Great Pacific Garbage Patch: More than 31 tonnes of trash removed from giant plastic waste hub off California

The Ocean Cleanup trialled new technology during a 12-week test campaign and recovered a staggering 10 tonnes of plastic in just one haul

Jade Bremner
Friday 22 October 2021 18:37
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The Ocean Cleanup has recovered more than 31 tonnes of waste from the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California, since July this year.

Using a large-scale cleanup system, called System 002, The Ocean Cleanup visited an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a swirling vortex of man-made waste floating in between Hawaii and California.

No one can accurately grasp how much debris is located at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, much of it could have sunken to the ocean bed and, as the area of trash is so far from land, no country will take responsibility for cleaning it up. But here plastics are breaking down into small particles, causing damage to marine life and ecosystems.

The Ocean Cleanup charity, made up of 120 engineers, researchers, scientists, have made it their mission to harvest as much plastic from the ocean as possible. They trialled new technology during a 12-week test campaign, with the view to scaling up their system to reach the ambitious goal of reducing ocean plastic by 90 per cent by 2040.

“It’s just the tip of the iceberg,” said Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup about the ocean junk recovered. “These [tonnes] are the most important ones we will ever collect, because they are proof that cleanup is possible. We still have a lot of things to iron out, but one thing we know now is that, with a small fleet of these systems, we can clean this up.”

The technology removed almost 10 tonnes (9,014 kilograms) in a single haul during its final test on 14 October, including an obscene amount of plastic bottles, fishing nets, plus toilet seats, toothbrushes, laundry baskets, sleds and shoes, and other discarded items.

An improved system, named System 003, is set to be rolled out to collect even more ocean waste – it will be three times larger than System 002. Carbon emissions from the systems will be offset with the eventual aim of reaching carbon neutrality.

The Ocean Cleanup has partnered up with offshore and logistics company AP Moller – Maersk, which has a fleet of 708 vessels, to help their goal.

“The health of our oceans is vital to ensure a healthy planet and environment for future generations, and we stay committed to doing our part to protect the oceans and its ecosystems,” said Mette Refshauge, vice president of corporate communications and sustainability at AP Moller – Maersk.

There is an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic (270,000 metric tonnes) in our oceans, according to non-profit ocean advocacy group 5 Gyres Institute. This is less than 1 per cent of the plastic made in a year. The figure is predicted to grow to 29 million metric tonnes by 2040.

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