Since it first undertook the daunting task of ridding our oceans of plastic debris in 2013, The Ocean Cleanup has made numerous tweaks to its trash-catching barrier system — and the latest one may be the most important yet.
The most recent update involves an active propulsion system rather than a passive one, which was trialed previously to take advantage of the ocean’s currents to collect plastic. That old approach, however, showed that it wasn’t quite up for the job, with the system struggling to maintain the necessary speed to collect the trash.
The novel system, on the other hand, is powered by active propulsion, with crewed vessels at either point of the U-shaped barrier towing it through the water at a steady speed of 1.5 knots.
One of the benefits of having the system towed by crewed vessels is that it can be steered towards areas of high waste concentration. Another benefit is that the model will be more commercially viable to scale up, allowing for similar systems to be deployed in other parts of the ocean where the problem of plastic pollution is rampant.
The new design, named Jenny, features an 800-meter-long (2,640-ft) barrier and is described as the Ocean Cleanup Project’s largest trash-collecting system so far. It was recently deployed for the first time in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and will undergo more than 70 separate tests over the next 15 months.
In addition to validating the design, the tests aim to demonstrate that the new model has a minimal environmental impact and poses no safety issues, while also collecting a significant amount of plastic.
The Ocean Cleanup’s novel system, together with its Interceptors — solar-powered barges preventing plastic waste from entering the ocean via rivers — are eventually expected to cut floating ocean plastics by 90 percent by 2040.
Image source: Ocean Cleanup