engineering careers  Ocean Cleanup removes 100,000 kg of plastic from ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch
engineering careers  Ocean Cleanup removes 100,000 kg of plastic from ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Non-profit Ocean Cleanup has revealed it has now removed more than 100,000 kg of plastics from the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ (GPGP).

The Great Pacific garbage patch (aka Pacific trash vortex) is a huge area of marine debris in the central North Pacific Ocean. The size of the patch has never been accurately determined as large items are uncommon, instead debris consists of small plastic particles suspended at or just below the surface which evade detection by aircraft or satellite.

Instead, the size of the patch has to be determined by sampling the water. Recent estimates place the size of the garbage patch is 1,600,000 square kilometres (620,000 sq mi) … about twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.

‘The Ocean Cleanup’ was founded in 2013 to develop technologies that can help remove plastics that are discarded into the oceans as well as intercept them in the rivers before they enter the larger water bodies.

The organisation has its sights set on not only the GPGP in the North Pacific Ocean itself but countries in Asia, South America, and North America which produce the plastics that end up there.

On the ground (water) the company is relied initially on its “System 001” which consisted of a floating barrier to collect the debris.

This collected debris pushed by the waves, wind, and current as the barrier was slowed by sea anchors.

The company tested the system for efficiency back in 2018 and based on that analysis has rolled out System 002.

System 002 includes a number of improvements. Sea anchors were ‘dropped’ in favour of water-borne parachutes. These can slow the system down and improves the ability for it to capture plastic.

System 002, is the first large-scale clean attempt from the company. After 3 months of tests last year, it has been quietly collecting plastic ever since.

These efforts has resulted in the latest milestone of 223,445 pounds (101,353 kgs) of cleaned up plastic to date. This is the result of 45 extraction trips which have swept over 1158 sq. miles of ocean.

The company in-house estimates point to another 100,000,000 kg of plastic waste within the GPGP. This means they need to make another 999 such milestones before they could (theoretically) completely clear the patch – assuming no more plastic waste entered the water.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the milestone shouldn’t be celebrated. The technology developed has been fairly straight-forward to roll out and gives hope to those looking at engineering solutions to mitigate the climate crisis and improve the environment we all share.

The company has now revealed it much larger System 003. This has been developed to reduce the cost per kilogram of plastic removed and speed up cleaning.