Could this environmental device be an interim answer to cleaning up plastic waste from our oceans?
Until now, the focus of plastic litter campaigns has been on beaches, with volunteers all over the world lifting bags and bottles from shorelines. Never before has anyone gone further by trying to clear the stuff from the middle of an ocean and, despite sea trials and computer modelling, no-one knows if the experiment will work.
But Dutch inventor of the device, Boyan Slat and his team at The Ocean Cleanup non-profit believe the sheer scale of plastic out there demands that action be taken.
The multimillion-dollar floating boom designed to corral plastic debris littering the Pacific Ocean was deployed from San Francisco Bay on Saturday as part of a larger high-stakes and ambitious undertaking.
The 2,000-foot-long unmanned structure was the product of about $20 million in funding from the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that aims to trap up to 150,000 pounds of plastic during the boom’s first year at sea. Within five years, with the creation of dozens more booms, the organisation hopes to clean half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The patch, a gyre of trash between California and Hawaii, comprises an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of scattered detritus, including at least 87,000 tons of plastic.
Over the next several days, the boom will be towed to a site where it will undergo two weeks of testing. If everything goes as planned, the boom will then be brought to the garbage patch, nearly 1,400 miles offshore, where it is expected to arrive by mid-October, said Boyan, the former university dropout and entrepreneur who founded Ocean Cleanup.
The cleanup system is supposed to work like this: After the boom detaches from the towing vessel, the current is expected to pull it into the shape of a “U.” As it drifts along, propelled by the wind and waves, it should trap plastic “like Pac-Man,” the foundation said on its website. The captured plastic would then be transported back to land, sorted and recycled.
The boom has an impenetrable skirt that hangs nearly 10 feet below to catch smaller pieces of plastic. The nonprofit said marine life would be able to pass underneath.
The long-term solution may be in finding alternatives to plastics and banning use of plastic in packaging, but this initiative may go a long way in cleaning up existing ocean pollution.