Ocean Plastic Pollution
- Is there really an island of plastic waste floating in the Pacific?
It is true that large amounts of plastic concentrate in the North Pacific gyre, also known as Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as well as in the four other gyres. However, there is no accumulation as dense as an island. This is exactly why it is so challenging to perform a cleanup using vessels; the plastic is dispersed over millions of square kilometers. And yet, even though it is dispersed, the amount of plastic adds up to many hundreds of millions of kilograms.
- Is the plastic all at the ocean surface, or deeper down too?
Plastics can indeed be found from the surface all the way down to the bottom of the oceans. However, the largest concentration can be found near or at the surface.
The Ocean Cleanup has been measuring the vertical distribution of plastic during 6 expeditions to the North Atlantic Garbage Patch, which took place from 2013 to 2015. The Ocean Cleanup designed a new research tool, called the Multi-Level Trawl, which allowed us to sample 11 water layers at the same time, from the surface down to a depth of 5 meters. We found that concentrations approached zero within 5 m depth, indicating that most buoyant microplastics are present on or near the surface. You can read more about the vertical distribution findings in our update section.
- Is it true that most of the plastic pieces are tiny (microplastics)?
By number, most pieces of plastic in the ocean are indeed small. However, based on our 2015 Mega Expedition findings, by mass the bigger pieces, or macroplastics outweigh the microplastics (particles between 1-5mm) by several orders of magnitude. Therefore we need to act fast in collecting those larger pieces, since over time they will break down into the much more dangerous microplastics.
- What are the long-term effects of plastic pollution in the oceans?
Because plastic is such a persistent material, the ecological, economic and eco-toxicological effects of plastic pollution are all long-term. These include:
- Physical impact on marine life: entanglement, ingestion, starvation
- Chemical impact: the buildup of persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and DDT
- Transport of invasive species and pollutants from polluted rivers to remote areas in the ocean
- Economic impact: damage to fisheries, shipping and tourism
In recent years, the amount of attention focused on very small plastic particles has increased dramatically, but little is yet known about their long-term effects on the environment. The microplastics The Ocean Cleanup is focused on preventing is the so called secondary microplastics, i.e. plastic fragments resulting from breakdown of larger plastic debris at land and sea. For more information on plastic pollution, please see Chapter 1.3 of our feasibility report.
- Who should be responsible for cleaning the gyres?
Since the accumulation zones are located outside of national territories, no single party is seen as responsible for the cleanup of the plastic pollution. Hence, intergovernmental bodies or independent private initiatives are the only entities likely willing to tackle this problem.
- How can I help prevent plastic pollution?
There are several steps you can take to prevent plastic pollution, but some depend on recycling facilities in your area. Here are a few tips:
- Organize beach, river bank or land cleanups
- Reduce your use of disposable plastics (including microbeads in cosmetics)
- Make sure you dispose of trash properly
- Reuse and recycle whenever possible
- Support us financially with a donation or apply to The Ocean Cleanup to help us develop our system
- Lobby to your (local) government
The Ocean Cleanup System
- What does "passively collecting" mean?
To actively catch plastic would be costly, labor intensive, harmful for sea life and take thousands of years to conduct. To catch the plastic, we need to act like plastic. We will use the ocean's currents to carry our 50, 2 km systems throughout the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, moving in the same manner (and patterns) the plastic follows in the accumulation zone. The systems will be slowed by drift anchors, at a depth where the current velocities are lower than on the surface. Thanks to this slower pace, the floating barrier will halt the plastic in its course. This will save vast amounts of time, fuel and manpower as well as be less harmful to sea life, in contrast to actively collecting the plastic by going after it with nets and boats.
- Is the cleanup system already installed and cleaning up the ocean?
No. The Ocean Cleanup has conducted a series of scale model tests, during which the design of the system was continuously strengthened and improved. We deployed a prototype system in the North Sea, off the Dutch coast, in 2016. We anticipate to have our first Pacific pilot in the water late 2017. Full scale deployment in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be in 2020.
- Can you rid the oceans of plastic entirely?
We will never remove every last gram of plastic from the oceans. However, combined with sources reduction, a significant decrease of floating marine litter in the accumulation zones of the oceans can be reached. Calculations show we can clean up 50% of the debris in the Great North Pacific Patch in 5 years from deployment.
- Can you provide an overall solution to ocean plastic pollution?
No. The Ocean Cleanup can significantly reduce the concentration of plastics in the ocean "garbage patches", but it is of paramount importance to "close the tap" as well. In other words we need to prevent more plastic from entering the oceans in the first place. Solving the overall problem will require radical changes at the individual, corporate and governmental levels of society. However, cleanup of the oceanic accumulation zones is necessary, because the current plastic pollution will not go away by itself, and it creates an ecological risk by eventually breaking down into more dangerous microplastics.
- Can you deploy this system in coastal areas, seas and rivers too?
We are currently preparing for the upcoming Pacific cleanup trials, by finalizing our engineering, making operational preparations and conducting subsystem tests. The North Pacific cleanup trials are set to start in late 2017. Hence, our system is currently designed for circulating ocean currents, not for coastal areas, seas and rivers.
However, "closing the tap" is of importance as well in order to make our ocean cleanup efforts more lasting. We are therefore considering spin-off systems for coastal areas and rivers that would intercept plastic before it reaches the ocean.
- Will the systems interrupt shipping pathways?
The moving systems will be equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS), which is a maritime anti-collision norm, that will allow them to be noticed by ships and the other systems. They will also be equipped with reflectors to make them show up on radar. This will allow for interruptions to be anticipated in advance and mitigate the possibility of collision.
The Ocean Cleanup and ocean users must respect each other's rights while on the water. We are working with various stakeholders to determine the safety signals needed, the cleanup systems' area restrictions and the notifications necessary to accommodate our activities and shipping simultaneously.
The Ocean Cleanup is collaborating with Netherlands Institute for the Law of the Sea (NILOS), who in turn are in close contact with International Maritime Organization (IMO). Together we can make sure parties crossing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch will be well aware of our cleanup efforts.
- Will the systems withstand extreme environmental conditions?
We knew from the outset we would have to engineer a system that could survive all seasons for years on end. The design of the barrier is based on the philosophy to move with the waves, rather than put in a rigid system that would "fight" the power of the ocean.
We design the barrier to be able to withstand different combinations of wind, waves and current. We calculate the maximum expected loads and deformations of the system based on extensive sets of simulations. These loads and deformations are taken into structural assessments where the response of the system is determined. We test material and construction details where possible, to minimize the risk of surprises after the complete system has been built. By completing these steps and by adhering to standard off-shore safety margins, we believe we can mitigate the risk of breaking the barrier, or losing any system after deployment.
- Will the systems impact sea life?
We have just finished an Environmental Impact Exploration, conducted by an external consulting agency. Based on the inventory of the potential environmental impacts identified in the Exploration study, we are now embarking on more robust environmental impact studies. Protecting the natural environment is at the heart of what we do. It is the driver behind our efforts to remove large amounts of plastic pollution from the world’s oceans. We will also use solid screens instead of nets to catch plastic debris. Vertebrates (like fish, marine mammals, sea turtles) will be able to swim under and around the solid screen. Most plankton is neutrally buoyant and therefore we anticipate the natural currents to guide the plankton under the screen and floating system.
We are committed to conduct a full Environmental Impact Assessment on our technology. At every stage of our project, we actively seek to eliminate or significantly reduce any environmental impact the cleanup may have, with the help of extensive environmental monitoring with specialists in the field. This is how The Ocean Cleanup will be able to contribute to improved knowledge about minimizing ecological impacts by floating objects in the ocean.
- How long will it take to clean up a gyre?
A complete cleanup of a gyre is unrealistic, but calculations show we can clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years from deployment of our systems. To ensure we cleanup as much plastic as possible, source reduction initiatives will need to continue to occur simultaneously.
Due to our continued extraction of plastic the concentration of plastic decreases, meaning that the cost of collection per kilo increases. Hence, we have to calculate how long it will be financially viable to keep the systems deployed, although the goal is to clean up as much as possible.
- To what depths will you be able to extract plastic?
The Ocean Cleanup focuses on the floating fraction of plastics. Since most of it is located between the surface and a depth of five meters, the array will be designed to clean up only the plastic which is located in this upper layer of the water column. The Ocean Cleanup’s engineers are currently calculating the optimal length of the screen catching plastic under the surface.
For more information about the distribution of plastic in the water column, read our update about vertical distribution here.
- Which sizes of plastic can your system capture?
The current screen size will be able to catch centimeter sized plastic according to basin tests and numerical analysis. Even though sub-centimeter sized plastic represents a significant share of the plastic count, the mass is made up of larger objects. These larger objects will eventually turn into microplastics if not extracted, so our goal is to prevent that from happening.
- How much plastic can you remove from the ocean?
According to meso-scale model estimations, a full-scale deployment of multiple systems will be able to collect more than 50% of the current amount of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years. Each system is estimated to collect 3 tons of debris per week. The cleanup needs to be paired with prevention efforts on land in order to make more lasting effects.
Capture efficiency / vertical distribution
- How has the concept changed since the feasibility study?
The biggest change is the switch from a moored system to a drifting system; catching the plastic by acting like plastic. We learned this has many advantages: higher plastic capture efficiency, reduced deployment- and maintenance cost, reduced risk of damage due to lower forces on the system from wind, waves and current to name a few.
From the North Sea Prototype, our largest test as of yet, we learned about the dynamic behavior of a barrier system in the open sea. We also learned how to assemble, install and operate such a system.
We have designed a much more robust and effective system based on the learnings of our studies and tests. It is not perfect yet, but it will be at a good point to start the iterative process of testing and improving the system in the Pacific Ocean.
- Where did the idea of a mobile system come from?
Since our system will use the ocean currents as engines, we need to understand them in detail. While modeling the currents at various depths in the water column, we came up with the idea to take advantage of the slower current velocity deeper down. This provided an opportunity to slightly slow down the system versus the surface using a drift anchor, rather than slow it down to zero speed using fixed mooring. By using drift anchors we make the booms move slower than the plastic, while on the same route. To catch the plastic, we need to act like plastic.
- Will this change to the technology alter the cleanup timeline?
The change to our technology's design will indeed change the cleanup rate for the better. We now expect to clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years instead of our previous estimate of 10 years. This is because the system will go where the plastic goes – increasing its capture efficiency.
- Will these systems be more expensive to build and deploy?
No. There are several benefits to the "drifter concept" in comparison to the single conventionally moored system. It is much more scalable financially and operationally to launch e.g. 50 barriers of 2 km, than 1 massive system of 100 km at once. Furthermore, the mooring system for conventional anchoring is extremely expensive compared to the drifting system’s drift anchor system.
- How are you determining the best location and design for the system?
As for location, we will assemble and deploy the pilot based on where the least amount of capital is needed, where the risks are the lowest (low risk of hurricanes and storms) and where the deployment will not be prolonged unnecessarily. Furthermore, we have computer models that show us which areas that have the highest concentration of plastic, based on our reconnaissance data. This is where we will release the pilot system.
The design is tested by conducting research and scale model tests. Once the pilot is deployed, we will continue to improve our design, based on the impact and behavior in its designated environment.
Optimizing our design
- What material will the screen be made out of?
At this moment it will most likely be fiber-reinforced Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). This material is light, very strong and environmentally friendly.
- What material will the floater be made out of?
The floater boom will be made out of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), a material that is commonly used for pipes on or in the seabed.
- What material will the anchor be made out of?
The anchor will be made out of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). This material floats and by adding ballast to it we can determine the optimal weight needed to create the intended speed difference with the surface. It is more practical to add weight gradually rather than removing weights after testing.
Plastic extraction and usage
- What will you do with the plastic once it's extracted from the oceans?
During the feasibility study we showed that ocean plastic is suitable for conversion into oil. Because making oil from plastic consumes less energy than extracting fossil crude oil, this processing solution has a net positive carbon impact. The oil could be used to power the extraction vessels.
Recycling the plastic into new plastic products is our main goal, as the revenue gained from these sales can fund our cleanup expansions. Preliminary tests show that recycled plastic can be turned into new, durable products. The Ocean Cleanup receives tremendous interest from companies that want to use ocean plastic in their products, making large-scale recycling viable. If your company sees a use for our ocean plastic, feel free to detail your interest via email to us.
- How will you extract the plastic from the ocean?
Once the array has collected maximum plastic, a signal is sent to our Mission Control Center in San Francisco and the array is then tracked by AIS. Once the location is known a vessel picks up the collected plastic and transports it back to land. We will assess different means of transport back to land in terms of sustainability.
- Why do you transport the plastic to land instead of processing it at sea?
After exploring the options of recycling the plastic at sea, our team has determined that processing plastic on land is more practical. There the collected material will be selected in a range of qualities. High quality material will be mechanically recycled to serve as feedstock for new product. Through ingredient branding we aim to sell this recycled ocean plastic at a premium to consumer brands directly, potentially allowing us to become self-sustaining while rolling out cleanup operations to other gyres. Lower quality material will be converted into diesel oil through pyrolysis, potentially serving as fuel for our service vessels.
- Can my company use the plastic you have collected?
We aim to recycle the plastics we extract, and to use the revenue to finance a large-scale cleanup operation. We already know the plastics are of suitable quality for recycling and many parties have expressed an interest in obtaining our ocean plastic. However, we are still several years away from large-scale plastic extraction. Please contact us through our contact form, if you are interested in plastic processing and/or collaborations.
The Ocean Cleanup Organization
- How did The Ocean Cleanup come into existence?
In 2011, then 16-year-old Boyan Slat was diving in Greece and was surprised to see more plastic than fish. Together with a friend he explored oceanic plastic pollution and the difficulties of cleaning it up for a high school science project. Boyan remained fascinated by the problem and continued working on his passive clean-up concept during his freshman year at university. This eventually led him to start The Ocean Cleanup.
- Is it possible to do my internship at The Ocean Cleanup?
Please visit the Careers page to see if we have any outstanding internships available. If you have a specific interest and it is not listed under our vacancies, please send a message detailing your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- How can I invite Boyan Slat to speak at our event/conference?
Please send your request through our contact form.
- Where can I find more information for my presentation/school project?
Although most public information can be found on this website, please use our contact form for any unanswered questions.
- Do you have a newsletter I can sign up to?
We do not currently have a newsletter, but you can follow our progress on our website, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook. If, in the future, we do start sending newsletters, we will update you about it via our social media channels.
- Do you have merchandise?
Yes, we started providing merchandise as of “The Next Phase” event on May 11, 2017. You can purchase water bottles from Dopper, t-shirts and sweaters from Rapanui and hats, duffel bags and jackets from Musto. Check out our shop page for more info.
- Where can I find your scientific publications?
You can find all of our scientific publications here.
Our research team is currently busy with data-calibration of our ocean plastic transport model and analysis of persistent organic pollutants on plastics. These publications will be added throughout the year of 2017.
- Will The Ocean Cleanup publish more research results in the future?
Our research team is currently busy with data-calibration of our ocean plastic transport model with the Mega Expedition and Aerial Expedition data. Once we finish these activities, we will be able to provide a full description of the characteristics and quantities of plastics within the North Pacific Garbage Patch.
Furthermore, we are analyzing persistent organic pollutants on plastics and organisms that inhabit this area. The results will be used to better understand the chemical impacts of marine plastic pollution. We will keep publishing peer-reviewed reports and blog updates about our research this year so stay tuned and you will hear from our research team a few times throughout 2017.
- Is the feasibility report available in hardcopy?
Although our feasibility report was available in book form as a crowdfunding perk in 2014, we do not sell or otherwise distribute hard copies. You can download a digital copy from our website here.
- Can I provide comments about the content of the feasibility report?
Yes. Please send an email to email@example.com with your feedback.
- How do I reference the feasibility report in my paper/thesis/report?
You should use the following citation: Boyan Slat et al., How the Oceans can Clean Themselves: A Feasibility Study, 2014, www.theoceancleanup.com
- Where can I find the feasibility study?
You can download our Feasibility Study here. Please note that through research and engineering, we have expanded our knowledge of plastic pollution and removal methods well beyond what was known when this feasibility report was published, in 2014.
SUPPORT, FUNDING AND DONATIONS
- How are you financing the cleanup?
We are financing the project with the help of philanthropic, commercial and governmental donations/sponsorships.
If you would like to support The Ocean Cleanup by making a donation, we would be very grateful. Read more and donate here.
If you are a company interested in sponsoring or donating to The Ocean Cleanup, please contact us through our contact form.
- How can my company or organization help The Ocean Cleanup?
Thank you for wanting to help The Ocean Cleanup. We are open to institutional and corporate collaborations. Please contact us through our contact form regarding potential partnerships or collaborations with The Ocean Cleanup.
- How can I help The Ocean Cleanup as an individual?
Besides monetary support, your relevant knowledge and skills may be a very welcome addition to The Ocean Cleanup. Our work requires not only scientific and technical expertise, but also assistance with legal, commercial and policy matters. If you would like to get actively involved in our work, please visit the Careers page to see our current open positions.
You can also help us by sharing our story. Although the awareness for plastic pollution is growing rapidly, there are still many who are not aware. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube or Facebook for updates on our progress and feel free to share our content. Our project would never have been possible in the first place without the internet, and the power of the crowd.
- How can I help you raise awareness and/or raise funds?
First of all, thank you very much for wanting to help us raise awareness and/or funds! You are free to use the content of our website for non-profit purposes, as long as you clearly state that your activity is independent of, and not endorsed or sponsored by, us. These same conditions apply if you engage in any activity to help fund our projects. You can use all downloadable information from our website (see image gallery here) to support your initiative. To license content for commercial work, please contact us through our contact form.
- Do you plan to do another crowdfunding campaign?
Crowdfunding gave us a great boost at an early stage of our project. In the summer of 2014, it helped us to attract the support of 38,000 people from 160 countries. We do not have plans for a new crowdfunding campaign, but we still rely on personal donations. You can donate through our funding page. If you wish to sponsor us or consider giving us a large donation, please contact us directly through firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more about our crowdfunding campaign in our milestone section.
- I have a boat/own a research vessel and want to help. What can I do?
Our research team is currently busy researching the sources of ocean plastic pollution e.g. rivers and fisheries. We collected a substantial amount of plastic during our Mega Expedition in August 2015, which should be sufficient for this analysis.
However, you can do your own plastic pollution research too. If you’re crossing a gyre and interested in collecting data, you may be able to borrow or buy one of our manta trawls to tow behind your vessel. If you do not want to carry bulky research equipment, you can download our Visual Survey app to conduct visual surveys during your voyage. The app is available through Google Play and App Store. Thank you for wanting to help!
- Can my company sponsor a system?
In the run up to full-scale deployment in 2018 and 2019, we welcome corporations to take part in the largest cleanup in history. By sponsoring a system, you help speed up the full-scale cleanup. Your logo will be placed on the floater and you can track your own system through its course in the gyre with our app. Please contact us through email@example.com, if you are interested in sponsoring a system.
- Can I buy a system for a coastal area, river or sea?
Our system is being developed specifically for circulating ocean gyres and cannot be used for cleanup of coastal areas, rivers and seas. We will test our system in the North Pacific in late 2017, to assess its plastic capture efficiency as well as its durability. After making a series of tests, we will improve our design and later commence the cleanup in the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch in 2018 and 2019.
Once we have generated revenue by reselling the recycled plastic, we will consider developing spin-offs for rivers, seas and coastal areas.
We do encourage you to let us know that you wish to buy a cleanup system for this purposes, so that we can put your contact details on file for the future. Please contact us through our contact form, stating your interest and intended use for a cleanup system.
SUPPORT AND FUNDING
- Are donations to The Ocean Cleanup tax deductible?
Because The Ocean Cleanup is registered as a Dutch ANBI foundation, donations are tax deductible in the Netherlands. Donations to The Ocean Cleanup made through the Netherland America Foundation are also tax-deductible for US citizens. The NAF is qualified as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization by the U.S. government. If you would like to make a donation to The Ocean Cleanup through The NAF, please visit their donation page.
For tax deductions for international donations, please consult your tax advisor.
- Can I donate in another currency, besides EUR and USD?
We accept donations in Euro or US Dollar amounts, because we can receive these without paying conversion fees. If your account has another currency, you are still able to donate via our website. If you have an amount in mind that you would like to donate, calculate how much that equals in either euros or US dollars. Enter the amount on our funding page and choose your preferred payment method. Your bank/PayPal account will be debited the amount equivalent in your own currency.
- Can I transfer an amount directly to your bank account?
Thank you very much for wanting to support our project. We currently have two accounts you can transfer a donation to, if you cannot or do not want to donate via our funding form:
If you are donating in EURO:
Account number: NL73 ABNA 0529 4518 24
Account name: "Stichting The Ocean Cleanup"
Branch Location: Netherlands
Address: ABN AMRO Kneuterdijk, Postbus 19507, 2500 CM The Hague
If you are donating in US dollars:
Account number: NL92 ABNA 0529 4682 63
Account name: "Stichting The Ocean Cleanup"
Branch Location: Netherlands
Address: ABN AMRO Kneuterdijk, Postbus 19507, 2500 CM The Hague
If you have any questions about donating, please contact us through our contact form.
- We would like to donate as a US company. What is your EIN?
Thank you very much for wanting to donate to The Ocean Cleanup. Your donations can be made through the Netherland-America Foundation. Their EIN is 13-2989216. The form can also directly be found here.
- Can I get proof of my donation for a tax deduction?
Yes, please let us know if you require a donation certificate for tax deduction purposes. You can contact us via our contact form specifying your donation details so we can verify your donation and draft a certificate for you. Please include the following details:
- Full name
- Date of donation
- Full mailing address