Almost one year — to the day — of the launch of The Ocean Cleanup’s System 001/B, the team behind it announced that it has been successful in picking up plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of garbage estimated to be the size of Texas that floats between Hawaii and California. Even more exciting, System 001/B has been able to pick up microplastics as small as 1 mm in diameter.
The concept behind the System 001/B was first introduced by Boyan Slat in a TEDx Talk in 2012, and Slat’s vision became a reality when the system set sail for its maiden voyage last October.
System 001/B is a self-contained system that “[uses] the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastic.” The 2,000-foot-long system is a series of tubes, floating in a U-shape; the tubes have a 10-foot-deep “skirt” attached to the bottom that catches plastic as it flows through the ocean using the natural current of the ocean. Slat and his team shared their excitement in seeing his vision — first dreamt up when he was a teenager — become a reality.
“After beginning this journey seven years ago, this first year of testing in the unforgivable environment of the high seas strongly indicates that our vision is attainable and that the beginning of our mission to rid the ocean of plastic garbage, which has accumulated for decades, is within our sights,” he said in a statement posted The Ocean Cleanup’s site.
He continued, “Our team has remained steadfast in its determination to solve immense technical challenges to arrive at this point. Though we still have much more work to do, I am eternally grateful for the team’s commitment and dedication to the mission and look forward to continuing to the next phase of development.”
Though The Ocean Cleanup is celebrating success after their first trial on the ocean, they weren’t without problems in their first year at sea; earlier this year, System 001 broke down due to the constant waves and winds of the Pacific, and had to be towed more than 800 miles to Hawaii to be repaired. However, as the team announced with the reveal of their success, the system underwent modifications that will improve operations and performance in the future.
As they explained on the site:
“The aim of System 001/B was to trial modifications, which addressed known complications, primarily aimed at correcting the inconsistent speed difference between the system and the plastic. Consistency was achieved by slowing down the system with a parachute sea anchor, allowing for faster-moving plastic debris to float into the system. Once this main challenge was resolved, prominent plastic overtopping was observed – becoming the next technical challenge to solve. Due to the modularity of System 001/B, a modification to increase the size of the cork line was designed and implemented while the system was offshore. With the new cork line, minimal overtopping is now being observed, thus allowing the system to capture and concentrate the plastic.”
Following the successful trial run of System 001/B, the team at The Ocean Cleanup is now working on System 002, which will take the learnings from the trial and relaunch with design improvements. The vision of The Ocean Cleanup is to return the collected plastic to shore, where it'll then be recycled.