The Dutch nonprofit group Ocean Cleanup hauled almost 64,000 pounds of plastic out of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch after two and a half months of testing the latest iteration of its collection system.
Dubbed Jenny, System 002 had been modified from a passive U-shaped collector of plastic to an active system with two propulsion units that not only increased its speed and efficiency but also enabled steering control.
Jenny caught about 4,400 pounds of garbage daily and safely interacted with marine life, which means System 002 is feasible and scalable, according to Ocean Cleanup.
"We are going to shift from a testing mindset to a harvesting operation now," Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of the Rotterdam, Netherlands-based group, told reporters Oct. 20.
Slat declared that the group has proved its concept of creating an artificial coastline to collect plastic trash from the five ocean gyres for eventual recycling on land.
The 2,625-foot-long Jenny with its 1,700-foot span caught mostly fishing gear — buoys, crates and nets — as well as laundry baskets, umbrella handles, toys and even a refrigerator and mannequin.
"Toilet seats are very, very common," Slat added as a video showed a gigantic net of trash being dumped onto a ship for transport.
The group figures 95 percent of the plastic collected is recyclable and can be turned into new products. It plans to purchase carbon offsets to make up for the fuel that will be consumed to bring the plastic back for processing.
Jenny now is returning to the gyre to continue its work while System 003 is designed.
"This is a great day for the ocean. Let this mark the beginning of the end for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," Slat said.
Next, Ocean Cleanup engineers will supersize the Jenny concept for System 003, perhaps with a span as large as 5,900 feet, for deployment in 2022.
Unlike System 001, which had rigid high density polyethylene pipe as its artificial coastline, System 002 used flexible plastic components to corral garbage into a retention area for removal. A 10-foot-deep skirt attached to both systems and captured the plastic forming a soupy mix under the ocean surface.
During tests of Jenny, Ocean Cleanup used two boats for propulsion but plans to switch to unmanned shipping vessels during the scale-up.
"If we make the system a bit bigger and we have 10 of them out there, we can clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch," Slat said.
The group calculated it would have needed more than 150 of the smaller System 002s to meet its goal of removing 90 percent of the plastic from the gyre by 2040.
Ocean Cleanup will begin mapping and studying the other four gyres next year. The group wants to rid them of most plastic by 2040, too.
In the meantime, Ocean Cleanup is setting up more interceptors to stop the flow of plastic from polluted rivers to the oceans.
"I think this really is a success for humanity," Slat said. "This signifies an age where we're starting to correct the issues and problems we ourselves have created."