While still in his teens, Dutch inventor Boyan Slat conceived of an Ocean Cleanup Array that he believed could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste currently polluting waters around the globe. Now just two years after we broke the news of Slat’s groundbreaking—and somewhat controversial—idea, the very first Ocean Cleanup is in development, and is set to be deployed in waters between Japan and South-Korea in the second quarter of 2016.
Plastic waste is a huge problem in the world’s oceans—around 8.8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the sea each year, and one recent study suggests that there will be a cumulative tenfold increase in ocean plastics by 2020. Once in the sea, this plastic waste wreaks havoc on marine life—with larger creatures becoming entangled in the debris, and small organisms ingesting particles of broken down plastics. Moreover, the waste gathers into gyres—with five large ones known to exist around the globe, most notably the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
As we reported in 2013, Slat’s proposed solution for cleaning up this hazardous debris consists of “an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.”
The Cleanup Array did draw criticism from some quarters, but after a year-long feasibility study, it was concluded that not only could the Array work, but it may be able to clean up half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just 10 years. And so, in 2016, Slat’s organization—The Ocean Cleanup—will deploy a 2000 meter array off Tsushima island, which lies between Japan and South Korea. The system—which will be the longest floating structure ever deployed—will be operational for two years, gathering plastic waste before it reaches the shores of Tsushima. In addition, the organization is working with Tsushima Island to determine if the collected waste can be used as an alternative energy source.
Slat announced the upcoming first deployment of the Ocean Cleanup Array at the Seoul Digital Forum, in South-Korea, stating: “Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today. Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time.”
And if all goes well, The Ocean Cleanup will deploy a 1000km system to tackles the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the next five years.
Images via The Ocean Cleanup