The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit group trying to tackle plastic pollution with technology, says it has successfully tested a free-floating system to collect marine debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and will deploy it in early September.
The Rotterdam, Netherlands-based group designed a passive system with two main components both made of plastic. There's a long "floater" of flexible high density polyethylene pipe and a polyester woven skirt attached below it.
The system was designed so that the buoyant and flexible HDPE pipe bobs atop the Pacific Ocean to keep garbage from flowing over it, while the drag on the skirt, which is tapered, forms a U-shape that captures plastic floating at or near the surface.
Imagine a giant Pac-Man powered by winds and waves gobbling up the plastic in its path, said Boyan Slat, the 24-year-old founder and CEO of the Ocean Cleanup.
Most marine life is expected to swim underneath the system, which was dubbed Wilson in a nod to the personified volleyball friend of actor Tom Hank's stranded character in the 2000 movie "Castaway."
The pilot test for Wilson was conducted with 120 meters of Agru XXL pipe and 72 meters of skirt or screen that is 3 meters deep at the center. The system was assembled with clamping brackets in Alameda, Calif., then pulled by boat through San Francisco Bay for 1,200 nautical miles to the trash vortex in the Pacific Ocean, between California and Hawaii.
The largest of the five zones where plastics accumulate, the North Pacific garbage patch is said to be twice the size of Texas and holds 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that entered the ocean mostly through rivers. That's 250 pieces of plastic for every person on the planet. Fishing nets make up 46 percent of the gyre and 20 percent came from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, according to scientists with the Ocean Cleanup, who also say much of the plastic is rigid PE and polypropylene.
A two-week test of the collection system's durability and hydrodynamics was done in May. Some results were shared on social media in July, including the system withstanding 5-meter waves and forces of the ocean.
"The recently completed tow test was a crucial milestone on the road to deployment of the world's first ocean cleanup system," the Ocean Cleanup said in a Facebook post about the test validating the system's seaworthiness.
Agru commented: "Great to see our XXL pipe in action! It is flexible like a snake and will withstand even the harshest sea conditions."