An ambitious $360-million venture to remove plastic from the notorious garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean hit a second hurdle last week after a large portion broke off from an automated floating cleanup device.
The waste cleanup device, launched by The Ocean Cleanup organization in fall 2018, has been taken ashore for repairs. Material fatigue is the best initial guess made by the organization as to why the device malfunctioned in harsh ocean conditions.
The broken component is the second setback within a month for the The Ocean Cleanup venture, which recently learned that the speed of the device was creating problems around retaining collected plastic. They found that at times the device was moving slower than the speed of the floating plastic. Some 80 engineers, researchers, scientists, and computational modelers with the organization say they are working to widen the span of the device and hope to have the device operating problem-free by fall 2019.
When functioning correctly, the 600-metre-long floating device has a three-metre skirt that hangs below the water to stop debris from getting underneath. It essentially works by forming a U-shaped coastline that traps ocean debris within its boundaries. See how the system works here.
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The System 001 collection device is outfitted with solar-powered lights, an anti-collision system, camera, sensors and satellite antennas that actively communicate its position at all times. A ship periodically comes to empty out the waste trapped within the system’s boundaries.
See how it works
“Both the plastic and system are being carried by the current. However, wind and waves propel only the system, as the floater sits just above the water surface, while the plastic is primarily just beneath it,” the device’s makers explain on their website. “The system thus moves faster than the plastic, allowing the plastic to be captured.”
The device has no components where sea life could become entangled.
The Ocean Cleanup’s CEO, Boyan Slat, has the goal of removing 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years. The patch itself, is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. Located halfway between Hawaii and California, it measures about 1.6 million km2.
Slat estimates that the ocean garbage patch contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic, weighing some 80,000 metric tons.