The Ocean Cleanup

As a technology company, Imagine IT is always interested in the latest technologies that impact our business and our lives.  But occasionally, we run into a technology that is so cool and impactful that we feel compelled to share it with you.  In this case, let’s talk about the Ocean and how one group is trying to help.

First, let's identify the problem this group is solving …

Over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the ocean

Every year, millions of tons of plastic enter the oceans, of which the majority spills out from rivers.  A portion of this plastic travels to ocean garbage patches, getting caught in a vortex of circulating currents.

Trash accumulates in five HUGE ocean garbage patches, the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. It is estimated that the surface area is over 1 million square miles, an area twice the size of Texas.

If left to circulate, the plastic will have a wild, negative impact our ecosystem, health, and economy. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source (which are rivers) and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

Cleaning the Garbage Patches

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. Instead, the Ocean Cleanup systems use to “round-up” the garbage and estimates that it could remove 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years … and at a fraction of the cost.

Creating a coastline where there is no plastic

The challenge of cleaning up the patches is that plastic pollution is spread across millions of square kilometers and travels in all directions. The Ocean Cleanup technology has been designed to do the hard job of concentrating the plastic in one place to be effectively removed from the ocean.

The system consists of a long floater that sits at the surface of the water and a skirt that hangs beneath it. The floater provides buoyancy to the entire system, while the skirt prevents debris from escaping underneath and leads it into the retention system. A cork line above the skirt prevents overtopping and keeps the skirt afloat.

Taking advantage of natural oceanic forces                                                                                        

For an area of this size, active cleanup methods would be too energy-intensive; this is why they have chosen a passive design. The cleanup systems rely on natural forces to navigate the patches, which also increases its survivability in the harsh ocean environment.

Both the plastic and system are being carried by the wind, waves, and current, but to catch the plastics, there needs to be a difference in speed between the floating catch system and the plastics. By using a sea anchor, the Ocean Cleanup Group is able to slow down the catch system so the plastic can be retained and captured.

Concentrate The Plastic and Take It Out!

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

Expected Impact    

The floating systems are designed to capture plastics ranging from small pieces just millimeters in size up to large debris, including massive discarded fishing nets (ghost nets), which can be tens of meters wide.  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 area, and when combined with source reduction, the Ocean Cleanup Group shows projections that would remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.

Why this will be so effective

  1. It's autonomous

Algorithms help specify the optimal deployment locations, after which the systems roam the ocean areas autonomously. In addition, real-time telemetry will allow them to monitor each system's condition, performance, and trajectory.

  1. It's energy neutral

The systems fully rely on the natural forces of the ocean and do not require an external energy source to catch and concentrate the plastic. All electronics used, such as lights and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), are powered by solar energy.

  1. It's Scalable

The modular fleet of systems can be scaled up gradually, allowing them to learn from the field and improve the technology along the way. The more systems deployed, the faster the cleanup will be.

The main source of ocean plastic pollution: Rivers

Rivers are the arteries that carry waste from land to the ocean.  Extensive research found that 1,000 rivers are responsible for roughly 80% of ocean plastic pollution.  They aim to tackle plastic in these rivers in the next 5 years, using other amazing technology.  The system is called “The Interceptor”.

The Interceptor

The Interceptor is the first scalable solution to prevent plastic from entering the world's oceans from rivers.  It is 100% solar-powered, extracts plastic autonomously, and can operate in most of the world's most polluting rivers.

To get the full story on The Interceptor and how The Ocean Cleanup plans on tackling this problem, go to this link:

For more information check out: 

The Ocean Cleanup Group