The Ocean Cleanup is Getting Started

by Sean Vandehey

Boyan Slat's group The Ocean Cleanup is gearing up to start the first test run of their screening system to remove plastic waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  In May, they will be deploying their prototype passive system which aims to filter out larger pieces of plastic debris before they can erode into more harmful microplastics.  If the test run is successful, it will pave the way for a larger scale deployment that, if TOC's estimates are correct, could clean up half the GPGP in five years.

While the efficacy of Boyon Slat's design has been the subject of intense debate as the system has ramped up to this deployment, the problem of microplastics in the world's oceans remains as real as ever.  While the majority of the plastic in the ocean is far smaller than TOC's system can filter out, this is because those larger pieces continually erode into smaller and smaller parts, until the micropellets find their way into the food chain.  The goal of Slat's sytem is not to eliminate the micro-scale plastic already in the system, but to remove the larger debris before it has a chance to further decay.  Whether movements to reduce plastic pollution from entering the oceans would be more effective or not, Slat's design is about to go live, which gives cause to be hopeful his design will work.

In either case, there is plenty of plastic that hasn't made it all the way out into the Pacific Gyre yet, and you can help make sure less of it ends up on beaches worldwide, as well as help clean up beaches in your area.  A clean-up effort on the Galapagos Islands has collected more than 22 tons of trash just since January, with garbage coming from as far away as Asia.

You can find local beaches that need volunteers here, and if you live in Oregon, the Solve Spring Beach Clean-up is actually this Saturday, March 24!  Additionally, here are some great tips from Greenpeace on reducing your plastic footprint.