Ocean Cleaning Device Succeeds In Removing Plastic For The First Time

It is estimated that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans worldwide, and this amount is expected to triple in the next decade.

The issue aggravates on a daily basis, so people are becoming aware of the importance to address the problem as soon as possible.

Dutch scientists created a huge floating device for the non-profit Ocean Cleanup, which successfully captured and removed plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

For seven years, Ocean Cleanup has been trying to create a device that will fight plastic waste. According to the company, it was able to capture and hold debris ranging from large cartons, crates and abandoned fishing gear — or “ghosts nets,” which are a scourge to marine life — to microplastics that are as small as one millimeter.

The prototype has been deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area roughly the size of South Africa, located between Hawaii and California.

An extensive aerial and oceanic survey conducted by the company showed that the trash covers around 1.6 million km², and the Pacific patch contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic accounting for at least 250 pieces for every human being.

At a news conference in Rotterdam, Boyan Slat, the company’s founder and CEO, proudly stated that their innovation managed to clean plastics. He also tweeted that the 600 meter-long (2,000ft) free-floating boom had captured and retained debris from what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

He posted a picture of collected debris alongside a forsaken wheel and wrote:

“Our ocean cleanup system is now finally catching plastic, from one-ton ghost nets to tiny microplastics! Also, anyone missing a wheel?”

The Ocean Cleanup device is a U-shaped barrier that drops a net below the surface, and as the current moves, it traps faster-moving objects that float into it.

Slat explained:

“Basically, we designed an artificial coastline as a method of taking the plastics out of the water.”

The plastic barrier floating on the surface of the sea has a three meter-deep (10ft) screen below it, which traps some of the 1.8tn pieces of plastic without disturbing the marine life below.

Also, the device is fitted with transmitters and sensors so it can communicate its position via satellites to a vessel that will collect the gathered rubbish every few months.

The concept was initially presented in a TEDx talk when Slat was 18 years old. However, the project has been slowed by some spectacular failures, and last year, a design flaw stopped the barrier from holding onto the plastic it captured and a 59-foot section of the barrier disconnected from the device.

In its next attempt, the design team realized that plastic was floating over the top of a cork line that was supposed to stabilize the system, and the barrier, known as System 001/B, was picking up speed from the ocean currents that outpaced the plastic litter.

Consequently, the team upgraded and rethought the entire design, and decided to slow down the device with a parachute-anchor, so that faster-moving plastic can float into the barrier.

Next, they fixed the cork line so very little plastic was able to pass over the top of the barrier.

The plastic collected so far will be brought to shore in December for recycling. The team hopes there may be a premium market for items that have been made using plastic reclaimed from the ocean.

Slat added that in a few years, it should be possible to cover the operational cost of the cleanup operation using the plastic harvested.


“Our team has remained steadfast in its determination to solve immense technical challenges to arrive at this point. Though we still have much more work to do, I am eternally grateful for the team’s commitment and dedication to the mission and look forward to continuing to the next phase of development.”

The project was started in 2013 and after several major revisions in the design, it now gave the expected results. Yet, it is hoped the final design will be able to clean up half of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Ocean Cleanup now attempts to find a way so that the cleaning device can hold plastic for a year before collection is necessary.

In a press release, the company stated that it will now start on its next iteration, System 002, a full-scale cleanup device that will endure rough ocean conditions and retain the collected plastic for long periods between collections. As soon as the plastic is collected, it will be returned to land and processed for recycling.

The company plans to clean at least 90% of the waste in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 2040.