A new project launched this week will aim to clean up 90 percent of the garbage patch floating in the Pacific by 2040, using what is essentially a giant net, according to ScienceNews.org.
Such a plan was first suggested by then-18-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, in a 2012 TED talk, and the project, called The Ocean Cleanup, is now on its way to what has been called The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, roughly halfway between California and Hawaii. The project has earned over $30 million in donations from sponsors and a crowdfunding campaign.
However, it has also been criticized for the possible disruption of ocean life, and as a way to avoid addressing how much plastic waste is still being generated. Furthermore, the project will only clean up plastic pieces more than a few millimeters across in size. The majority of the 1.8 trillion plastic pieces in the patch are thought to be smaller than half a centimeter.
However, over 90 percent of the patch’s mass is made up of plastic pieces larger than 5 centimeters across.
“Research shows the majority of plastic by mass is currently in the larger debris,” according to the project’s website. “By removing the plastic while most of it is still large, we prevent it from breaking down into dangerous microplastics.”
These smaller pieces of degree are more likely to absorb toxic substances and be consumed by marine life, ultimately traveling up the food chain.
The patch occupies an area twice the size of Texas, at around 1.6 million square kilometers, in the midst of a system of currents called the North Pacific gyre.
The net will reach the garbage patch in about 5 weeks, after departing from Alameda, California, on the San Francisco Bay, on Saturday.
The project will use a 600-meter long floating line, and a tapered skirt floating three meters below. The system will simulate a coastline, stopping debris from floating above or below it. It will move with the current, but also will be boosted by wind and waves allowing it to move faster than the plastic, which it will trap for collection and removal by support vessels.
“System 001,” launched yesterday, will spend two weeks field testing off the California coast, before heading out to the patch. It will be the first of 60 planned systems, estimated to remove half the garbage over the next five years, and 90 percent by 2040.