A ship is carrying an unusual cargo: 2,000 feet of floating tubing, which researchers hope will clean some of the plastic clogging up the ocean. This makes the first time this type of device will ever be tested in real-life conditions, and if it performs well, it could provide the only feasible solution to cleaning up ocean plastic.
Hundreds of millions of tons of plastic sit in our oceans, and we add millions more each year. That plastic never goes away or degrades; it just breaks into smaller pieces and becomes even more dangerous. Right now, much of that plastic is concentrated in a region known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which currently contains some 350 million tons of trash.
This plastic is in so many pieces and is spread so thin that it’s difficult to remove through normal means. One possible solution is to create an artificial barrier to group the plastic and make it easier to pick up. That’s what the Ocean Cleanup vessel, launching from Los Angeles on September 8, is going to try to do.
The Ocean Cleanup is equipped with a 2,000-foot-long floating boom, which carries a large screen below to trap trash. Plastic trash will naturally pile up against that screen, making it easier for follow-up expeditions to clean it out. That is, assuming the device works as intended.
There are plenty of questions surrounding this plan, such as how well the tubing holds up in storms, whether it can maintain its effectiveness over a period of months or years, and whether it has an impact on marine life. This upcoming test run, which is scheduled to last for the next year, is intended to answer these questions.
If successful, the Ocean Cleanup team it can remove half the plastic in the garbage patch over the next five years, and 90 percent of all ocean trash by 2040. That’s a pretty optimistic goal, but a great number of ocean creatures—and us, by extension—may depend on them hitting that goal.