Last year, wiz kid Boyan Slat announced that “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch can now be cleaned,” after a prototype cleaning system proved successful.
Since that deployment in August 2021, System 02 (or “Jenny”) has now collected 220,000 pounds (101,353 kg) of plastic over 45 extractions, sweeping an area of ocean of over 3,000km2 comparable to the size of Luxembourg or Rhode Island.
“Added to the 7,173 kg of plastic captured by our previous prototype systems, The Ocean Cleanup has now collected 108,526 kg of plastic from the “GPGP”—more than the combined weight of two and a half Boeing 737-800s, or the dry weight of a space shuttle,” Slat wrote on his website.
According to a 2018 study organized by The Ocean Cleanup to map the GPGP, the total amount of accumulated plastic is around 79,000,000 kg, or 100,000,000 kg if one includes exterior areas.
“Thus, if we repeat this 100,000 kg haul 1,000 times—the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be gone”.
While that’s not particularly encouraging since that 100,000 kilograms were extracted over a year, meaning 1,000 years would be needed to clean the GPGP, Slat has better ideas.
“System 03, which is expected to capture plastic at a rate potentially 10 times higher than System 002 through a combination of increased size, improved efficiency, and increased uptime, will be starting soon,” Slat said.
The idea with System 03 will be to go big—and to remove the need for support vessels, thusly reducing the cost of each ton of plastic removed as the support vessels are the highest input cost.
The capture area is nearly two miles in total, and despite the fact that it’s essentially a net, the capture of fish or other marine life remains less than a quarter of a percentage point of the total haul.
Slat, despite his humanitarian brilliance, seems to receive his fair share of criticism, but in a recent Instagram post, he helps us understand just exactly how critical the work he is doing will be to the future of the oceans.