The world’s oceans are about to get a lot cleaner, thanks to nonprofit organization Ocean Cleanup. Eighteen-year-old Boyan Slat, a Dutch inventor, founded the nonprofit in 2013 with the aim of developing technologies to purge the world’s oceans of plastic. On Saturday, the $20 million system invention, a containment boom, was deployed in the San Francisco Bay for testing. Its first target is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a 617,000-square-mile area in the central North Pacific Ocean that is particularly dense with garbage.
The boom is a floating, U-shaped barrier made of floaters with a 10-foot skirt. The floaters concentrate the litter, and the skirt prevents the smaller pieces from escaping. When the boom is full, a vessel will retrieve the plastic and transport it to land for recycling. Note that the system has been created to prevent wildlife from getting caught in it.
Once collected, the ocean trash will be turned into durable products, but it has a daunting task ahead as the garbage patch is estimated to contain around 1.8 trillion pieces of floating trash. With the help of dozens of smaller booms, the boom system is projected to clean out half of the garbage patch within the first five years.
While it remains to be seen how the boom technology will actually fare in the open ocean, it’s currently the only deployable system capable of cleaning garbage on such a large scale.