Ocean Plastic Removal is Working

On December 12, 2019, the non-profit Ocean Cleanup succeeded in pulling out its first main load of plastic from the ocean.

Mission One took their first plastic catch onshore, in Vancouver Canada. The plastic trash will be transformed into sustainable products that will be sold to help fund the continuation of the cleanup operations. To confirm the origin of these future plastic products, we have worked with DNV GL, an international classification society, to verify plastic that is removed from the ocean.

The first mission in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was to confirm the concept of passive plastic collection by means of the natural forces of the ocean. After several ups and downs, in October 2019, they announced that the system was capturing and collecting plastic debris, from massive ghost nets down to microplastics one millimeter in size.

Since the launch of the first cleanup system, System 001, in September 2018, most items on the long list of deliverables for the technology could be checked one-by-one. Early reports showed, however, that System 001 was not retaining plastic as it should, and despite attempts to remedy this and successful design confirmations, the system suffered a fatigue fracture, resulting in a need to return the system to shore in January 2019

The engineering team performed a root cause analysis, redesigned a modified system, and, in record time, The Ocean Cleanup deployed the upgraded system, System 001/B, in June 2019. After several months of trialing modifications, the concept’s ability to capture plastic was confirmed.

The ocean is big. Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch using conventional methods – vessels and nets – would take thousands of years and tens of billions of dollars to complete. Their passive systems are estimated to remove 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage patch in just five years, and at a fraction of the cost.

The cleanup systems rely on natural forces to navigate the patches – a feature that also increases its survivability in the harsh ocean environment.

The combination of natural forces and a sea anchor create a drag, which makes the system move consistently slower than the plastic, while allowing the plastic to be captured.

Models show that a full-scale cleanup system roll-out could clean 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years.

After fleets of systems are deployed into every ocean gyre, combined with source reduction, The Ocean Cleanup projects to be able to remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.

26 thoughts on “Ocean Plastic Removal is Working”

  1. Recent science supports your belief. Biologist have found the Wax worm which lives in bee hives can eat Polyehtethylene and bacteria can eat polystyrene, and polyurethane.


    Scientist have also found that it is almost impossible to find particles of plastic with a size of less than 1mm. In theory as the plastic fragments into smaller and smaller peices particle counts would continue to increase. scientist find the the opposite. Also microscopes find numbers pits in plastic fragments full of bacteria.

    Basically UV and wave motion breaks it up into smaller and smaller piece and bacteria eat is until it is all converted to CO2 and water.

  2. Ha ha.. I gotta admit that having lived so many years in developing nations I did inhaled a bit too much wet smoke from the all the smoldering trash pits that pepper the landscape.

    A model worth considering is to have plastic recycling plants where the plastic waste is legal tender to barter for products made from the recyled items.

    The human exploitation has long been underway — Mexico City’s municipal dump is notorious for all the families that live there and harvest and sort recyclable waste as it gets dumped from the trucks — I don’t condone it, but it’s already happening all over the world and the proposal is to never let the useful waste make it to the dump.

    In Asia and elsewhere, the fishing fleets are already collecting gobbs of plastic in their nets and and throwing it back in the water. If that waste had some value they would bring it to shore it for some extra revenue and consequently bring some remedy to the pollution issue without getting into the ship building business.

    As for the grease, oil and other contaminants, plastics are magnets for petroleum so the collection of waterborne plastic is also harvesting reuseable oil from the seas.

    Most plastic bag factories are already melting and extruding their waste plastic into polyetylene irrigation hose and low grade PVC pipes for spools; the challenge is to replicate this same concept at the cottage-industry level – doing so would intercept the problematic disposal of plastic waste.

  3. This is what the forensic analysis has shown so far.

    By far the primary source is Asian container ships dumping their garbage.

  4. What about rounding all that debris for Plasma Gasification? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_gasification
    Apparently, “Gasification with starved combustion and rapid quenching of syngas from elevated temperatures can avoid the production of dioxins and furans that are common to incinerators,” says Wiki anyway.
    The left over slag is metal, which can be recycled much better than plastic.
    Energy production is neutral to mildly positive and maybe could be improved with enough R&D.

  5. GG, do homeless people push bikes loaded with aluminum cans down the street? They sure do! Certainly people who are poor could be incentivized hmmm in some way to collect all OF THE SAME types of plastic and then either process them or send to collection centers. Obviously it must be headed off before they dump it into the local body of water.

    With incentivization, that wonderful human behavior modifier, you can keep the plastic out of the water or even get people to fish for it with nets before it’s been in the water for too long.

  6. Gee, all we have to do is strain river mouths and we don’t have to change a thing…
    Can you take off your ideological glasses?

    That is one of many new findings, released Wednesday, from the most comprehensive study to date on microplastics in California. Rainfall washes more than 7 trillion pieces of microplastics, much of it tire particles left behind on streets, into San Francisco Bay each year — an amount 300 times greater than what comes from microfibers washing off polyester clothes, microbeads from beauty products and the many other plastics washing down our sinks and sewers.

    Just saying

  7. Maaaan, I wish I had some of that smokum you’ve got in your pipe!  

    My life would be so much richer, believing that something that even the legendarily industrious, inscrutable and penny-pinching Chinese are surreptitiously discarding by the gigaton into their riparian effluent stream (rivers) is something that even poorer, likely-less-industrious, and hardly wanting-for-trash will be lining up to collect gigatons of Chinese trash. Special smoke, that.

    Just sayin — it is trash for the most part. Undifferentiated, hard to differentiate (which is absolutely critical for concerted re-use), dirty-and-contaminated by an endless assortment of attached biota, biofilms, oils, greases, tars, barnacles, bits-of-this-and-that.  

    Except for just using back-hoes and digging up trash heaps from the 1970s thru 2020s, I really can’t imagine a worse human-capital-expending “resource” to try to exploit!

    Good smoke.

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  8. Well, as of late I agree with most-everything you pen; here I find agreement … again.  

    biotic mitigation could be “the other elephant”, I guess.
    I was thinking of the rather more obvious elephant. 

    Le’s see if anyone takes off their rosy glasses.

    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  9. For those complaining about this, the same company are also testing complementary systems to trap plastic waste in the most polluting rivers before it reaches the sea. Their aim is to both stop the problem getting worse by fitting those in the 1000 most polluting rivers, and clean up the majority of the stuff already out there.

    There’s a further project working on the river source problem which uses an air curtain on the river bed to deflect plastic to a receiver at the side without blocking the flow, and at the same time improve river oxygen levels. That’s not part of the company referenced in this report.

    A lot of the micro plastic which becomes a problem for the food chain is created by larger plastic which breaks up when left in the ocean. Collecting the larger stuff before this happens, reduces the source of this. Of course this leaves other sources of micro plastics such as artificial fibres, wet wipes, etc which also need to be properly disposed or recycled.

  10. Then clean up slower than you pollute. Areas where it shows itself to be a terrible problem will get attention first, and so it might take a very long time until it’s a significant issue (by which time faster cleanup will be understood).

  11. Or better yet, make waste plastic a valuable resource in the third world by developing micro industries that can shred, melt and used to make useful domestic items like cups, plates, ultensils, filament for 3D printers, etc…

    With young university minds driving the R&D, It is conceivable that, with a hand cranked augur with a solar heat source ,polyetylene and polycarbonate waste plastics from bags and bottles can be injected into homemade molds and rolls to make building blocks for homes like thin hollow blocks and translucent panels for roofing and windows.

    Once poor societies see that plastic waste it can be collected and harnessed into useful products they will be fishing the rivers themselves for the lucrative waste, instead of burning it at night (which is how 90% of plastic waste is handled in developing nations, both in Asia and all the counties south of the US border).

  12. The obvious point is that plastics are likely to be found to be edible by something, if they’re floating around in the sea in significant quantities for very long.

    Bacteria are very clever about exploiting new food sources.

  13. Brett Bellmore points out that this demo, as “satisfying” as it is (and it is!!), is mmm.. a bit of a teaspoon of lavendar is a swimming pool of shît. Just saying!

    Kind of obviously, it makes sense to “grab it before it is diluted” into the ocean proper. Position those plastic-catchers at the front of all rivers, sloughs, streams, storm-drain run-offs. Right?

    Any proper environmentalist … will — of course — get her hackles up and cry, “but, but, but! The migratory fish, seals, plankton, jellies!!! You can’t do that to those poor, innocent, hapless gems of Mother Earth’s grand plan!”

    Mmmm, hmmm. Yep, got it. 

    Safely armed with the environmentalists’ learned rejection of the plan, those who might otherwise (in industry-and-government) be forced by popular equally-environmentally-conscious citizens to pay for the proposed cleanup, will say “well, obviously we can’t do this!”.

    Thus the next 25, 30, 50 years will be full of breathlessly positive demo systems, and all somewhat-unfortunately stymied by the very same environmentalists that might otherwise like ’em. And want them.

    How … ironic.

    But really, isn’t there a much, much larger elephant in the living room?

    Go ahead, goats… don’t try too hard.
    Name that tusker.
    Come on!

    ⋅-⋅-⋅ Just saying, ⋅-⋅-⋅
    ⋅-=≡ GoatGuy ✓ ≡=-⋅

  14. Goldfinch has it right. They did trace studies on the problem and found that over 90% of the plastic comes from Asia – and much of that from Asian ships that still dump their trash directly into the sea. Most western countries no longer practice dumping at sea.
    So the solution is to stop them from doing it with sanctions or whatever means necessary.

  15. Place one of these ‘collectors’ off-shore of each of the major Chinese rivers, collect the trash, and ship it back to them, postage due.

  16. One would hasten to point out that these are not mutually exclusive; it is possible to implore China to ‘clean up it’s act’ at the same time as removing the existing floating trash heap.

  17. Bunch of virtue signaling. Get China to stop polluting it’s rivers! That would be so much more productive than this. It seems a waste of time to treat symptoms rather than causes. Clean up Pacific island beaches periodically too. They act as a natural net, and the impact is real on those beaches.

  18. I was under the impression that the big problem was the huge amount of microscopic plastic particles that find their way into the ecosystems. Main sources of these particles are cosmetics, secondary waste from sand/air-blasting and fragmentation and deterioration of larger objects. The plastic removal system may address the last one of these sources.

    I guess cosmetics could be fixed (theoretically) without major technical hurdles.

    Switching to bio-degradable plastics for the main problem sources would probably be the quickest fix. Hydro-carbons are a desired energy source in all ecosystems so bio-degradable plastics would be taken care of immediately.

    Engineered micro-biota to consume existing non-degradable plastic may work. Risky though. It may eat more than we had planned…

  19. Working, in the sense that it’s picking up plastic. But, unless massively expanded, not at the same rate it’s flowing down Chinese rivers into the sea.

    Not saying I’m opposed to it, but the way the essay is written, it makes it sound like the system is already making a real difference. When it’s just that the prototype proved to be functional.

  20. Well thats good and all. But in the deep ocean gyre, the plastic isn’t doing too much harm. Its the fisheries just off the coast that is the issue. Most plastic is also flushed into the seas in Asia. You might just be better off putting a net at the mouth of the Mekong, Yangze, Ganges etc.

  21. I really do want things like this to work in the long run. But, my worry is that we can’t clean up faster than we pollute.

Comments are closed.