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. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.
Cleaning the garbage patches
The ocean is big. Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch using conventional methods – vessels and nets – would take thousands of years and tens of billions of dollars to complete. Our passive systems are estimated to remove 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage patch in just five years, and at a fraction of the cost. This is how it works:
Create a coastline where there are none
The challenge of cleaning up the gyres is that plastic pollution is spread across millions of square kilometers and travels in all directions. Our cleanup technology has been designed to do the hard job of concentrating the plastic first, before it can be effectively removed from the ocean.
The system consists of a long floater that sits at the surface of the water and skirt that hangs beneath it. The floater provides buoyancy to the entire system, while the skirt prevents debris from escaping underneath and leads it into the retention system, or cod end. A cork line above the skirt prevents overtopping and keeps the skirt afloat.
Take advantage of natural oceanic forces
For an area of this size, active cleanup methods would be too energy-intensive; this is why we have chosen a passive design. The cleanup systems rely on natural forces to navigate the patches – a feature that also increases its survivability in the harsh ocean environment.
Both the plastic and system are being carried by the wind, waves, and current. However, to catch plastics there needs to be a difference in speed between the system and the plastics. Using a sea anchor to slow down the system, plastic can be retained and captured.
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.
Models show that a full-scale cleanup system roll-out could clean 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years.
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 ocean plastic by 2040.
Algorithms help specify the optimal deployment locations, after which the systems roam the gyres autonomously. Real-time telemetry will allow us to monitor the condition, performance and trajectory of each system.
Our systems fully rely on the natural forces of the ocean and do not require an external energy source to catch and concentrate the plastic. All electronics used, such as lights and AIS, are powered by solar energy.
The modular fleet of systems can be scaled up gradually, allowing us to 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
HANDLING VESSEL TRAFFIC
No heavily-trafficked shipping routes traverse the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, so the chances of a vessel coming across an ocean cleanup system are minimal. On average only 5 vessels can be found in an area twice the size of Texas.
But, in the event that a vessel does pass through the patch, we will implement extensive measures to ensure the safety of both vessels and our cleanup systems. Each future system of the fleet will be equipped with lanterns, radar reflectors, navigational signals, GPS and anti-collision beacons.
The AIS will continuously broadcast the location of the systems to passing vessels and the GPS will track the location of our systems, should they veer out of the patch. The US Coast Guard will chart the area as a special operations zone and will issue a Notice to Mariners concerning the presence of our systems.
Protecting the natural environment is at the heart of what we do. It is the driver behind our efforts to remove large amounts of plastic pollution from the world’s oceans. Hence, safeguarding sea life has been the number one driver behind our technology.
For the 116 days of the first mission, a team of scientists and experts conducted extensive monitoring and observation campaigns to understand any possible environmental impact of System 001 and minimize any potential harm to marine life. Over 1045 hours of visual and acoustic monitoring were performed, and during this time no substantial interference with System 001 and the ocean ecosystem and/or marine life were observed; nor did we observe any entanglement or entrapment of marine animals or protected species.
As we continue to learn more about the technology and the natural behaviors of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we will maintain a vessel nearby with trained observers to see how the system interacts with the natural environment. While extracting plastic, people will always be present to check for marine life before the plastic is lifted out of the water.
We have also conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for System 001 through an independent agency, CSA Ocean Sciences, which did not identify any major risks of our method to the environment.
Because the cleanup systems are meant to stay in the patch for long periods of time, it is important that our systems can withstand the forces of the ocean. A main component for survivability is flexibility. We designed the system to be limber enough to be able to follow the waves, and because the system is free-floating, it can drift when subjected to high current speeds.
Through extensive testing, we seek to identify weak spots prior to scaling-up our presence in the garbage patches. After the launch and initial tests with System 001 in 2018, we launched System 001/B – a more modular platform to trial modifications for speeding up versus slowing down relative to the plastic.
By trialing multiple design alterations on System 001/B, since June 2018, we have now proven our foundational concept with System 001/B, and will start the design process for System 002.
Support the cleanup system
With the necessary funds available, we have been able to successfully launch System 001 and System 001/B into the Great Pacific Garbage. As we near scale-up, we welcome individuals and companies to join the mission.
If you would like more information on how to make a major contribution to the scale-up of our fleet of cleanup systems, please contact us.
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 have been able to achieve a constant speed difference with the plastic – a crucial requirement for catching and retaining it for an extended period of time.
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