Ocean currents concentrate plastic in five areas in the world: the subtropical gyres, also known as the world’s “ocean garbage patches”. Once in these patches, the plastic will not go away by itself. The challenge of cleaning up the gyres is the plastic pollution spreads across millions of square kilometers and travels in all directions. Covering this area using vessels and nets would take thousands of years and cost billions of dollars to complete. How can we use these ocean currents to our advantage?
Take advantage of natural oceanic forces
The Ocean Cleanup is developing a passive system, using the natural oceanic forces to catch and concentrate the plastic. Both the plastic and system are being carried by the current.
However, wind and waves propel only the system, as the floater sits just above the water surface, while the plastic is primarily just beneath it. The system thus moves faster than the plastic, allowing the plastic to be captured.
To catch the plastic, act like the plastic
Waves, winds and currents make the plastic move in a certain manner. The same forces will act on our roaming systems, causing them to gravitate to the areas in the garbage patch with the highest concentration of plastic.
The more cleanup systems released, the more plastic will be collected. Computation models show a full-scale deployment will lead to a 50 % reduction of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years’ time.
Extract, ship, recycle
In parallel to developing technology to extract plastic from the ocean, we also investigate how we can reuse the material once it is back on shore. Initial work on ocean plastic recycling shows our material can be turned into high quality products. Imagine your next phone, chair, car bumper or sunglasses could be made from plastic retrieved from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. By selling our branded material for reuse, we aim to eventually make the cleanup self-sustainable.