Can This Ocean Array Rid The World’s Oceans of Harmful Plastics?

Illustration courtesy The Ocean Cleanup
Illustration courtesy The Ocean Cleanup

We first heard about this concept back in late 2012 when a first year aerospace engineering student named Boyan Slat gave a TED talk about how the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage patch”, and all of the world’s oceans for that matter, can essentially clean themselves of harmful plastics. (See: Can The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Clean Itself?)

Now, 19-year-old Slat is back with a project he founded known as The Ocean Cleanup, which just released feasibility study based on his original concept and claims that cleanup of the infamous ‘Garbage Patch’ is possible.

In the past few decades, millions of tons of plastic have entered the oceans, eventually getting caught up in world’s five major ocean gyres, or massive rotating currents, with the largest and best known being the one that stretches across the northern Pacific. Ultimately, the plastic breaks down into tiny pieces, damaging ecosystems and entering the food chains.

“I first became aware of the plastic pollution problem when diving in Greece, coming across more plastic bags than fish,” says Slat. “Unfortunately, the plastic does not go away by itself. Hence I wondered; Why can’t we clean this up?”

Due to the massive scale of the “garbage patch”, cleanup has always been deemed impossible. But now, the 530-page study, which Slat and his organization claim has been reviewed by scientific peers, concludes that there is a technically and financially viable method.

“I wondered; why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you? By attaching a system of long floating arms to the seabed, the oceans could basically clean themselves,” Slat adds.

The Ocean Cleanup explains the concept:

How it works

Slat’s concept uses the natural ocean currents and winds to passively transport plastic towards a collection platform. Instead of using nets and vessels to remove the plastic from the water, solid floating barriers are used to make entanglement of sea life impossible. By deploying the proposed system for ten years, almost half of the plastic within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can be removed.

A new animation of the The Ocean Cleanup Array, based on engineering results from the feasibility study, can be seen below.

So what’s next?

The Ocean Array Cleanup has launched a crowd funding campaign seeking $2 million to bring their concept design into the next phase of development: preparing for large-scale operational pilot.

So do you think this concept design can do what it claims? Head over to the The Ocean Cleanup website to find out more.