the ocean garbage patches is that the plastic pollution is highly diluted and 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 to be able to scale up to a fleet of individual systems, all working together to clean the patch. With a relative speed difference maintained between the cleanup system and the plastic, we can create artificial coastlines, where there are none, to concentrate the plastic.
OUR CLEANUP SOLUTION
The system is comprised of a long U-shaped barrier that will guide the plastic into a retention zone at its far end. Through active propulsion, we maintain a slow forward speed with the system. With the help of computational modeling, we can navigate towards the areas with the highest concentration, and in doing so improve the efficiency of the cleanup. Once full, the retention zone will be hauled on board a service vessel to be emptied.
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.
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.
First Products Made With Certified Ocean Plastic
After years of research and testing, The Ocean Cleanup team caught its first plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2019, during the System 001/B campaign.
We have now transformed this first catch into a beautiful, durable product made with plastic certified to be from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – with 100% of the proceeds going back into more cleanup operations.
Fund the continuation of the cleanup with The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses.
Active steering and computer modeling will 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.
We aim to offset all carbon emissions from the System 002 campaign and will investigate offsetting options for future ocean cleanup systems.
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.
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.
As we continue to learn more about the technology and the behaviors of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we will 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.
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 will closely monitor the loads on the system and adapt the speed and span in the case of rough seas. We will 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.
Fund future cleanup systems
Having the necessary funds, we will deploy System 002 into the Great Pacific Garbage in the summer of 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.
By trialing technologies , we have now confirmed the foundational concept behind our cleanup design: maintaining a relative speed difference between the plastic and the cleanup system to catch and retain plastic in the garbage patches. Following System 001/B, which used a parachute anchor to keep the system moving slower than the plastic, we concluded that we could not effectively scale up with this design. Therefore, we shifted gears and are now developing a new approach that uses active propulsion to continuously move faster than the plastic (System 002). With an actively propelled system, we will be able to catch more plastic quicker and more efficiently because now we can – contrary to the passive approach – steer the systems towards areas with high concentrations of plastic. With System 002, we are now nearing the validation phase for our Ocean project.
The evolution of The Ocean Cleanup concept
The original sketch
It all started after a holiday in Greece. A plastic-filled diving trip inspired the passive concentration system. Why go after the plastic, if the plastic can come to you?
The first public concept, presented in a TEDx talk that went viral in 2013. An array of long floating barriers and manta ray-shaped stations would be anchored to the seabed to collect the plastic.
Anchored to the seabed
A refined version of the anchored barrier concept was presented following the completion of the feasibility study in 2014. A single spar buoy was suggested as a collection mechanism.
The Sea Anchor
In 2017 we unveiled our transition from one giant, fixed system to a fleet of much smaller, free-floating systems. The plan was to suspend a sea anchor in a deep-water layer with virtually no current, which would slow down the systems and allow the plastic to accumulate against the barriers.
Wind and Wave Powered
To further simplify the concept, we removed the drift anchors to instead rely on the wind and wave drift loads as the driving force behind the cleanup systems. This became the initial design for System 001. After four months of deployment, System 001 returned to shore, allowing us to adapt the technology further.
System 001/B Test Campaign
In less than four months, we designed, procured, and assembled System 001/B. In June of 2019, this system was deployed into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We were able to achieve a constant speed difference with the plastic – a crucial requirement for catching and retaining it for an extended period of time.
System 002 - Active approach
In order to effectively clean up the oceans as soon as possible, we are trialing an active design with System 002, rather than a fully passive wind/wave/current-driven approach, to create sufficient speed difference between the plastic and the system and to able to move through the patch quicker (and thus catch more) than in the slow-down version.
System 002 is currently trialed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is our first large-scale cleanup system and we are hoping for a multifold impact compared to our previous cleanup system – System 001/B. Follow our progress on social media and on our dedicated System 002 page.
Contribute your skills and build a clean future with us
Help fund the development of our technology to rid the world's oceans of plastic.