The Ocean Clean Up Project 2022: Every year, millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans, of which the majority spills out from rivers, according to the Ocean Cleanup project. A portion of this plastic travels to ocean garbage patches, getting caught in a vortex of circulating currents.
“If no action is taken, the plastic will increasingly impact our ecosystems, health, and economies,” explain the organization’s leaders, who aim to clean up 90% of floating ocean plastic. To accomplish that impressive and important goal, the non-profit organization is developing and scaling technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. “We have to work on a combination of closing the source and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean and doesn’t go away by itself. This goal means we plan to put ourselves out of business – once we have completed this project, our work is done.”
One of the big problems: The fundamental challenge of cleaning up the ocean garbage patches is that the plastic pollution is highly diluted, 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: To clean an area of this size, a strategic and energy-efficient solution is required. “With a relative speed difference maintained between the cleanup system and the plastic, we create artificial coastlines, where there are none, to concentrate the plastic,” the scientists explain. “The system is comprised of a long U-shaped barrier that guides the plastic into a retention zone at its far end. Through active propulsion, we maintain a slow forward speed with the system.”
The circulating currents in the garbage patch move the plastic around, creating natural ever-shifting hotspots of higher concentration. “With the help of computational modeling, we predict where these hotspots are and place the cleanup systems in these areas.”
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. Modeling predicts that 10 full-size systems are needed to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 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.