A Move to Remove Ocean Plastics
Now we are all coming to understand how problematic plastics in the ocean are, it is a relief to have some good news. This has come in the form of Ocean Cleanup, a team of scientists and engineers who are beginning an incredible project collecting some of the waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This patch of water, full of plastics and other waste is three times the size of France, and contains about 80,000 metric tonnes of plastic, so the task is no small feat.
System 001 is a 600m-long barrier which is to be launched off the coast of San Francisco. The team are hoping that the system will collect five tonnes of waste each month. The huge structure is a C-shaped tube which will skim the top three meters of the ocean, collecting plastic as it moves.
The beauty of the system is that it is designed to move with the wind and waves in the way that plastics in the ocean do. Thus it will be drawn towards the areas densest in waste.
Some have predicted that the Ocean Cleanup could remove 90% of surface plastics globally by 2040 however this has been met with heavy skepticism. The main fear is the damage that the system could do to sea life. The Ocean Cleanup carried out a study, released in July, which aimed to address this and while System 001 is designed to pose as little risk to marine life as possible, there is still a potential for creatures to get caught up.
A further issue is that microscopic plastics and other plastics found further down in the water column will simply be missed.
The goal in removing plastics is to prevent them eroding down into microplastics which do real damage and get into the food chain. However, the system is unable to tackle those plastics that has already reached this point.
System 001 has incredible potential and in the coming months we will see how it progresses. However, the main thing we need to do is to address the issue at source by reducing our plastic waste and stopping it from ever reaching the oceans. Prevention is far better than cure and we hope to see more preventative steps at the scale of this project!