by Elton Gomes
Ocean Cleanup, an initiative developed to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, has officially deployed its $20 million system that is designed to clean up 1.8 trillion pieces of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
In September, the Ocean Cleanup foundation launched the world’s first ocean cleanup system in San Francisco to clear the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a giant floating trash pile between San Francisco and Hawaii estimated to be twice the size of Texas. The patch is the largest of five ocean trash piles on Earth.
Ocean Cleanup’s pipe is expected to arrive at its destination in the ocean on Tuesday, and the cleanup process will begin soon thereafter, a company spokesperson said, CNN reported.
What will Ocean Cleanup do?
Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy a pipe in the ocean. The pipe, which is in the shape of a U, is equipped with a 3-meter deep net underneath it. This net will trap floating plastic under the water’s surface. A boat will return to the spot every couple of months to get rid of the debris. Also known as the floating boom system, the initiative is similar to a garbage truck for the ocean. The objective is to recycle the plastic and create new products out of it.
With the help of dozens of more pipes, it is estimated that the floating boom system will clean up half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the initial five years. Each boom is expected to trap up to 150,000 pounds of plastic per year while floating along the currents between California and Hawaii.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so large that it can be easily detected from space via satellites. It covers roughly 1.6 million square kilometers and is said to comprise 1.8 trillion pieces of debris. The trash is collected and trapped within a circulating ocean current, called a gyre. The gyre prevents the proliferation of the patch, which is an added benefit when creating a system to collect plastic. However, getting rid of the plastic completely is going to be difficult.
“That plastic is still going to be there in one year. It’s still going to be there in ten years,” said 24-year-old Ocean Cleanup founder and CEO Boyan Slat. “It’s probably still going to be there in 100 years, so really only if we go out there and clean it up this amount of plastic is going to go down,” CNN reported.
How will it function?
After undergoing testing, the floating boom system will be towed out 1,400 miles to the garbage patch and it will begin collecting trash. The floating boom drifts along with the local currents, thus creating a U-shaped formation. As the boom floats, it collects trash in its U-shaped system.
Once the boom is full, a vessel will meet the boom and collect the plastic to transport it to land so that it can be recycled and used for other purposes.
Although Ocean Cleanup has ambitious plans, the technology remains untested in the open ocean. However, Ocean Cleanup is the closest anyone has come in terms of a solution in cleaning up the ocean’s garbage. It is worth noting that no other company has a deployable system which is able to clean up the garbage patch of this scale.
How was the idea conceived?
The Ocean Cleanup was said to have been conceived six years ago, when 18-year-old Boyan Slat, at the time a student, learned about the difficulty of getting rid of plastic from the ocean.
Since plastic is everywhere and the pieces continually move with currents, simply using a net will not be possible. Slat instead proposed to use a barrier, which would gather plastic in one place – this was similar to the way that floating trash tends to collect at shorelines.
Initially presented at a TEDx talk, Slat’s idea gained enough traction that he eventually dropped out of university in 2013. Slat launched a nonprofit organization to produce his idea. He was able to raise $2.2 million in a crowdfunding campaign and millions more from investors.
Trash in the ocean
Trash in the world’s ocean has reached unimaginable levels, and it might seem difficult to fully get rid of all the trash. Dumping trash into oceans is a major contributor to the ill health of water bodies around the world. Dumping can involve depositing all the waste materials from factories and industries, tankers and ships and sewerage waste materials into the oceans and seas.
This is dangerous because some of the materials emitted by the industrial wastes and sewage wastes contain materials like mercury, cryolite, and DDT, which in turn have adverse effects on oceans. Certain industrial wastage also includes radioactive materials, and these can be deadly for the health of any ocean.
Beaches covered with plastic waste have unfortunately become a common sight these days. The dumping of plastic is another major source of pollution. Materials like plastic are non-degradable, which means they cannot be absorbed and recycled.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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