Engineering & Product Development for Ocean Cleanup

Engineering & Product Development for Ocean Cleanup

A 22 year-old Dutch engineer named Boyan Slat has developed a new collection system designed to remove floating plastic debris from ocean garbage patches. The reduced cost of his latest design means testing can begin in the next 12 months instead of in 2020 as was originally planned.

There are five major patches of swirling plastic debris in areas where ocean currents create a vortex called a gyre. These are the Indian Ocean Gyre, North Atlantic Gyre, North Pacific Gyre, South Atlantic Gyre, and the South Pacific Gyre.

Rather than the islands of garbage we might imagine, these gyres contain a soupy mixture of plastic particles of various sizes circulating below the surface. The largest of these is in the Pacific Ocean between California and Japan.

The website, garbagepatch.net estimates that the plastic debris caught in this gyre is up to 9 feet deep, weighing an astounding 7 million pounds. An additional garbage patch discovered in the Mediterranean is estimated to contain as much as 500 tons of plastic particles, most of which are microscopic.

Slat’s debris collection system consists of a series of weighted screens that will move with the ocean currents, capturing larger pieces of plastic before they break down into smaller and more dangerous particles that are ingested by sea life. Using screens rather than nets ensures that no sea creatures are trapped. The debris can then be removed and taken to shore for recycling. See a video presentation of Slat’s ambitious project here.

Slat believes that with one 100 meter screen, his organization, Ocean Cleanup, can remove up 42% of the Pacific garbage patch in just 10 years. Testing of the prototype began in the North Sea in June and was funded by donations. The first system will be deployed in the Pacific in 2018 and is currently under construction on California.

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