In the Pacific Ocean, there is an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of plastic and other debris that doesn’t biodegrade. Estimated to be between the size of the state of Texas and the continental United States twice over, the patch is held in place by ocean currents.
Boyan Slat, a 23-year-old Dutch inventor and entrepreneur, has dedicated his young life to finding a solution. He dropped out of an aerospace engineering program when he was 19 and founded The Ocean Cleanup, a foundation to develop technologies to rid the oceans of plastic.
After much study, The Ocean Cleanup has announced a remediation plan that is relatively quick and cost effective. Slat and his team researched ocean currents and developed a way to use them to their advantage; rather than going after the plastic, they let the plastic come to them.
The system involves a network of long floating barriers that act like an artificial coastline, enabling ocean currents to concentrate the plastic and a fleet of U-shaped screens made of fiber-reinforced thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that direct floating plastic to a central point. The screens are held in place with sea anchors that ensure they move slower than the plastic. The floating system is designed to capture plastic as small as one centimeter in size up to large discarded fishing nets tens of meters in area. The concentrated plastic will be extracted and shipped to shore to be recycled.
The floating barriers are made of hard-walled pipe made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) that is flexible enough to follow the waves and rigid enough to maintain the open U-shape. The sea anchors are also made of HDPE with added ballast.
The Ocean Cleanup will begin extracting plastic from the Pacific in the next 12 months. Computer models have demonstrated that they should be able to remove 50 percent of the Garbage Patch in five years. For more details, visit www.theoceancleanup.com.