The Ocean Cleanup, the Dutch non-profit organization that made waves in 2015 with its grand plans and new approach to ridding the oceans of plastic, last weekend launched the world’s first ocean cleanup system from the San Francisco Bay. “System 001” headed to a location 240 nautical miles offshore for a two-week trial before continuing its journey toward the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 1,200 nautical miles offshore, to start the cleanup. System 001 is being towed from the San Francisco Bay by the vessel Maersk Launcher, which has been made available to the project by A.P. Moller-Maersk and DeepGreen, its current charter holder.
Hundreds of scale-model tests, a series of prototypes, research expeditions and multiple iterations have led to The Ocean Cleanup having sufficient confidence in its technology to launch its first full-scale cleanup system. System 001 consists of a 600-meter-long (2000-ft) U-shaped floating barrier with a three-meter (10-ft) skirt attached below. The system is designed to be propelled by wind and waves, allowing it to passively catch and concentrate plastic debris in front of it. Due to its shape, the debris will be funneled to the center of the system. Moving slightly faster than the plastic, the system will act like a giant Pac-Man, skimming the surface of the ocean.
“I am incredibly grateful for the tremendous amount of support we have received over the past few years from people around the world, that has allowed us to develop, test and launch a system with the potential to begin to mitigate this ecological disaster,” said Boyan Slat, the 23-year-old founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. “This makes me confident that, if we manage to make the technology work, the cleanup will happen.”
The system will be deployed in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest accumulation zone of ocean plastics. Situated halfway between Hawaii and California, the patch contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, and covers an area twice the size of Texas.
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The Ocean Cleanup anticipates that the first plastic will be collected and returned to land within 6 months after deployment, marking the first time that free-floating plastic will have been successfully collected at sea. After returning the plastic to land, The Ocean Cleanup plans to recycle the material into products and use the proceeds to help fund the cleanup operations.
“[This] launch is an important milestone, but the real celebration will come once the first plastic returns to shore,” Slat added. “For 60 years, mankind has been putting plastic into the oceans; from that day onwards, we’re taking it back out again.”
While the main objective of System 001 is to prove the technology and start the cleanup, a secondary goal is to collect performance data to improve the design for future deployments. Hence, the system is equipped with solar-powered and satellite-connected sensors, cameras and navigation lights to communicate the position of System 001 to passing marine traffic, and enable extensive monitoring of the system and the environment. After delivery of the system to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Maersk Launcher will remain active as an observation platform for several weeks.
“Maersk contributes to the protection of the ocean environment through our sustainable activities in both ocean and land-based activities. As a responsible maritime operator, we are committed to ensuring that the oceans remain a healthy environment for generations to come,” says Claus V. Hemmingsen, Vice CEO of A.P. Moller-Maersk and CEO of the Energy division. “We are therefore very pleased to contribute with services and equipment to The Ocean Cleanup.”
Once successful, and if funding is available, The Ocean Cleanup aims to scale up to a fleet of approximately 60 systems focused on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over the next two years. The Ocean Cleanup projects that the full fleet can remove half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years’ time. This is in line with the organization’s ultimate goal: reducing the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans by at least 90 percent by 2040.
Meanwhile, The Story of Stuff Project will head to San Francisco’s Ocean Beach tomorrow morning (Saturday, September 15) with local residents, advocates from Ocean Health and supporters of the #breakfreefromplastic movement to clean up plastic waste — and call out the brands they find most responsible for that pollution.
The first-ever public litter cleanup and brand audit in San Francisco is part of a new international effort to hold companies accountable for ubiquitous plastic pollution.
Earlier this week, Story of Stuff announced the launch of the first-ever brand audit cleanups to collect plastic waste in coastal and inland communities across the country and identify the companies behind that trash. The organization hopes that this new approach will end the cycle of regular waste cleanups and begin to finally tackle the issue of plastic pollution at its source.
Hear more from The Story of Stuff Project about this "missing element" of traditional beach cleanups:
The data that these efforts generate will be compiled at both the local and global level, identifying which products and companies are most responsible for plastic pollution. Results of the global survey will be released in early October.
“Every year, thousands of people get together to clean up the waste that washes onto beaches around the world – but more plastic always reappears. To break the cycle of plastic pollution, we need to do things differently,” explained Stiv Wilson, Campaigns Director for The Story of Stuff Project. “This year, we’re not just cleaning up trash — we’re collecting data that will illuminate the most problematic brands in the environment and help us bring accountability to the companies that bear ultimate responsible for the plastic pollution crisis.”
"Corporations cannot greenwash their role out of the plastic pollution crisis and put the blame on people, all the time. Our brand audits make it clear which companies are primarily responsible for the proliferation of throwaway plastic waste that's defiling nature and killing our oceans. These events provide undeniable evidence of this truth,” added Von Hernandez, global coordinator of #breakfreefromplastic.
The Story of Stuff Project is working with other #breakfreefromplastic movement partners organizing brand audits all over the world including Greenpeace, 5 Gyres, Let’s Do It World, Mother Earth Foundation, Global Alliance For Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Health Care Without Harm and the Surfrider Foundation on a broader brand audit data set to map brand plastic pollution across the world.