Ocean cleaning contraption successfully removes waste from Great Pacific garbage patch for first time

Technology designed by 25-year-old Dutch inventor provides hope for large-scale clean-up operation

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 03 October 2019 20:09 BST
Ocean cleaning contraption successfully removes waste from Great Pacific garbage patch

A floating contraption designed to remove waste from the sea has successfully removed large quantities of plastic from an enormous island of rubbish about the size of France, in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

The creator of the system, 25-year-old Dutch inventor and engineer, Boyan Slat, announced on Twitter the device had successfully captured large pieces of flotsam, including ghost nets, office chairs, plastic helmets and tyres from the Great Pacific garbage patch, and that it had also caught large quantities of microplastics.

The technology, based on a large line of cork floats suspending a huge skirt hanging below it, requires no power and depends on the movement of the sea to push it through the rubbish.

Mr Slat first announced his plans to attempt to use passive technology to pick up litter from the ocean in 2012.

“We now have a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastics, thereby confirming the most important principle behind the ocean cleanup system,” he said in a video statement.

The news indicates Mr Slat’s concept works and will pave the way towards further clean-up operations.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “Very proud of the Ocean Cleanup team for getting to this important milestone today. Onwards to the next step; a large scale, operational cleanup system!”

In a statement he said there remains “much more work to do” to reach the next stage in the plans.

“After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates that our vision is attainable and that the beginning of our mission to rid the ocean of plastic garbage, which has accumulated for decades, is within our sights,” he said in a statement.

“Our team has remained steadfast in its determination to solve immense technical challenges to arrive at this point. Though we still have much more work to do, I am eternally grateful for the team’s commitment and dedication to the mission and look forward to continuing to the next phase of development.”

Levels of plastic waste going into the sea are enormous.

According to estimates published by the UK government, every year more than 150 million tonnes of plastic waste pollute the world’s oceans.

Around a million birds and more than 100,000 sea mammals die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.

The growth in single-use consumer plastics has fuelled the surge in plastic pollution. It is estimated there are now 5.25 trillion pieces of ocean plastic debris, and a recent report estimates the quantity of plastic in the sea will treble by 2025.

Around 40 per cent of plastics are thought to enter the waste stream in the same year they’re produced.

Earlier this year, environment and energy ministers from the G20 countries agreed to adopt a voluntary framework for reducing plastic litter, which includes strategies designed to assist developing countries.

Under the framework drawn up in Japan in June, G20 members will promote a “comprehensive life-cycle approach” to prevent and reduce plastic litter discharge to the oceans through various measures and international cooperation.

They will also have to report their progress in tackling the problem, and “share best practices, promote innovation and boost scientific monitoring and analytical methodologies”.

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