A half-mile installation just took 20,000 pounds of plastic out of the Pacific — proof that ocean garbage can be cleaned

The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate plastic from the oceans.
The company recently unveiled a device that it claimed collected 20,000 pounds of garbage from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

However, scientists are concerned that the device isn't yet effective enough or sustainable.

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Boyan Slat, aged 18, announced that he had a plan for the elimination of all plastics from the oceans. It has been almost a decade.

Slat, now 27 years old, is a Dutch inventor who founded the Ocean Cleanup. This non-profit aims to eliminate 90% of floating plastic oceanic by 2040.

This goal was often seen as impossible. In 2018, the Ocean Cleanup attempted its first plastic-catching device. However, the prototype fell in the ocean. The Ocean Cleanup released a newer model in 2019 that did a better job collecting plastic. However, the organization estimated that it would require hundreds of these devices to clean the oceans around the world.

Engineers and scientists began to wonder if the group could actually deliver the tens or millions of dollars it had received in funding.

The organization had its sights set on Jenny, a new device that it nicknamed Jenny over the summer. It is an artificial floating coast that traps plastic and then funnels it into a net-like structure. It is pushed through the water by two vessels at 1.5 knots, which is slower than normal walking speed. The ocean current pulls the floating garbage towards the huge net.

The team launched Jenny in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in early August. This is a garbage-filled vortex that runs between Hawaii and California. According to estimates by the Ocean Cleanup, the garbage patch contains more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic.

Jenny was put to the ultimate test last week by Ocean Cleanup to see if it could transport large quantities of plastic to shore. Ocean Cleanup reported that Jenny's device pulled nearly 20,000 pounds of trash from the Pacific Ocean, weighing in at 9,000 kilograms. This proves that there is hope for the cleanup of this garbage patch.

Slat tweeted "Holy Mother of God" that afternoon. He also added, "It all worked !!!"

The Ocean Cleanup (@TheOceanCleanup), October 11, 2021

How the new device works

Slat's ocean-cleaning device, a 330-foot-long floating bar that looked like a pipe in the sea, has seen great improvements since its original prototype.

The latest version is U-shaped, and it's more flexible than the pool lane dividers. After the net becomes clogged with plastic, a crew removes the trash from the water and places it on the vessel that pulls it.

The Ocean Cleanup's brand new plastic-catching system, named Jenny, is located in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Ocean Cleanup

The plastic can be recycled once it is brought to shore. The Ocean Cleanup will use the plastic to make sunglasses for $200, and funnel the profits back into cleanup efforts. The organization plans to work with consumer brands in the future to create more recycled products.

Slat predicted that the team would require about 10 Jennys in order to clear half of the Great Pacific Garbage patch within five years. He tweeted that a single device can hold between 10,000 and 15,000 kilograms plastic.

There are still concerns about the ocean-cleaning device.

Plastic accumulation in a net or "retention area" The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup system can collect many types of floating garbage including large containers and fishing nets as well as microplastics that are just a few millimeters wide. It does not capture plastic that is near the ocean's surface. According to a study, there could be up to 30 times more plastic in the bottom than there is at the surface.

According to the organization, large amounts of floating plastic will eventually degrade into microplastics which are more difficult to clean up.

Of course, the Jenny device doesn't stop plastic from getting into oceans. According to researchers, approximately 11 million metric tonnes of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year. This number could reach 29 million metric tonnes by 2040. According to Ocean Cleanup, ten Jenny devices could collect 15,000 to 22,000 metric tons per year.

A member of Ocean Cleanup sorting plastic on one the support vessels. The Ocean Cleanup

The Jenny device requires fuel to pull, which means there is an environmental cost. Although the original design of the device was to passively collect plastic from the ocean current, it ended up dumping too much. Ocean Cleanup claims it is purchasing carbon credits in order to offset the emissions from towing vessels.

Miriam Goldstein from the Center for American Progress' Ocean Policy Director, said that plastic once it has reached the open ocean can make it very costly and fuel-intensive to remove it again.

Slat, however, tweeted Saturday that there is still time to address these concerns.

He wrote that there were still many things to be done in plastic-cleaning efforts. "But one thing we know now is that one can clean it up with a small fleet of these systems."