Last month Boyan Slat‘s Ocean Cleanup project sent a fleet of scientists and volunteers to measure and map the waves of plastic trash making their way across the Pacific tides toward the West coast. They concentrated on an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is estimated to be twice the size of Texas. After returning, they report the plastic waste problem is much bigger than we previously thought.

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Boyan Slat is the 21-year-old Dutch innovator who runs The Ocean Cleanup, which sponsored the expedition. Phys.org reports that Slat says the project will result in data that will be more extensive than what has been collected in the past 40 years, leading researchers to a better estimate of how much plastic waste is really floating in the Pacific Ocean. The volunteer boaters have been using GPS and a smartphone app to seek out and document their plastic findings. Samples get shipped to the Netherlands for cataloging to aid Slat in planning an approach to the cleanup.

Related: Scientists discover a new rock made from human plastic waste and ocean debris

The world’s first Ocean Cleanup Array was slated to begin its cleanup endeavor near Japan next year, but Slat now says the cleanup efforts will begin by 2020. Meanwhile, the Pacific expedition to measure the garbage is still ongoing, and will conclude in mid-September.

The teams have already noted most of the plastic trash in the water is in large pieces, which will theoretically make it easier to clean up – that is, if they can get to it before the sun’s ultraviolent rays break it down into pieces that are too small to capture, but still big enough to wreak major havoc on ocean wildlife.

Via Phys.org

Images via Shutterstock and The Ocean Cleanup