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In 2013, Boyan Slat began to question the large volumes of plastic accumulating in our oceans and why no one was doing anything to clean it up. At 16 years old, he began research into potential solutions to effectively recover and remove it

The War Against Plastic Waste in Our Oceans

In 2013, Boyan Slat began to question the large volumes of plastic accumulating in our oceans and why no one was doing anything to clean it up. At 16 years old, he began research into potential solutions to effectively recover and remove it

Boyan has since started his non-profit organisation, The Ocean Cleanup. As of today (17 October 2018), their first system has arrived and been deployed at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of five ocean gyres. These gyres are where the majority of plastic waste that makes its way into the ocean accumulate as a result of ocean currents.

The Great Pacific Garbage patch is estimated to consist of approximately 80 000 tonnes of plastic waste. The plastic is widely dispersed at about 100 kg plastic per km2 of ocean making the patch twice as large as Texas. The widely scattered nature of the patch meant that The Ocean Clean Up had to design a passive system in order to concentrate the waste for remove from a single area.

How They Plan to Cleanup the Plastic Waste

The system is a 600 meter long, 3 meter deep, floating device made up of two pieces:

  • A floater – provides buoyancy and prevents plastic floating over the top of the system
  • A skirt/screen – attached below the floater prevents debris from escaping underneath it.

How The Ocean Cleanup Technology works with the oceans natural currents to clean up plastic in the ocean.

The ocean’s currents move the plastic waste and the system but because of the floater, the system is also moved by the wind and the waves. This system creates a moving coastline guided by the natural forces of the ocean. Allowing the system to move faster than the plastic, concentrating the waste into the centre of the u-shaped system. “Garbage ships” can then collect the concentrated plastic, take it back to land and recycle it.

The Expected Impact

The Ocean Cleanup estimates that a full-scale deployment (around 60 systems) would clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every 5 years.

They also believe that “if fleets of systems are deployed into every ocean gyre and humans play their part in source reduction, there would be a 90% removal of ocean plastic by 2040.” – The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup also want to ensure that the collected plastic gets recycled and turned into high-quality products. This would make the clean up a self-sustaining project.

Environmental Impact and Concerns

Some detractors have questioned the environmental impact of the system. It’s use of many, large, floating HDPE pipes have passed every test to ensure the system is safe for both human and marine life.

Each system is equipped with navigational signals, cameras, lights, sensors, GPS and anti-collision beacons. This ensures The Ocean Cleanup headquarters and other vessels know exactly where each system is at all times to avoid accidents.

Marine life would also not be in danger for four main reasons:

  1. The system moves slow enough for creatures to have time to swim away.
  2. Since the screen is impenetrable, the current will flow underneath it, guiding active organisms with it.
  3. The screen is not a net and so nothing can be entangled.
  4. Plastic is removed periodically which ensures people will be present to check that there is no marine life caught in the plastic.

The systems are also energy neutral, relying on the natural forces of the ocean and solar power.

André Borschberg, co-founder of the Solar Impulse project, said it perfectly when he said: “what is interesting to see […] is that [The Ocean Cleanup] is using nature to solve the mess we are [making] on this planet.”

The idea of using nature to fix the problems we have created can be seen in many projects managed by the GCX ZeroWaste department. For example, in our efforts to divert waste from landfill, we have drawn inspiration from natural cycles such as the digestive system to turn waste into energy.

As the first system gets deployed and begins its clean up, let us consider what changes we can make as individuals to reduce the ever-growing amount of plastic waste we produce.

If you would like to find out more about how you can reduce your waste as company, our Zero Waste experts are always on hand to answer any questions you have. Contact info@gcxafrica.co.za or call 021 702 4058.

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