The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an extensive garbage vortex located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,931 kilometers from land. More than 27 trillion pieces of plastic have been collected at the location, making it the world’s most extensive collection of ocean trash.
A nonprofit corporation named The Ocean Cleanup ventured into the patch over the summer to test out new equipment it had developed. It’s essentially an artificial floating coastline that captures plastic in its folds like a big arm and funnels it into a funnel-shaped net linked to it. Two vessels tow the entire apparatus through the water at a speed of 1.5 knots (slower than typical walking speed), which is fast enough for the ocean current to force floating debris into the net. When the trap fills up with plastic (which happens every few weeks or so), a crew hauls it out of the ocean and dumps the garbage onto one of the ships.
The device, dubbed “Jenny” by the crew, collected over 290,299 kilometers of plastic over two and a half months. Then it was transported to shore for recycling by a team. A dummy, refrigerator, and toilet seats were among the bizarre items discovered among the rubble by the team.
The organization’s founder, Boyan Slat, claimed at a news conference on Wednesday that toilet seats are “very, very frequent” at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The patch was described as a modern-day archaeological site by him. “The majority of what we collect is fishing gear, which has the best chance of making it to the waste area and surviving there,” Slat explained. “So there are a lot of buoys, boxes, and nets, but there is also some land-based equipment. Brushes, for example, are common. Umbrella handles can be seen on the ground. Toys are seen.”
The garbage patch grows as more plastic enters the water through storm drains, canals, and rivers. The trash from landfills or waste bins can also be carried to the ocean by the wind. Jenny is the signature invention of the Ocean Cleanup, which has developed a fleet of catamarans to remove plastic from rivers before it reaches the ocean. It’s the first technology to demonstrate that it can clean up the garbage patch, which many scientists previously thought was impossible.
On Thursday, the Ocean Cleanup stated that it would begin removing plastic from the garbage patch regularly rather than as part of a technical test, as it had done previously. Jenny’s plastic products, according to Slat, can be recycled in 95 percent of cases. In addition, the organization intends to form partnerships with consumer brands to recycle rubbish and reinvest the proceeds in cleanup operations.
The Ocean Cleanup came dangerously close to failing.
By 2040, Ocean Cleanup has set an ambitious target of removing 90% of floating ocean trash. However, it had difficulty developing a gadget that could truly make progress in this area until recently. After five years of research, the organization launched its first effort at a plastic-catching gadget in 2018, but the prototype shattered in the water. Although a newer model produced in 2019 did a better job at collecting garbage, The Ocean Cleanup predicted that hundreds of those devices would be required to clean the world’s oceans.
Jenny could gather roughly 1.996 kilograms of plastic every day at peak performance, according to Slat. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains 99 million kg of plastic. So, according to The Ocean Cleanup, it would take around ten Jennys to clean up half of the patch in five years.