Ocean Cleanup Takes on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch With Its Biggest System Yet

The novel system uses active propulsion.
Derya Ozdemir

Just let this sink in for a moment: Scientists estimate that rivers carry 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic into our oceans each year. Our excessive plastic usage and the amount of trash we create has resulted in a large accumulation of floating trash, mostly bits of plastic, in the north Pacific ocean known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," or the "trash vortex." It has a surface area of approximately 1.6 million square kilometers, which is twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France. And it's still growing.

There are several initiatives out there that have sailed with bold visions of saving our oceans from plastics, and the Ocean Cleanup Project is one of them. Founded back in 2013, the initiative has most recently deployed its first large-scale system designed to clean up ocean plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, according to a report by New Atlas.

This new design's goal is to catch plastic more efficiently and effectively than previous builds. The team switched from a passive design that relied on ocean forces to one powered by active propulsion, and the end result is System 002, also known as Jenny.

System 002, aka Jenny, explained

The passive design entailed anchoring a big U-shaped floating barrier to the seabed, which collected plastic waste carried into the area by ocean currents. Later versions used a free-floating approach that was again powered by currents, waves, and wind. They created a speed differential with the plastic waste, allowing them to be scooped up as the barrier moved through the water.

But when these passive systems were tested in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it was seen that they weren't successful since the system had a hard time maintaining the necessary speeds to gather up the trash.

Here came Jenny. The team upgraded the system and even added a parachute designed to slow down the barrier and maintain a constant speed.

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Today, Jenny is described as the initiative's first large-scale system, with a barrier that spans 2,640 feet (800 m). The crewed vessels at either end of the U-shaped barrier use active propulsion to tow it through the water at a constant speed of 1.5 knots. The collected plastic is funneled to a retention zone at the far end, and because it is towed by crewed vessels, it can be steered to areas where there is a lot of trash. The Ocean Cleanup Project thinks that this design will be more commercially viable to scale up.

Jenny was deployed for the first time in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this week and will be subjected to more than 70 tests over the next 60 weeks.