Ocean currents concentrate plastic in five areas in the world,  the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. If the accumulated trash is left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies. Fortunately, the Ocean Cleanup has developed advanced technologies in hopes of ridding the world’s oceans of plastic. It’s dreams are now becoming reality as the company deployed its $20 million system designed to clean up the 1.8 trillion pieces of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Ocean Cleanup’s floating boom system deployed on Saturdayfrom San Francisco Bay, in which it will undergo several weeks of testing before finally being hauled into action. With the help of a full-scale deployment of its systems, the floating boom system is estimated to clean up half  of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the first five years. According to Ocean Cleanup, each boom is expected to catch up to 150,000 pounds of plastic per year as they float along the currents between California and Hawaii.

Concentration of microplastics with and without cleanup in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo: The Ocean Cleanup

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so large that it’s easily detectable from space via satellites and covers roughly 1.6 million square kilometers and 1.8 trillion pieces of debris. This trash will be collected and trapped within a circulating ocean current, called a gyre. This prevents the distribution of the garbage patch as the floater provides buoyancy to the system and prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath.

Photo: The Ocean Cleanup

After the floating boom system is done with testing, it will be moved 1,400 miles to the garbage patch around mid-October to begin collecting trash. It will drift along the local currents by wind and waves only, creating a U-shaped formation. As the boom floats, it collects trash in the U shaped system, which has 10 feet of netting below it to collect smaller fragments of plastic. Once filled, a vessel will come to collect the plastic and further transport it to land for sorting and recycling.

“Our floating systems are designed to capture plastics ranging from small pieces just millimeters in size, up to large debris, including massive discarded fishing nets (ghost nets), which can be tens of meters wide,” Ocean Cleanup said. The company believes that the 10 feetof netting is not deep enough to catch fish as they can still swim below it, although, this is something that they must test in the open ocean first. After fleets of systems are deployed into every ocean gyre, combined with source reduction, the Ocean Cleanup projects that it will be able to remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2030 with and without cleanup. [scale units : kg/km2] Photo: The Ocean Cleanup

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