There is a trash-filled vortex in the Pacific ocean that's more than twice the size of Texas. It has been called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and it's one of the most horrific examples of human waste present in the natural world.
To help combat the problem, a 19 year old Dutch diving enthusiast and entrepreneur Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that wants to get rid of plastic in the ocean. He presented his idea in a TED talk in 2012.
The Ocean Cleanup's U-shaped plastic-catching system is engineered to passively collect trash from the garbage patch using the ocean's current, creating an artificial coastline in deep water. The most visible portion of the device is a 2,000-foot pipe made of high-density polyethylene plastic, which is connected to a screen that extends below the surface that plastic debris.
The group designed the device to passively collects plastic in its fold like a giant arm. The system has undergone a series of upgrade after new issues were discovered, including a design and manufacturing flaw that caused the plastic to spill back into the ocean. More recently, the massive amounts of plastic swept up began flowing over the top of a cork line that helps stabilize the system.
This past Wednesday, The Ocean Cleanup announced that it had fixed that problem and that the device is now successfully capturing and holding plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. So far, the device has collected large fishing nets, plastic objects like cartons and crates, and microplastics as small as 1 millimeter in length, it said.
From the Business Insider article:
The system's ability to trap microplastics was a surprise, the organization said in a press release. The Ocean Cleanup's previous research had suggested that microplastics rain down like ash toward the bottom of the ocean and so should be less likely to stay floating close to the surface. Because of that, the organization has focused on removing larger pieces of plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
This is very exciting news for oceanologists and anyone who wants to see a cleaner planet. As of now, the plan is for a ship to visit the garbage patch every couple of months and tow the debris that the device catches to shore. But right now, The Ocean Cleanup's staff removes the plastic the device catches from the water by hand, using nets. So to achieve its ultimate goal of capturing up to 15,000 tons of plastic per year, the organization is working out more advanced ways to transfer plastic to a ship.