Dutch inventor changes design to better collect ocean plastic trash

By on May 11, 2017

THE HAGUE–A Dutch inventor wishing to collect plastic trash at sea into a U-shaped barrier via the ocean’s natural currents announced Thursday that his dream system would work “faster, better and cheaper” if designed as a fleet of drifting screens rather than one single barrier fixed into the seabed.

“Soon we will have tens of drifting systems roaming the garbage patch,” Boyan Slat, initiator of the Ocean Cleanup project, told thousands of supporters attending a ceremony held in Utrecht and broadcast online.

Four years ago, Slat started the project with an aim to channel floating plastic at sea to a central point through an installation of a pair of U-shaped arms fixed into the seabed.

He believed that unlike nets, his barrier design could catch sub-surface debris and let sea life safely pass underneath with the current.

Now, rather than fixing the floating screens into the seabed, his team has a “design breakthrough” that will make the screens floating in a water layer and moving slower than the plastic to catch it, said Slat. The depth and speed of the screen can be adjusted with sea anchor and/or ballast weight.

Also, rather than one massive barrier previously designed as two arms as long as 100 km each, the new system would consist of a fleet of screens, each 1 to 2 km in length.

The screen, made of material that would last for decades in the ocean, “would be able to catch anything from 1 cm plastic particles to large discarded fishing nets up to several meters in size”, said Ocean Cleanup.

“By removing the plastic while most of it is still large, we prevent it from breaking down into dangerous microplastics,” it added.

Slat told the audience that testing of the first system will start off the American west coast by the end of 2017, and first parts of system are already in production.

The Ocean Cleanup project announced earlier in May that it has raised a total funding of 31.5 million U.S. dollars since 2013.

In 2014, Slat was awarded the United Nations’ top environmental accolade, the Champion of the Earth award for his inspirational efforts to mobilize support to rid the ocean of marine litter.