World’s First Ocean Cleanup System Heads For Largest Ocean Garbage Patch

The system described as a "giant Pac-Man" will be tested and then sent to the Great Pacific garbage patch where an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic debris have accumulated.
Loukia Papadopoulos

The Great Pacific garbage patch is an oceanic accumulation of trash so large, it is often referred to as a garbage island. 

At twice the size of Texas, it is considered the world’s largest zone of ocean plastics and estimated to contain up to 1.8 trillion pieces of debris.

Needless to say, the area has been considered an uncleanable dead zone for a while. This is all about to change.

Help is on its way

Heading toward this great trashy area (pun intended) is the world's first ocean cleanup system led by a Dutch non-profit organization appropriately named the Ocean Cleanup. In an impressive launch held at the San Francisco Bay today, and live streamed for the world, Ocean Cleanup launched System 001, the world's first ocean cleanup system.

The snake-like tubular machine consists of a 600-meter-long (2000 ft) U-shaped floating barrier with a three-meter (10 ft) skirt attached below. It is sustainably and intelligently designed to be propelled by both wind and waves in order to autonomously catch the waste that crosses its rather long path.

A giant Pac-Man

"Due to its shape, the debris will be funneled to the center of the system. Moving slightly faster than the plastic, the system will act like a giant Pac-Man, skimming the surface of the ocean," read the organization's statement.

System 001 is now on its way to its testing location 240 nautical miles offshore. It will spend two weeks there completing a trial before it heads to its intended destination, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Vessel Maersk Launcher has been given the honor of towing this historical system to its first stop. Transport and logistics firm A.P. Moller - Maersk, the vessel's charter holder, is one of the ambitious project's supporters.

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"As a responsible maritime operator, we are committed to ensuring that the oceans remain a healthy environment for generations to come,” said Claus V. Hemmingsen, Vice CEO of A.P. Moller – Maersk.

Great hopes ahead

The Ocean Cleanup hopes to capture the first debris within 6 months after deployment in order to officially mark the first time free-floating plastic would have been collected at sea. The resulting waste will be recycled into products sold to further fund the Ocean Cleanup's future activities.

System 001 will also record performance data during its journey in order to improve its future designs. Collected data will be sent to the Maersk Launcher that will serve as an observation platform for several weeks.

“Today’s launch is an important milestone, but the real celebration will come once the first plastic returns to shore. For 60 years, mankind has been putting plastic into the oceans; from that day onwards, we’re taking it back out again," said Boyan Slat, Founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup.

The non-profit hopes to scale up to a fleet of 60 systems to remove half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years. The Ocean Cleanup aims to reduce the plastic polluting our oceans by at least 90% by 2040.