The statistics surrounding ocean pollution — especially by plastics — go deep. The Ocean Legacy Foundation reports that “Five trillion individual pieces of plastic are estimated to be floating in our oceans”.
Resulting from the improper disposal of waste are five trash gyres, collections of debris brought together by currents. One of these gyres — known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — is twice the size of the state of Texas, and its growth shows no signs of slowing.
The plastic problem
Over 700 ocean species are impacted by this ocean waste, with “[m]ore than a million seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals [dying] every year from plastic”. In addition to a loss of biodiversity, the plastics consumed by fish are ultimately consumed by humans.
Tech has taken a leading role in solving ocean plastic problem. The World Economic forum highlighted eleven innovations that go to the cause of this problem, rather than the symptoms alone. These technologies range from packaging designed from seaweed to subscription-based reusable coffee cups, to “a magnetic additive that can be applied to a material, creating better air and moisture insulation – making it suitable to protect sensitive products such as coffee and medicines, while still being possible to recycle.”
The passive solution
While these technologies paint a bright future for the reduction of added ocean waste, this challenge of dealing with the massive scale of existing waste remains. Enter The Ocean Cleanup: the largest of its kind in history, which seeks to “[lose] the source [of ocean waste], and [clean] up what has already accumulated in the ocean.”
Foregoing the traditional net-based waste collection method (which requires constant human deployment), The Ocean Cleanup employs a ‘passive system’ that creates an artificial coastline from a buoyant 600-metre floater with a debris-trapping skirt below. The system interacts naturally with the ocean, and is pulled by currents — at a faster rate than the plastic debris — to collect waste.
Described by WIRED as a “an enormous lint trap”, this autonomous and scalable system is attended to on a monthly basis by a ship that extracts and processes the plastic.
Champions of this initiative include Marc Benioff, CEO of the B2B giant Salesforce and a contributor to the over $22 million raised in 2017 by The Ocean Cleanup. With the first system installed by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in early September, environmentalists are eagerly awaiting 2019’s projected global scale-up which will see the system brought to the four remaining gyres.
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