In 2014, Boyan Slat raised 2.2 million USD to finance his idea of passive concentration system to catch and concentrate plastic pollution in the ocean using currents. This campaign remains to this day the biggest crowdfunding ever made for a non profit organization.
The clever and simple concept of The Ocean Cleanup consists of a 600m U shaped floating buoy. The anchor of the structure is not fixed at the bottom of the ocean but is maintained at a depth where currents are slower. This allows the entire installation to move slower than the plastic wastes. To catch the plastic debris under the surface the buoy is dressed with a skirt that slopes few meters under water. The plastic carried by the current is retained by the buoy and concentrates at the basis where the garbage is then collected. As the net isn’t very deep, marine life is not impacted by the structure. Once concentrated at the center of the buoy, the waste will be picked up and carried on boats to be recycled on shore.
The Ocean Cleanup’s objective is to install 60 cleaning systems by 2020 “to remove 50 % of the plastic waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years from full-scale deployment.”
Even though tests have been very promising, it is still impossible to say if the system will be able to reach its ambitious objective, as it is still at the experimental phase… Until today! To have a clear overview of the quantity of plastic wastes that could potentially be picked out of the ocean we will have to wait a year or two of data collection.
The Ocean Cleanup will only be effective on large plastic debris and will not tackle another major issue which is microplastics, usually generated by the degradation of bigger plastic items.
Nevertheless, this solution is absolutely vital to start cleaning the huge pollution of plastic wastes filling up our oceans. This initiative must also be combined with projects that tackle plastics pollution at its roots: the poor waste management systems in many countries which allow the plastics to enter the ocean in the first place, and the overuse of plastics in our daily lives. Companies such as Lactips also tackle the issue by replacing some plastics with a biodegradable material made of a milk protein.
Want to watch this historic moment? Kari Lundgren, former anchor of Solar Impulse TV during our round-the-world solar flight, will host the live to follow the launch of the first Ocean Cleanup system from the San Francisco bay Great Pacific Garbage Patch.