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Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to begin next year

An artist's impression of The Ocean Cleanup pilot
An artist's impression of The Ocean Cleanup pilot

The Ocean Cleanup, one of a growing number of organisations aiming to rid the oceans of plastic, is to begin operations in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch next year.

At an event in Utrecht, The Netherlands, The Ocean Cleanup showcased an improved design of its cleanup system, aiming to reduce the time taken to clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to just five years. It also revealed that parts of its first cleanup system are already in production.

Rather than fixing the first cleanup system to the seabed, the new design uses 12 metre high sea anchors to ensure the floating screens move slower than the plastic.

The improved, modular cleanup system consists of a number of large U-shaped barriers, suspended by floats, which cause plastic to float to a central point where it is extracted and shipped to shore for recycling.

Testing will begin off the US west coast by the end of this year, while the first deployment — halfway between California and Hawaii in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — will begin in early 2018.

The Ocean Cleanup chief executive Boyan Slat, who came up with the concept aged just 17, said: “At The Ocean Cleanup we are always looking for ways to make the cleanup faster, better and cheaper. Today is another important day in moving in that direction. The cleanup of the world’s oceans is just around the corner.”

Meanwhile, a Norwegian billionaire has contracted the world’s largest yacht to scoop up five tons of plastic every day.

About plastic pollution

  • The proliferation of plastic pollution in oceans across the world is symptomatic of a mis-use of resources, according to campaign groups such as Plastic Oceans Foundation.
  • Plastic, different types of fossil-fuel derived materials which last for thousands of years, are most often used just once before being thrown away.
  • In the ocean, plastic waste breaks down into microplastics, which leach and accumulate toxins such as phthalates and bisphenol A, causing critical diseases and disrupting the endocrine system of animals along the food chain.
  • Plastic pollution, industrial and agricultural run-off all contribute to ocean ‘dead zones’ and acidification, meaning that the marine functions in regulating the global carbon cycle through absorbing CO2, producing oxygen and influencing wind currents are severely curtailed .
  • Groups such as Plastic Oceans Foundation and The Ocean Cleanup advocate eliminating disposable plastic, seeking alternative materials and recycling of plastics.

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