Environmental remediation has various forms. Some companies focus on ridding older homes and buildings of asbestos related materials, some provide deep cleaning services to hospitals and other environments, and some crews are dispersed to the scene of environmental disasters, such as oil slicks, to try and clean up the environment and return it to its natural state.
The environmental remediation experts at The Ocean Cleanup have a different and more focused target in mind.
Founded in 2013 by 18 year old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, they’re determined to clean up the great garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean, and they think they have a system in place that just might work.
Their plan is to use a giant floater and screen that they will deploy to the garbage patch to capture the plastic garbage as it passes through. They estimate that they can reduce the size of the patch by 50% over the next 5 years. Combining that with other measures to reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean in the first place, they believe that we can have a plastic free ocean (again) by the year 2050.
What exactly is this garbage patch anyway?
Here’s an explanation from the Ocean Clean Up website:
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. It is located halfway between Hawaii and California.
It is estimated that 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year from rivers. More than half of this plastic is less dense than the water, meaning that it will not sink once it encounters the sea.
The stronger, more buoyant plastics show resiliency in the marine environment, allowing them to be transported over extended distances. They persist at the sea surface as they make their way offshore, transported by converging currents and finally accumulating in the patch.
Once these plastics enter the gyre, they are unlikely to leave the area until they degrade into smaller microplastics under the effects of sun, waves and marine life. As more and more plastics are discarded into the environment, microplastic concentration in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will only continue to increase.
The GPGP covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers, an area twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.
It takes an estimated 1.8 trillion plastic pieces to make up a patch that large. That’s an estimated 250 pieces of debris for every human on the planet!
Our tow test has left Alameda and is on its way to the Pacific Ocean. pic.twitter.com/K3I4h129hP
— The Ocean Cleanup (@TheOceanCleanup) May 19, 2018
Together, all of that plastic weighs an estimated 80,000 tons, or the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets!
Let’s hope that this system is a success. The company deployed a major tow test earlier this month and, if things go well, they will launch their first mission to the garbage patch later this summer.