Quantcast

The Ocean Cleanup Readies Historic Launch But Challenges Lie Ahead

After years of anticipation, The Ocean Cleanup will launch the world's first ocean cleanup system through the San Francisco Bay and out to sea this Saturday.

Five years ago, then-teenager Boyan Slat made headlines around the world for his plastic-capturing concept. Now at the age of 23, the Dutch inventor is ready to live his dream of cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a whirling vortex of trash and plastics floating off the coast of California.


"System 001" consists of a 600-meter-long floating pipe with a tapered 3-meter skirt attached underneath to catch debris like "a giant wind-and-wave-powered Pac Man," Slat said.

It will spend two weeks at a Pacific Trials location about 250-350 nautical miles offshore before being towed out to the garbage patch another 1,000 nautical miles away.

The captured plastic will be collected by a vessel every month or so. The debris will then be sorted for recycling or up-cycled to create new products.

If all goes to plan, 60 of these systems will be deployed to sea with the aim of removing 50 percent of the garbage patch within 5 years.

The Ocean Cleanup

It took years of research and development for Slat and his team at The Ocean Cleanup to get to this point, including 273 scale model tests, six at-sea prototypes and a detailed mapping of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The project has raised about $40 million in funding from investors, Wired reported.

The concept, however, has received a fair share of criticism. There's the fear that it could harm fish or other bycatch. Others have suggested that upstream designs (i.e. Baltimore Harbor's solar-powered trash wheel) and policy solutions will better stem the flow of plastics before it reaches sea. Also, the idea of a "patch" of garbage where debris floats on the surface of the water is a myth—plastics are found across the seafloor and vertically throughout the ocean.

Slat has previously addressed the criticism at length. Still, he anticipates a number of challenges.

In a recent Ocean Cleanup video, he explained the three main risks:

1) That waves and winds could alter the system's Pac-Man shape;

2) While scaled-down models have been able to collect plastic down to the millimeter range, Slat worries that the full-scale system won't be able to efficiently collect and retain plastic out at sea;

3) From high waves, strong currents, UV rays and corrosive sea salt, Slat wonders if the system will be able to survive intense oceanic conditions. "The ocean is a very destructive environment," he said.

"We believe that every risk that we can eliminate in advance we have been able to eliminate, but that doesn't mean that all risks have been eliminated," Slat said in the video. "Truly, the only way to prove that we can rid the oceans of plastic is to actually go out there and deploy the world's first ocean cleanup system."

For those interested in watching the launch, click here for a livestream starting at 12 p.m. Pacific time.

The Ocean Cleanup

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A drilling rig in a Wyoming natural gas field. William Campbell / Corbis via Getty Images

A U.S. federal judge temporarily blocked oil and gas drilling on 300,000 acres of federal leases in Wyoming Tuesday, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) "did not sufficiently consider climate change" when auctioning off the land, The Washington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
Mizina / iStock / Getty Images

By Ryan Raman, MS, RD

Oats are widely regarded as one of the healthiest grains you can eat, as they're packed with many important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
JPMorgan Chase building in New York City. Ben Sutherland / CC BY 2.0

By Sharon Kelly

A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Sriram Madhusoodanan of Corporate Accountability speaking on conflict of interest demand of the People's Demands at a defining action launching the Demands at COP24. Corporate Accountability

By Patti Lynn

2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."

Read More Show Less
The head of England's Environment Agency has urged people to stop watering their lawns as a climate-induced water shortage looms. Pexels

England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Jessica Corbett

A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.

Read More Show Less
A flock of parrots in Telegraph Hill, San Francisco. ~dgies / Flickr

By Madison Dapcevich

Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.

Read More Show Less
Fire burns in the North Santiam State Recreational Area on March 19. Oregon Department of Forestry

An early-season wildfire near Lyons, Oregon burned 60 acres and forced dozens of homes to evacuate Tuesday evening, the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) said, as KTVZ reported.

The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.

Read More Show Less