The Ocean Cleanup – cleaning up the oceans and capturing plastics in rivers

Ocean Cleanup

Plastic pollution has become one of the biggest environmental problems facing the world today. Plastic production is growing at an alarming rate, outstripping the planet’s capacity to process and dispose of them. The shocking fact is that half of all plastics ever produced were created in the last two decades.

Plastics production increased from 2.3 million tons in 1950. To 448 million tons in 2015. This number is projected to double by 2050. Every year, some 8 million tons of plastic waste enters the oceans from coastal countries. Some of them may take as long as 400 years to decompose. An estimated 30 million tons of plastic waste is found in the seas and oceans, and another 109 million tons accumulates in rivers. The Ocean Cleanup organization wants to confront the problem and remove 90% of the plastic floating in the oceans by 2040.

The Ocean Cleanup organization

The Ocean Cleanup is a Dutch non-profit organization that develops and advances technologies to clean the oceans of plastic. The organization is focusing on a two-pronged strategy. First – on removing the plastic that is already polluting the oceans. To this end, cleanup systems have been developed and implemented that collect plastic from areas such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch(GPGP), which consisted of about 100,000,000 kg of plastic in 2021 and 2022.

Second – the organization is betting on intercepting plastic in rivers to prevent it from entering the oceans. The river systems, known as Interceptor, are deployed in various locations around the world and aim to capture plastic in 1,000 of the most polluting rivers. In doing so, they reduce plastic emissions from sources that currently account for 80% of them.

Project progress – effective plastic removal and implementation of System 03

Since it began testing the first ocean cleaning system (System 001) in 2018, The Ocean Cleanup has been steadily improving its solutions. In the beginning, the idea was based on placing a U-shaped barrier on the ocean floor to collect waste using ocean currents. Unfortunately, the system had trouble maintaining enough speed to catch the trash. The improved System 002, introduced in June 2022, quickly demonstrated its effectiveness, cleaning up an area of more than 2,700 square kilometers and removing more than 84,000 kilograms of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It recently reached another milestone of more than 200,000 kg of plastic removed. Currently, the organization is preparing to implement its latest production, System 03, which is expected to be the largest and most efficient way to remove plastic from the oceans.

The maritime system – how does it work?

Joost Dubois, director of the communications at The Ocean Cleanup, compares the system to an artificial shoreline. It has an 800-meter-long U-shaped barrier with ships at the ends. They tow the system at a constant speed from 0.5 to a maximum of 2.5 knots. The plastic collected in this way is directed to a retention area, and is then recycled. Plastics are captured, from small pieces as small as millimeters to large trash, such as abandoned fishing nets.

The 002 system is designed to minimize risks to marine biota. It is equipped with deterrents, cameras and other improvements to ensure the safety of ocean dwellers. Thanks to continuous research and monitoring, the system has minimal impact on protected species such as turtles and whales. In addition, it provides a unique platform for scientific research on pollution in the oceans, which helps to better understand and protect the ecosystem.

Ocean Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup - cleaning up the oceans and capturing plastics in rivers 1

River system – how does it work?

Interceptor Original is the first river cleanup technology. It was launched in October 2019. This innovative solution works through solar energy and has the ability to capture plastic on its own, which greatly speeds up the cleaning process. It is a technically advanced catamaran consisting of a self-contained floating U-shaped barrier anchored to the bottom in a designated area. It directs contaminants to a special conveyor belt, from where they are sent to trash containers and a local processing plant. The Interceptor is capable of accommodating approx. 50 m³ of garbage.

Currently, The Ocean Cleanup technology has been introduced in five locations: Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, California in the US and the Dominican Republic. However, each river is unique in its characteristics, such as width, depth, flow velocity, sediment composition, seasonality and tides. These factors have a significant impact on the effectiveness of cleanup efforts. To meet a variety of scenarios, The Ocean Cleanup offers a wide range of technological solutions – from advanced to less complex, but tailored to the river.

Ocean Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup - cleaning up the oceans and capturing plastics in rivers 2

The Ocean Cleanup – plans for the future

The Ocean Cleanup organization, which aims to tackle the Thousand Rivers and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, needs significant funding to produce enough Interceptors and deploy System 03 to accomplish this task. In addition, a massive effort is needed to work with local authorities to overcome bureaucratic hurdles before deployment can begin. Despite these challenges, operations are very promising and the equipment is better than any before. The Ocean Cleanup, however, faces a difficult battle in the fight against water-borne plastic pollution. Let’s hope that their plan, to remove 90% of the plastic floating in the oceans by 2040, will be successfully implemented.

Photo Source: The Ocean Cleanup

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