The Great Pacific Garbage Patch stretches over 1 million miles and contains an estimated 80,000 metric tons of plastic, or about 1.8 trillion pieces. It’s vast, but not dense. A square yard of ocean water may only have a few pieces, which has made clean up nightmarishly difficult.
A Dutch environmentalist named Boyan Slat has created a contraption that looks almost too simple, considering the job it has to accomplish. It’s a rope held up by buoys, that tows a giant skirt of plastic fabric. Using wind and current, rather than an outboard motor, it barrels through the ocean waves corralling plastic and debris into a dense blob of unsightliness. Once enough trash has been collected, ships are sent in to suck up the debris and dispose of it on land.
Sounds unbelievable but you can see a prototype in action. It is hoped Slat’s Ocean Project could help clean up the Pacific Garbage Patch in the decades to come, with funding from donations and governments eager to clean up the mess we’ve made.
Critics doubt that the Ocean Project can accomplish its goals given that an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic are channeled into our oceans every year. That would make the plastics trapped in the Pacific Garbage Patch a proverbial drop in the bucket. There are also concerns the contraption may do harm as well as good, perhaps trapping minuscule but important marine life that floats on the surface of the water.
Most agree though that plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is one of the biggest environmental issues of our time, impacting more than 600 marine species.
(Some video imagery courtesy of The Ocean Cleanup)