The Future of Cleaning Plastic from Our Oceans

Written by: Shannon Anthony

Much of the world’s garbage ends up in the ocean where it is sucked into an ocean gyre, a circular motion of currents that pulls the debris into the center, forming a patch. As more and more garbage makes its way to the patch, it can actually create an underwater mountain of garbage.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is just one of many patches in the world’s oceans. The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have two each, and the Indian Ocean’s patch is between Africa and Australia. These garbage patches are large zones where debris accumulates, floats freely, and circulates continuously. About 90% of the debris in the garbage patches is plastic. That means these patches of waste were created very recently, as plastic wasn’t widely used for consumer products until the mid-twentieth century. In 2012, the EPA reported that plastics accounted for around 12% of all the municipal waste generated in the country, amounting to nearly 32 million tons of waste.

While looking up ways to clean up the garbage patch, I stumbled upon Boyan Slat’s plan to clean up the ocean. The 19-year-old student created the “Ocean Cleanup Array,” theoretically capable of removing over 7 million tons of plastic trash from the ocean. The Cleanup Array is comprised of long barriers that float across the surface of the ocean, collecting any plastic debris caught within them.

Ocean Clean Up

Instead of having the Array move through the vast ocean, it will actually span the garbage patch, acting like a giant funnel. The booms are angled in such a way that they force the plastic in the direction of the platforms where it will be separated from the plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.

Boyan Slat is not the only person working to clean up this plastic waste. Pharrell Williams, musician and creative director of Bionic Yarn, is working on what to do with the ocean plastic after it has been collected. Bionic Yarn uses recycled plastic to make a durable “eco-thread” for sportswear, and Williams hopes it will be used by companies like Adidas to replace virgin textile materials.

There are numerous ways that one can help clean up the ocean. I am sure many of us may not be able to build a machine that navigates the ocean while cleaning plastic debris, but we all can play a role by participating in a TerraCycle Brigade program to help eliminate the amount of plastic that can potentially find a way into our ocean.

 

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