What is being done with the plastic in our oceans?

There are estimated over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans. 1,8 trillion pieces of those float at the surface of the great Pacific garbage patch, a region that covers approximate 1,6 million square kilometers. Through oceanic currents the accumulation of floating plastics have gathered here, between Hawaii and California, in the Pacific ocean. The region is often referred to as an island of plastic.

For decades, scientists have tried to come up with solutions to remove plastics from our oceans. And more recently companies across the globe have begun to consider their own contribution to the problem, with initiatives like paper straws and biodegradable singe use cups, plates and cutlery. Although these initiatives may appear to be net positive, these initiatives do little to actually remove what is already there.

However, one organisation has developed a solution to address this specifically. With the aim of removing 90% of the floating ocean plastic, The ocean cleanup aims to work towards a future where plastic no longer pollutes our oceans. With a scientific approach to the issue of plastics in the oceans, they divided the problem into two parts.

  1. How do we stop the sources of plastic pollution?
  2. How do we clean up the plastic that is already accumulated in the ocean?

Problem 1

To address problem 1, they identified the greatest contributing factors to increased plastic in the oceans. Rivers, and specifically the largest 1000 rivers, were found to account for 80% of riverine pollution.

Credits: the Ocean cleanup
Credits: the Ocean cleanup

The map with these rivers can be explored with an amazing online tool. You can check it out here.

Intercepting trash from rivers

Because all rivers are different in terms of depth, width, flow speed, debris composition, tides and seasonality, 4 solutions were developed.

The interceptor original

This is the original solution for catching trash from rivers. It can operate autonomously 24/7 and can hold up to 50 m3 of trash.

As of October 2022, the ocean cleanup has deployed 8 interceptors.

The second solution is the Interceptor Barrier, a floating U-shaped barrier that buffers the trash coming from the mound of small rivers. As this solution is unable to remove any trash, but simply collect it, the third solution is the Interceptor Tender. It works alongside the Barrier to collect and remove trash.

Credits: the Ocean cleanup

The most jawdropping solution is however the Trashfence. We highly recommend watching this 3. min video of how the trashfence is being piloted in Guatemala.

Problem 2 – How to clean the ocean

To clean up the great garbage patch between Hawaii and California, the solution must be able to cover an area of millions of square kilometers in a cost effective way.

The fundamental challenge of cleaning up the ocean garbage patches is that the plastic pollution is highly diluted


The solution was to create an artificial coastline, powered forward by two boats. This solution would concentrate pollution from a large area, enabling it to be collected.

How the ocean cleanup system 2 works


Credits: https://theoceancleanup.com/oceans/


Credits: https://theoceancleanup.com/oceans/


Credits: https://theoceancleanup.com/oceans/


Credits: https://theoceancleanup.com/oceans/

How you can help the Ocean cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup is an inspiring initiative, attacking a well known problem in a completely new way. And besides their new approach, their ability to continually deliver results is astonishing. Since it was founded in 2013 by Boyan Slat, then a 18 year old, the project has amassed an impressive list of achievements and collaborations.

If you are an individual who wishes to contribute to the Ocean Cleanup, you can do so by donating here.

However, if you represent a corporation or government you can contact the team behind the Ocean cleanup directly here for institutional or corporate collaborations.

For more updates on the Ocean cleanup

We recommend to follow their Youtube channel for in detail explanations of how their systems works. Here is a featured presentation by CEO and founder of The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat.

Credits: The ocean cleanup

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