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The Ocean Cleanup is the Biggest Environmental Cleanup Ever

Posted on 30 March 2016

These days, we have a pretty good feel for how bad our ocean plastic waste problem is. In December, the most comprehensive study ever done on plastic pollution estimated that there are now as many as 51 trillion particles of floating plastic. For many, that's too big of a problem for us to even wrap our heads around. But not for Boyan Slat and The Ocean Cleanup - a project started by a 20 year old aerospace engineer that's advocating for the biggest cleanup ever. 

Because plastic doesn't just disappear on its own, The Ocean Cleanup is trying to remove as much plastic waste as possible from the oceans. In order to do so, The Ocean Cleanup smartly targets the plastic flotillas that concentrate in five rotating ocean currents, called gyres. You may have heard of the most infamous gyre, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. These patches are massive, so they're the perfect targets for The Ocean Cleanup. Researchers have found that on average there is 6 times more plastic in gyres than zooplankton in dry weight - and there are a lot of zooplankton. 

So how does it work? The Ocean Cleanup has developed technologies to extract, prevent and intercept ocean waste. Instead of heading out in ships geared with nets to collect the waste in the ocean, The Ocean Cleanup envisions a network of floating barriers that contain the great trash patches in the ocean. These floating barriers would gather the plastic waste as the ocean currents passively push the debris towards a central collection point. Once the trash as moved to this middle point, it's sucked up in a central storage container, ready for recycling. 

In a way, The Ocean Cleanup is letting the ocean clean itself. The project allows the natural currents to do the collection work for us, without any invasive technology in our ocean's ecosystems - there's no need to worry about by-catch. The Ocean Cleanup is still in testing mode, but their feasibility study indicates that just one 100 kilometer-long cleanup barrier could remove 42% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over the period of 10 years. That might seem like a while, but with as big of a problem as we have on our hands, 10 years is nothing. Looking more closely at the numbers, 42% is conservatively estimated at 70 million kilos of plastic, and cleanup costs are $5 per kilo. 

We've covered The Ocean Cleanup's extraction plans, but it's efforts for prevention and interception of plastic waste are worth mentioning too. The Ocean Project understands that prevention is a key part to solving this whole problem. While they've been developing this revolutionary technology, they've also been doing some public outreach efforts to raise awareness and get the public thinking about how we can prevent this problem in the first place. And for interception? The Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy spin-off technology for rivers that transport plastic headed for the ocean from major coastal cities. These interception systems will quickly reduce the influx of plastic junk that's pouring out of our rivers into the oceans. 

At Fair Harbor, we're always advocating for the little things we can all do to help solve this problem. We really believe that any and every change in behavior is worth it. But, it's great to see that scientists and engineers are looking to solve the plastic pollution problem on the massive scale that it is. It's pretty inspiring to hear that The Ocean Cleanup is poised to be the biggest environmental cleanup in human history!

The next big steps for The Cleanup Project are model testing and coastal pilots. The project plans to deploy its technology in 2020! We can't wait to watch!

Until then... Sea's the Day!

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