In a launch seen globally through an internet livestream, a tugboat departed San Francisco Bay on Sept. 8 bound for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with a marine litter collection system in tow, designed to rid the seas of plastic.
Deployed by the Rotterdam, Netherlands-based nonprofit group Ocean Cleanup, the 2,000-foot-long system consists of a floating plastic boom with a tapered plastic screen extending 10 feet underwater. The plan is to capture plastic debris at or near the surface for eventual recycling.
The launch, which had 452,000 views online, was the culmination of five years of ocean plastic research, prototyping and fundraising. The project attracted about $35 million in donations and sponsors like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Building upon lessons learned from offshore oil and gas producers, the Ocean Cleanup team worked with the staff of Agru GmbH and its Georgetown, S.C.-based Agru America Inc. subsidiary to develop a boom made of buoyant and flexible high density polyethylene pipe that can withstand the harsh conditions of the Pacific Ocean. As the boom floats on the waves, it should keep garbage from flowing over it. Meanwhile, the drag on the polyester woven skirt should give the system a U-shape that collects plastic like a Pac-Man gobbling dots.