Massive boom hopes to corral Pacific Ocean's plastic trash

September 8, 2018 by Olga R. Rodriguez
Massive boom hopes to corral Pacific Ocean's plastic trash
A ship tows The Ocean Cleanup's first buoyant trash-collecting device toward the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco en route to the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. Once deployed, the boom will form a U-shaped barrier to trap plastic and trash that currently makes up the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." (AP Photo/Lorin Eleni Gill)

Engineers are deploying a trash collection device to corral plastic litter floating between California and Hawaii in an attempt to clean up the world's largest garbage patch in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.

The 2,000-foot (600-meter) long floating boom is being towed from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—an island of trash twice the size of Texas.

The system was created by The Ocean Cleanup, an organization founded by Boyan Slat, a 24-year-old innovator from the Netherlands who first became passionate about cleaning the oceans when he went scuba diving at age 16 in the Mediterranean Sea and saw more plastic bags than fish.

"The plastic is really persistent and it doesn't go away by itself and the time to act is now," Slat said, adding that researchers with his organization found plastic going back to the 1960s and 1970s bobbing in the patch.

The buoyant, U-shaped barrier made of plastic and with a tapered 10-foot (3-meter) deep screen, is intended to act like a coastline, trapping some of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that scientists estimate are swirling in that gyre but allowing marine life to safely swim beneath it.

Fitted with solar power lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas, the cleanup system will communicate its position at all times, allowing a support vessel to fish out the collected plastic every few months and transport it to dry land where it will be recycled, said Slat.

Massive boom hopes to corral Pacific Ocean's plastic trash
The Ocean Cleanup's first buoyant trash-collecting device is seen in front of the San Francisco skyline en route to the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. Once deployed, the boom will form a U-shaped barrier to trap plastic and trash that currently makes up the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." (AP Photo/Lorin Eleni Gill)

Shipping containers filled with the fishing nets, plastic bottles, laundry baskets and other plastic refuse scooped up by the system being deployed Saturday are expected to be back on land within a year, he said.

Slat said he and his team will pay close attention to whether the system works efficiently and withstands harsh ocean conditions, including huge waves. He said he's most looking forward to a ship loaded with plastic coming back to port.

"We still have to prove the technology... which will then allow us to scale up a fleet of systems," he said.

The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised $35 million in donations to fund the project, including from Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will deploy 60 free-floating barriers in the Pacific Ocean by 2020.

Massive boom hopes to corral Pacific Ocean's plastic trash
In this May 11, 2017, file photo, Dutch innovator Boyan Slat poses for a portrait next to a pile of plastic garbage prior to a press conference in Utrecht, Netherlands. Engineers will deploy a trash collection device to corral plastic litter floating between California and Hawaii in an attempt to clean up the world's largest garbage patch in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. The 2,000-foot (600-meter) long floating boom will be towed Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an island of trash twice the size of Texas. The system was created by The Ocean Cleanup, an organization founded by Slat. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)
"One of our goals is to remove 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years," Slat said.

The free-floating barriers are made to withstand harsh weather conditions and constant wear and tear. They will stay in the water for two decades and in that time collect 90 percent of the trash in the patch, he added.

George Leonard, chief scientist of the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, said he's skeptical Slat can achieve that goal because even if plastic trash can be taken out of the ocean, a lot more is pouring in each year.

"We at the Ocean Conservancy are highly skeptical but we hope it works," he said. "The ocean needs all the help it can get."

Massive boom hopes to corral Pacific Ocean's plastic trash
In this Monday, Aug. 27, 2018 photo provided by The Ocean Cleanup, a long floating boom that will be used to corral plastic litter in the Pacific Ocean is assembled in Alameda, Calif. Engineers will deploy a trash collection device to corral plastic litter floating between California and Hawaii in an attempt to clean up the world's largest garbage patch. The 2,000-foot (600-meter) long floating boom will be towed Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an island of trash twice the size of Texas. (The Ocean Cleanup via AP)

Leonard said 9 million tons (8 million metric tons) of plastic waste enter the ocean annually and that a solution must include a multi-pronged approach, including stopping plastic from reaching the ocean and more education so people reduce consumption of single use plastic containers and bottles.

"If you don't stop plastics from flowing into the ocean, it will be a Sisyphean task," Leonard said, citing the Greek myth of a task never completed. He added that on September 15 about 1 million volunteers around the world will collect trash from beaches and waterways as part of the Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup. Volunteers last year collected about 10,000 tons of plastics worldwide over two hours, he said.

Leonard also raised concerns that marine and wildlife could be entangled by the net that will hang below the surface. He said he hopes Slat's group is transparent with its data and shares information with the public about what happens with the first deployment.

"He has set a very large and lofty goal and we certainly hope it works but we really are not going to know until it is deployed," Leonard said. "We have to wait and see."

Massive boom hopes to corral Pacific Ocean's plastic trash
In this May 11, 2017, file photo, Dutch innovator Boyan Slat poses for a portrait next to the anchors of his plastic collecting system, suspended from the roof of a building in Utrecht, Netherlands. Engineers will deploy a trash collection device to corral plastic litter floating between California and Hawaii in an attempt to clean up the world's largest garbage patch in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. The 2,000-foot (600-meter) long floating boom will be towed Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an island of trash twice the size of Texas. The system was created by The Ocean Cleanup, an organization founded by Slat. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

The system will act as a "big boat that stands still in the water" and will have a screen and not a net so that there is nothing for marine life to get entangled with. As an extra precautionary measure, a boat carrying experienced marine biologists will be deployed to make sure the device is not harming wildlife, Slat said.

"I'm the first to acknowledge this has never done before and that it is important to collect plastic on land and close the taps on plastic entering into the ocean, but I also think humanity can do more than one thing at a time to tackle this problem," Slat said.

Explore further: Dutch group says it will soon start cleaning up ocean trash

Related Stories

Dutch group says it will soon start cleaning up ocean trash

May 11, 2017

A Dutch foundation aiming to rid the world's oceans of plastic waste says it will start cleaning up the huge area of floating junk known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the next 12 months, two years earlier than ...

Boaters mapping Pacific garbage arrive in San Francisco

August 24, 2015

Far away from California's coast, where the Pacific Ocean currents swirl, the blue of the sea was replaced by fishing nets, buckets, buoys, laundry baskets and unidentifiable pieces of plastic that floated past the Ocean ...

Ocean plastic cleanup team plan 2016 system launch

June 3, 2015

Throw-away package wraps, bottles, sandwich wrappings, carrier bags—they all contribute to a sense of hopelessness when one sees the mess of plastic in the ocean thanks to shocking pictures confirming the mess we're in. ...

Pacific plastic dump far larger than feared: study

March 22, 2018

The vast dump of plastic waste swirling in the Pacific ocean is now bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined—far larger than previously feared—and is growing rapidly, a study published Thursday warned.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

18 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Parsec
5 / 5 (6) Sep 08, 2018
Everything we can do to eliminate this blight on our planet will help.
snoosebaum
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 09, 2018
i'll be surprised it they find any , i've been watching sailing videos , no trash to be seen
rrwillsj
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 09, 2018
sb, do you really think that the snobby snots running the Yacht Clubs would set a course through the Doldrums? Risking their pretty boats? Where most of this trash eventually gets trapped.

Not surprising if the trash is not filmed during races. Most of it is waterlogged and clear plastic. Or light colors that reflect the sunlight off amid the churning water.

The cameramen are paid to display the boats to their best advantage. And the speed and excitement and manly effort to win the races.

Probably need special filters to pick out the trash from the glare while using high-speed film and concentrating on the activities? Photography is always tradeoffs. Immediate, sharp. up close or distant, expansively inclusive scene?
aksdad
3 / 5 (3) Sep 10, 2018
It will be interesting to see how much plastic they collect. By all accounts, you can't see any plastic debris floating on the surface. You have to use very fine nets or screens trawling through the ocean to collect it, which raises concerns of inadvertently entrapping fish.

https://en.m.wiki...ge_patch
Researcher
4 / 5 (4) Sep 10, 2018
There is more micro plastic in the ocean than the basic basic building blocks of life, krill.
If the oceans die. So do we.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (3) Sep 10, 2018
Everything we can do to eliminate this blight on our planet will help.

Stop making un-degradeable plastic would be a good start....
leetennant
5 / 5 (4) Sep 10, 2018
I'm also very pessimistic that physically picking up the plastic is any sort of solution, especially with the microparticle problem. But I'm glad that at least somebody is trying something. Yes, we need to stop making non-biodegradable plastics and yes we need a better system for disposal so it doesn't end up in the oceans to begin with. But taking out large pieces before they break up into dangerous particulates is a good start.
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2018
wils , no snobby snobs for me , i watch Ran , SV Delos , Vagabonde , some others on utoob , just regular folk , see the world . They have been Indian , Altlantic , Carib to HI , never once seen any trash
barakn
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 11, 2018
I've seen an entire boat underwater in Sitka, Alaska, and that wasn't just before leaving the harbor, it was still tied to the dock. If "Ran , SV Delos , Vagabonde , some others on utoob , just regular folk ...never once seen any trash" they have to be the most stupid, most non-observant people on the planet.
barakn
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 11, 2018
It will be interesting to see how much plastic they collect. By all accounts, you can't see any plastic debris floating on the surface. You have to use very fine nets or screens trawling through the ocean to collect it, which raises concerns of inadvertently entrapping fish.

https://en.m.wiki...ge_patch

Your own link contains an account of someone seeing plastic debris floating on the surface. And it happened to be someone sailing home from a yacht race. So not only have you debunked yourself, you've debunked snoosebaum as well. Good show, old bean.
snoosebaum
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2018
what about all those buoys ? tps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Garbage_Patch_Visualization_Experiment.webm

and edit , they did see lots of beach trash , of course , thats where it ends up
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2018
@snoose
i watch Ran , SV Delos , Vagabonde , some others on utoob
ever see or read anything by Captain Fatty Goodlander from Cruising World?

he's talked about it before and been through it
http://www.fattyg...der.com/

https://oceancrui...entially

http://cruisingod...plastic/

you can also read about sailors (civilian and military) seeing the patch first hand in various forums
snoosebaum
3 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2018
stump , yes i have , he has met with those toobers i watch , i would like to see his account.. Ran sailed through some of that area a few months ago costa rica - HI and reported no garbage [ some viewers asked directly , it was just not an issue. ] The patch may be transitory.
i agree the trash is a massive problem but its easily solved , ie there is a NZ firm wanting to use waste plastic in concrete , or it could just be used as fuel .
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2018
here is the youtube search result , notice the pics are land based , others i believe are near oriental outflows and easily delt with if anybody cared.

https://www.youtu...ge+patch
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2018
notice the pics are land based
@snoose
here is just one study on the patch - https://www.resea...atch.pdf

lastic debris was collected in the North Pacific
Gyre, extracted, and analyzed for 36 individual PCB congeners, 17 organochlorine pesticides, and 16
EPA priority PAHs.
there is more than one
I know Captain Fatty has talked about it... I think you can find articles in Cruising World too, but it may be reader letters, etc that I remember

I've also seen it in person - some parts look like occasional floating garbage, but there were large swaths of area that looked like a sandbar or island
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Sep 11, 2018
here is the youtube search result
@snoose
those first two videos that I see are of the same cleanup attempt - it looks promising
https://www.youtu...VHaURRlA

i would like to see his account
you can get to his stuff on farcebook or the link I put above
He is freakin' hilarious

EDIT:
he has a farcebook link on his web page link above
or here: http://www.fattyg...der.com/
snoosebaum
5 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2018
TrollBane
5 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2018
I humbly suggest that the more urgent garbage patch is not in the middle of the Pacific, but in the vicinity of Washington -- D.C.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.