This article is a follow-up to my September 2018 article, the Great Pacific Garbage Hack.
The Ocean Cleanup project has now been underway for almost 3 months. The floating arm technology, innovated by young Dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat, had the goal of capturing 50% of plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in only 5 years. The project has been in the works since 2013, and the thoughtfully designed, minimum-impact technology was finally launched off the coast of San Francisco, California in September 2018. Since then, the system has conducted a series of trials over the course of two weeks to ensure its viability in the open ocean. Finally, the system reached the infamous Patch at the end of October 2018.
Despite this great news, the system has stumbled upon a few hiccups. First, analysis of the organization’s monitoring equipment revealed that the plastic debris was exiting the system once being collected. This may be due to wind and wave exposure making the system move slower than the debris – allowing the plastics to escape from the system’s hold. As this is the first trial of any ocean cleanup system worldwide, the organization is taking any news as good news, and is seeing this challenge as an opportunity to improve their debris collection methods. A proposed solution is to widen the span of the collection device to counter these effects.
More recently, a fracture was discovered in one of the distal arms of the system. As such, the Ocean Cleanup team decided to bring the system back to port to be upgraded and repaired. The fracture did not result in any material loss, rollover, or safety risks to human or marine life; though it did see a compromise of the sensors and satellite tracking units – prompting the return of the system to port. Despite this malfunction, the system still managed to recover over 2000 kg of plastic in only a few weeks, a great success for such a short timeframe.
As such, despite a few technical malfunctions, the Ocean Cleanup project and the young innovator behind it are still considered a success in many circles. The system is an innovative solution for dealing with the mounting plastic debris that is collecting in our oceans. Moreover, the project’s publicity helps bring the scope of the problem to the everyday consumer’s mind. It helps us ask ourselves whether it is simply acting as a band-aid to a bigger problem, or whether consumers and producers should be working harder to reduce their plastic use and disposal.
To read more about how to reduce your plastic consumption, head to our DIY page on how to make your own zero-waste goodies from kombucha to dog treats, and from reusable shopping bags to beeswax food wraps.
What steps do you take to reduce your plastic waste?