While there is some debate as to its actual size, most would agree that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is at least the size of Texas, and houses hundreds of tons of plastic particles and containers residing just above and below the ocean’s surface.
Regardless of its size, the bad news is that it continues to grow.
The good news is – we have a plan.
Thanks in part to over $30 million in donations, the non-profit Ocean Cleanup organization recently unveiled some new technology that they feel could reduce the size of this plastic garbage heap by 50 percent within the next five years.
By studying the way in which plastic rises and falls in concert with ocean currents, the project has developed new uses for high-strength plastics in developing a sort of strainer garbage bag.
These drifting surface units will collect debris using three primary components.
The first is a high-density polyethylene floater. Or, to use a fishing term, it’s basically a bobber. It works with a screen, instead of a net that can inadvertently capture marine life.
This fiber-reinforced thermoplastic polyurethane screen is flexible enough to follow the waves, but rigid enough to maintain an open shape in capturing the plastic debris.
It can collect debris as small as one centimeter while allowing sea life to go around or under it.
Attached to the bobber on top of the screen, each system can cover more than one mile of ocean.
The screen attaches to a trailing sea anchor that floats down about 1,800’, preventing the system from drifting at the same speed as the ocean current. This minimal drag allows for collecting material as it drifts.
Once this floating garbage collector is full, a ship will pump out the debris and take it to shore to be recycled.
Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy a pilot system in the North Pacific later this year, with the first operational system slated for mid-2018.