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 ARTICIFIAL 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 we maintain a 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.

System 002 illustration
Plastic concentrates in the system due to the relative speed difference between the plastic and the system.

Concentrate the plastic and take it out

Capture

The circulating currents in the garbage patch move the plastic around, creating natural hotspots of higher concentration. The cleanup system will be positioned and steered to catch incoming plastics by creating a relative speed difference with it.

  1. Step 1 Capture
  2. Step 2 Accumulation
  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.

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 units : kg/km2]

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.

  • Smart steering

    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.

  • Carbon neutral

    We aim to offset all carbon emissions from the System 002 campaign and will investigate offsetting options for future ocean cleanup systems.

  • 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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

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.

Technology Roadmap

By , 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 roadmap to scale-up illustrated
The roadmap to scale-up illustrated
System 001 deployed Great Pacific Garbage Patch, October 2018
System 001 deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, October 2018
Plastic caught inside System 001/B, fall 2019. This was the first time we caught plastic in the ocean.
Plastic caught inside System 001/B, fall 2019. This was the first time we caught and retained plastic in the open ocean.

The evolution of The Ocean Cleanup concept

System 002 to Launch in July, 2021

System 002, our next cleanup system is set to launch end of July 2021. It will be 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.

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