In 2013, Boyan Slat started The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit for removing the plastic from Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a trash-filled vortex which is bigger than two times of Texas combined. This group developed a device for passive collection of plastic in its fold.
However, it faced some difficulties including a manufacturing and design flaw. The plastic spilled back to the ocean as a consequence. The plastic also began to flow over the cork line meant to stabilize the system. But the Ocean Cleanup announced that it fixed this problem and thus the device can resume the plastic collection in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It has managed to collect plastic objects such as cartons, crates and fishing nets. The organization announced that it was surprised by the ability of the system to capture microplastics.
Previous research conducted by the Ocean Cleanup suggested microplastics are collected at the ocean’s bottom hence they are unlikely to stay at the surface. So it has focused on the removal of large plastic objects from the Garbage Patch. A lot of the debris collected by the device is quite broken down and old. Thick plastic fragments are mainly found instead of plastic straws or bags. In addition to this, the device can also retain different types of plastic due to a new parachute system.
The U shaped plastic collection mechanism of the Ocean Cleanup collects trash from the patch passively with the help of the ocean currents by the creation of a coastline. A 2000 foot pipe of the device is its most visible portion which is made of high-density polyethylene plastic. It is attached to a screen about 10 feet below the surface for catching the debris. Initially, it was attached to the pipe’s bottom which created stress at the junction of pipe and the screen. A crack at the pipe’s bottom led to a fracture and the 59-foot end section detached from the array. To fix this, the Ocean Cleanup moved the screen ahead of the pipe connected with slings. A cork line was also installed for keeping it tight.
A new version of the device was launched in June named System 001/B. Researchers wanted to know if the device could move at a consistent pace. A parachute anchor was used for deceleration and the device was turned in the opposite direction with the attachment of inflatable bags for towing it faster than plastic. It was found to be the “winning concept”. However, it was found in August that the plastic spilled over the cork line hence calling for the requirement of a taller one to prevent overtopping. Slat announced that there was very minimal overtopping thus proving it a success.
The next target of the organization is to create a larger version of the device to capture more plastic. One of the main hurdles for it is to demonstrate that the device can retain plastic for more than a year. This is to ensure that it can survive the harsh winter. The next goal is to create a fleet of devices. A ship could be used to tow the debris collected by the array by visiting the garbage patch at regular intervals. The main target is to capture 15,000 tons of plastic every year. Slat hopes to visit the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and observe the debris collection in person.