A device slated to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years was recently redeployed on its second mission. The Ocean Cleanup—an organization founded in 2013 by then 18-year old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat—developed the passive drifting system. Slat relayed the news of the relaunch through Twitter, stating “Hopefully nature doesn’t have too many surprises in store for us this time. Either way, we’re set to learn a lot from this campaign.”
The initial system, dubbed “System 001” or “Wilson,” was launched from San Francisco on September 8, 2018, for its first cleanup attempt. After four months at sea, Wilson had to return to port earlier than planned due to the structural malfunctioning of an 18-meter (59 ft.) section of the system. In addition, the system was not retaining the debris that it collected, which has now been attributed to inconsistent velocity.
This video from The Ocean Cleanup details the changes made to Wilson, now called “System 001/B:"
According to The Ocean Cleanup’s website, the system “takes advantage of natural oceanic forces to catch and concentrate plastic.” The device consists of a 600-meter long (1968.5 ft.) floater that sits on the surface of the water. Attached below the floater is a tapered 3-meter deep (9.8 ft.) screen that can capture plastics as small as a few millimeters. The system is U-shaped and is carried by the same currents that carry the plastic debris, although the system moves faster than the trash that it is intended to trap.
The system is autonomous, energy neutral, and scalable. It’s also designed to be inherently safe to marine life and stormproof. Every six to eight weeks, the debris will be collected by “garbage truck” vessels and brought back to shore for sorting and recycling. The Ocean Cleanup Project intends to use funds from the sales of recyclable plastic to fund future ventures, making the overall project self-sustainable.
The Ocean Cleanup Project intends to have a fleet of approximately 60 of these systems that could remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040. They plan to launch a second system at the beginning of next year.