Late in 2019, the Ocean Cleanup crew returned from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with its first load of plastic waste harvested from the ocean during a pilot test of its trash-fighting technology, proving that it could skim plastic off the surface of the water. But then came the next hurdle in the company’s yearslong quest to prove its effectiveness: how to recycle that plastic so it didn’t become waste again.
“It was actually quite a challenge, because this material has sometimes been out there for decades,” says Boyan Slat, CEO and founder of the Ocean Cleanup. “A lot of this stuff is quite brittle, quite degraded. It’s also very mixed. You see half of it being fishing nets, the other half being more rigid objects, like bottles and crates. So turning it into a usable material was quite a journey. When we announced that we were going to do this late last year, we didn’t know whether we could do it.”