Waste cleanupWaste recyclingWater decontamination

What if we could clean up all that plastic pollution?

Operations of The Ocean Cleanup project started last year

It all started with a question that a young Dutch student asked himself. If oceans are polluted with plastic, why don’t we clean them up? A simple question, to which a simple, practical solution followed. Boyan Slat presented his idea to extract plastic pollution from the oceans when he was 17 at the TEDx conference of Delft, in the Netherlands, and one year later, in 2013, this idea became a non-profit organization,  The Ocean Cleanup.

You have probably already heard of this project, as since last year it has generated quite a lot of interest in global media. We could not miss the chance to talk about it anyway, as usual highlighting handy options to support this awesome project. And if you want to know more about the dimensions of the global plastic pollution crisis, this fast-fact page is a good starting point, and you can also check the most advanced research ever on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch conducted by The Ocean Cleanup team back in 2015.

How the system works

Testing speed-up configuration with 6 lifting bags attached to System 001/B, July 2019. Courtesy of The Ocean Cleanup
Testing speed-up configuration with 6 lifting bags attached to System 001/B, July 2019. Courtesy of The Ocean Cleanup

The clean-up system conceived by Boyan Slat is a set of barriers grounded on three elements: a floater, a filtering screen and an anchor (plus a ship that comes to pick the plastic when buffers are full). It is a passive system, that only relies on ocean currents and waits for them to bring plastic where they are located, so it is optimized to be employed on the ocean gyres. The best deployment locations for each clean-up system are calculated by a dedicated algorithm so that the garbage collection is maximized, and all electronic components are powered by solar energy so that systems are energy neutral.

As stated on the organization’s website, while traditional methods, employing vessels and nets, would require thousands of years to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plus tens of billions of dollars, The Ocean Cleanup’s systems ‘are estimated to remove half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years at a fraction of the cost’.

The system is designed to be inherently safe for marine life, as stated in the Environmental Impact Assessment conducted by the independent environmental consultancy company CSA Ocean Sciences.

On the other hand, one may wonder what they will do with all the plastic that is collected. The intention is to process plastic on land, where high-quality material will be mechanically recycled to produce durable products, while low-quality material will be transformed into energy. The aim is to recycle as much plastic as possible, with the help of some selected manufacturing partners, so to use the revenue to finance a large-scale cleanup operation. And just to give an idea of the magnitude of the value we are talking about, according to Boyan Slat’s TEDx talk, if all plastic currently floating on the five ocean gyres could be collected, it could be sold for over 500,000,000 dollars.

The Ocean Cleanup Technology, Explained. Courtesy of The Ocean Cleanup

Operations

Launching System 001, September 2018. Credits: The Ocean Cleanup / Pierre Augier
Launching System 001, September 2018. Credits: The Ocean Cleanup / Pierre Augier

Operations were already starting in September 2018, when System 001 deployed from San Francisco. After being submitted to a series of sea trials, it arrived in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in October 2018. Following some issues, after two months of duty and 2 tons of plastic collected, in late December 2018, the system had to undergo some inspections and repair in Hilo Bay, Hawaii. It was then re-deployed as System 001/B in June 2019.

A global scale-up of operations is then planned to occur in 2 years. As claimed on the organization’s website, ‘[a]t the start of 2020, our plan is to launch System 002, followed by the scale-up to the full fleet of 60 systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Once we complete the expansion in the Pacific, we aim to then expand the cleanup operation to the remaining four ocean garbage patches’. Again, by recycling the collected plastic into valuable products the aim is the clean-up fleet to become financially self-sustainable. In the long term, the NPO is planning to design systems that are able to intercept plastic waste even before it reaches the oceans.

How to support

  • The Ocean Cleanup is supported by public and private donations
  • Apart from donations, companies can also support The Ocean Cleanup by sponsoring it, contact the organization’s staff if you are a company and you want to know more
  • The NPO is also currently looking for skilled professionals in various fields of specialization (from IT to plastic recycling management) to keep expanding and achieving his ambitious targets
  • Buy the official merchandise on the NPO’s website, when you purchase an item from any of the organization’s partners a donation will be made
  • You can follow The Ocean Cleanup on
  • You can support The Ocean Cleanup even by simply sharing this article on your favorite social networks. Spread the word!

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