The Ocean Cleanup just made a huge announcement from Werkspoorkathedraal, an exhibition in the Netherlands. CEO Boyan Slat revealed exciting new design changes to The Ocean Cleanup Array, which will enable the system to be more durable and collect more plastic. They once estimated their array could clean up 42 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years – now with their groundbreaking new arrays, they will be able to scoop up 50 percent of the patch’s plastic just five years. Even more exciting, deployment will start within the next 12 months – two years earlier than expected.


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In a presentation titled “The Next Phase,” Slat detailed their progress from the time he began The Ocean Cleanup around four years ago to today, and unveiled their plans for the future. He said one of their main design challenges was how to tether the array to the seabed. But then they realized a tether might not be their best option. Following their core principle of working with nature, they took the idea one step further. Slat put it this way: “To catch the plastic, act like the plastic.”

Related: The Ocean Cleanup raises $21.7 million to begin ridding the Pacific Ocean of plastic

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What does that mean? Well, an anchor attaches to the cleanup array, and effectively tethers the array not to the seabed but to a deep water layer. The system still moves slower than plastic, but can now drift with the ocean currents. The array is then free to rotate and orient itself in the direction from which the plastic is coming to scoop up even more. The vast breakthrough in design also enables the array to be more survivable; drifting with the currents means it doesn’t have to withstand the full force of the ocean. So the array acts like plastic – floating through the oceans – to catch the polluting material.

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The Ocean Cleanup will now deploy a fleet of smaller arrays instead of one massive system. Slat pointed out this will be easier to fund; it will still cost several hundred million dollars, by his estimate, but they can gradually scale up the cleanup process array by array.

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Slat said in his talk, “Four years ago when I founded The Ocean Cleanup, everyone told me that there was no way to clean up what’s already out there, and the only thing you could do is avoid making it worse. But to me, that was just such an uninspiring message. Don’t we all want a future that is better than the present? And now, we are able to show, with data, that we can actually make things better again. We can do this. We must do this. We will do this.”

Parts of the system are already in production, according to Slat, who unveiled some of the newly-designed anchors at the event.

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Slat said they’d made a promise to start cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 2020. He said they wouldn’t be able to keep that promise. Instead, they’ll now be deploying the first cleanup system in the Pacific Ocean in the next 12 months.

+ The Ocean Cleanup

Images via screenshot

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