While governments are distracted with the intangibles of climate change and carbon taxes, private innovation is creating positive results in environmental protection. In 2013, then-18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat founded his start-up called The Ocean Cleanup with the mission to develop “advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.” Last weekend, his floating boom system was deployed from San Francisco Bay for testing and is estimated to clean up half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within its first five years.
Ocean Cleanup’s USD $20 million system aims to remove 90 percent of the 1.8 trillion pieces of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex of trash discovered in the mid-1980s that is created from an ocean gyre in the central North Pacific, between Hawaii and California, by 2040. Each boom will trap up to 150,000 pounds of plastic per year as they float along the circulating ocean currents between California and Hawaii. The system takes advantage of natural oceanic forces to catch and concentrate the plastic. In terms of creating a system for cleanup, the gyre is a benefit by prevents the further distribution of the garbage patch.
The beta cleanup system of booms are comprised of 600-meter long floaters that can collect about five tons of ocean plastic per month. Following the present testing, the floating boom system will be towed out 1,400 miles to the garbage patch around mid-October and begin collecting trash. The floating boom drifts along with the local currents, creating a U-shaped formation. As the boom floats, it collects trash in the U shaped system, which has 10 feet of netting below it to collect smaller fragments of plastic. Once the boom is full, a vessel will meet the boom to collect the plastic and transport it to land for sorting and recycling. Its 10 feet of netting is not deep enough that fish are unable to swim below it, therefore the hope is the boom will collect trash and not fish.
There are five garbage patches in the world’s oceans, of which the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest. The Ocean Cleanup is backed by investors including Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce. The company will welcome corporations and philanthropists to sponsor their own cleanup system in coming years.
Chief Operating Officer Lonneke Holierhoek said, "We really see the urgency in starting the cleanup because there's so much harm that could happen with this plastic that's floating out there." According to the World Economic Forum, oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish by 2050. As noted on The Ocean Cleanup website, "Research shows the majority of plastic by mass is currently in the larger debris. By removing the plastic while most of it is still large, we prevent it from breaking down into dangerous microplastics" that can absorb toxic substances and travel up the food chain.