Environment

Ocean Cleanup's biggest system sweeps into Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Ocean Cleanup's biggest system...
The Ocean Cleanup Project has deployed a new system that uses active propulsion
The Ocean Cleanup Project has deployed a new system that uses active propulsion
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The Ocean Cleanup Project's new trash-catching barriers funnel waste into a retention zone at the far end
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The Ocean Cleanup Project's new trash-catching barriers funnel waste into a retention zone at the far end
The Ocean Cleanup Project has deployed a new system that uses active propulsion
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The Ocean Cleanup Project has deployed a new system that uses active propulsion

Since it first emerged with the bold vision of cleaning plastics from the seas way back in 2013, the Ocean Cleanup Project has made many tweaks to the design of its trash-catching barriers. The latest might be the most significant one yet, with the team switching from a passive design that relied on the forces of the ocean to one powered by active propulsion, which they see as a far more efficient way forward.

Originally, the idea behind the Ocean Cleanup Project's system was to anchor a massive U-shaped floating barrier to the seabed, which would take advantage of the ocean's currents to collect plastic waste as it was carried into the area. Later versions took a free-floating approach and were powered by the currents, waves and wind, creating a speed differential with the plastic waste that enabled it to be scooped up as the barrier moved through the water.

However, testing of this approach out in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch showed that the design wasn't quite up to the job, with the system struggling to maintain the necessary speeds to gather up the trash. So the team hauled the system in and made some upgrades, the most notable of which was a huge parachute designed to slow down the barrier and maintain a steady speed, so the faster-moving plastic could drift into the opening and stay there.

The Ocean Cleanup Project's new trash-catching barriers funnel waste into a retention zone at the far end
The Ocean Cleanup Project's new trash-catching barriers funnel waste into a retention zone at the far end

The team has now abandoned the idea of a passive system in favor of one powered by active propulsion, with crewed vessels at either point of the U-shaped barrier towing it through the water at a steady speed of 1.5 knots. The idea is to funnel the collected plastic into a retention zone at the far end, and one benefit of having it towed by crewed vessels is that it can be steered towards areas of high waste concentration. Another benefit of this design, according to the Ocean Cleanup Project, is that it will be more commercially viable to scale up.

Called Jenny, this design features an 800-meter-long (2,640-ft) barrier and is described as the Ocean Cleanup Project's first large-scale system. It was deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time this week and will undergo more than 70 separate tests over the coming 60 weeks. Through these tests, the team plans to not just validate the design, but demonstrate it has limited environmental impact and no safety issues, while also collecting a significant amount of plastic.

With so much plastic pouring into the oceans each day, the team will have its work cut out for it cleaning up the mess. An equally important part of its solution is to collect much of this waste as it washes into the sea from the world's most polluted rivers, with a system it calls The Interceptor. Ultimately, the team aspires to reduce floating ocean plastics by 90 percent by 2040.

Source: The Ocean Cleanup

10 comments
10 comments
Koziol
In order to fix the problem cities, states, and countries need to be held accountable for letting trash get put into steams, lakes, and the ocean. Dumps need to be moved away from water ways where floods tend to pick up the trash and carry it down stream. Trash has to be stopped from being put into the ocean as a means of visual destruction. People need to be held accountable dumping trash or letting it blow of if their trucks, etc. There is no force more destructive than the human race to our planet.
CAVUMark
We must cherish our planet. Right now its the only one we have and I am not keen on moving to Mars.
jerryd
Sorry but it only shows they are incompetent in using wind, solar. I certainly wouldn't have a problem designing wind, solar power tugs or even powering it with the plastic collected. But them I've designed high tech sailboats 50 yrs, wind, tidal generators 35 yrs.
Kpar
This would be a whole lot easier, efficient and cheaper if they would set this up at the mouth of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers.
Ornery Johnson
You would think that the CO2 and SO2 emissions from two large boats running off bunker fuel would significantly offset any good done with this meager design. Still, I suppose one has to start somewhere. Eventually, one could imagine each boom-end dragged by a robotic electric boat (controlled via satellite when needed). The boom assembly could have integrated floating solar arrays that would recharge batteries on the boats. In instances where the boats still need downtime to recharge, they could move to be in close proximity to prevent escape of gathered trash from the confines of the boom assembly. Main problem would be what happens in bad weather or high waves?
SussexWolf
Their Interceptor solution for rivers is more effective. Stop most of the problem closer to source, especially before the plastic begins to break up into micro plastic pieces which the ocean collector will not capture much of.
Signguy
I understand the biggest poluters are the large ships; Navy & cruise...
Nelson Hyde Chick
Trying to fix any of the many of mankind's ecological disasters while humanity is allowed to swell by billions more is just pissing into the wind.
Eggbones
The problem from the start has been that most of the plastic is in the form of microplastic and it can't be removed without harming phytoplankton, which is a similar size. Neither of those terms were in the article.

You need to stop giving this story a free ride. Dragging a butterfly net to catch a few bread bags isn't going to save the planet. Reporting it as though it will makes you part of the problem.
Aross
The main solution here is to stop plastics and other non-recyclables from being produced. So much packaging that used to be made from paper and other other natural sources have been replaced by plastics, most of which can not be recycled or easily destroyed. It is time we take a giant step back and go back to those older products. New is not always better and plastics are a prime example of that.