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.”
Ambitious dreams have now become a reality as the Ocean Cleanup deploys its $20 million system designed to clean up the 1.8 trillion pieces of trash floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Check out another Forbes piece on how Ocean Cleanup aims to reuse and recycle the ocean plastic.
The floating boom system was deployed on Saturday from San Francisco Bay and will undergo several weeks of testing before being hauled into action. The system was designed by the nonprofit Ocean Cleanup, which was founded in 2013 by 18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat. Their mission is to develop “advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.”
When the oceanographer Charles Moore first discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–an area of the ocean where currents concentrate the plastic we throw into the ocean–in 1997, he was shocked by its magnitude and persistence. “It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot,” he wrote later in Natural History magazine. “In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” In the years since the plastic buildup has only worsened. In a recent article in the New York Times, Moore reported that the Patch, through a process of accretion, now contains “solid areas you could walk on.”