A first trial of a massive cleanup of plastic in the ocean, an effort that has been in the works for five years, was launched in San Francisco on Saturday.
The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch non-profit organisation developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, took its first step last weekend.
Boyan Slat, the inspiration behind the project, was just a regular Dutch high-school student when he went on a diving trip to Greece in 2011. Once underwater, he was surrounded by plastic waste.
"There were more plastic bags than fish," he said in an interview some years ago.
The first trial, using a 600-metre long floater, can collect about five tons of ocean plastic per month and the target is to start from Alameda, California aiming to clean 90% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 2040.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world and is located between Hawaii and California. Scientists of The Ocean Cleanup have conducted the most extensive analysis ever of this area.
The system dubbed ‘001’ will be towed at low speed, 250 nautical miles offshore for a sea trial before towage to the installation location some 1200 nautical miles off the coast of San Francisco. The campaign is expected to last two months.
By utilising the ocean currents to its advantage, the passive drifting system is estimated to clean up half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years. According to project officials, at the time of sampling there were more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the patch that weigh an estimated 80,000 tonnes.
If the system trial is successful, it is estimated that 60 such systems will be needed to clean up all oceans, at a cost of 5 million euro each.
The vast majority of plastics retrieved were made of rigid or hard polyethylene or polypropylene, or derelict fishing gear, such as nets and ropes and ranging in size from small fragments to larger objects and meter-sized fishing nets.