How it works

The ocean is big. Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch using conventional methods - vessels and nets - would take thousands of years and tens of billions of dollars to complete. Our passive systems are estimated to remove half the Great Pacific Garbage patch in just five years, and at a fraction of the cost. This is how it works:

Create a coastline where there are none

The system consists of a 600-meter-long floater that sits at the surface of the water and a tapered 3-meter-deep skirt attached below. The floater provides buoyancy to the system and prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath.

The system is made of two main components: the floater and the skirt.

Take advantage of natural oceanic forces

Both the plastic and system are being carried by the current. However, wind and waves propel only the system, as the floater sits just above the water surface, while the plastic is primarily just beneath it. The system thus moves faster than the plastic, allowing the plastic to be captured.

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Illustration of the forces acting on the system

Concentrate the plastic and take it out


Natural forces move the system faster than the plastic which allows the plastic to be captured in the center of the system.

  1. Step 1 Capture
  2. Step 2 Accumulation
  3. Step 3 Extraction
  4. Step 4 Landing

Expected impact

Our floating systems are designed to capture plastics ranging from small pieces just millimeters in size, up to large debris, including massive discarded fishing nets (ghost nets), which can be tens of meters wide.

Models show that a full-scale cleanup system roll-out (a fleet of approximately 60 systems) could clean 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in just five years.

After fleets of systems are deployed into every ocean gyre, combined with source reduction, The Ocean Cleanup projects to be able to remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.

With cleanup
Without cleanup
Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2030 with and without cleanup. [scale units : kg/km2]
  • Autonomous

    Algorithms help specify the optimal deployment locations, after which the systems roam the gyres autonomously. Real-time telemetry will allow us to monitor the condition, performance and trajectory of each system.

  • Energy neutral

    Our systems fully rely on the natural forces of the ocean and do not require an external energy source to catch and concentrate the plastic. All electronics used, such as lights and AIS, are powered by solar energy.

  • Scalable

    The modular fleet of systems can be scaled up gradually, allowing us to learn from the field and improve the technology along the way. The more systems deployed, the faster the cleanup will be.

The system at sea

Handling Vessel Traffic

No heavily-trafficked shipping routes traverse the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, so the chances of a vessel coming across an ocean cleanup system are minimal. On average only 5 vessels can be found in an area twice the size of Texas.

But, in the event that a vessel does pass through the patch, we have implemented extensive measures to ensure the safety of both vessels and our cleanup systems. Each system will be equipped with lanterns, radar reflectors, navigational signals, GPS and anti-collision beacons.

The AIS will continuously broadcast the location of the systems to passing vessels and the GPS will track the location of our systems, should they veer out of the patch. The US Coast Guard will chart the area as a special operations zone and will issue a Notice to Mariners concerning the presence of our systems.

Layout of The Ocean Cleanup System 001 Electronics and Instrumentation

Safeguarding Sealife

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. Hence, safeguarding sea life has been the number one driver behind our technology.

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Illustration of the downward flow below the skirt

We designed the systems to be inherently safe for marine life in four ways. Firstly, the systems move through the ocean at extremely low speeds - slow enough for creatures to swim away. Secondly, because the screen is impenetrable, the current will flow underneath the screen, guiding with it organisms that can't actively move, while the plastic (which floats) remains inside the system. Thirdly, as the screen is not a net, sea life cannot become entangled. Finally, we will only remove the plastic from the water periodically, which means people will always be present to check for marine life before the plastic is lifted out of the water.

We have also conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) through an independent agency, CSA Ocean Sciences, which did not identify any major risks of our method to the environment.

Surviving Storms

The system has been engineered and tested to utilize and withstand the forces of the ocean. While designing the structure, we considered load cases that are only expected to occur once every hundred years.

The key to survivability is flexibility. We designed the system to be limber enough to be able to follow the waves, and because the system is free-floating, it can drift when subjected to high current speeds.

In May 2018, a 120-meter section of the system successfully passed a tow test in the Pacific Ocean, being subjected to waves of up to 5 meters.
Since 2016, multiple prototypes were deployed at our North Sea test site, 12 nautical miles off the coast of the Netherlands
Hundreds of scale model tests were conducted throughout the years to refine the design and predict the behavior and performance of the system

System 001

After 5 years of research, engineering and testing, we launched the world’s first ocean cleanup system from San Francisco Bay, marking the start of the cleanup.

Track System 001

The Evolution of The Ocean Cleanup concept

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Support the cleanup

Help fund the scale-up of our cleanup fleet


Fund your own cleanup system

With the launch of our first cleanup system being fully funded, we now welcome individuals and companies to join the cleanup by adopting their own ocean cleanup systems. If you would like more information on how to make a major contribution to the scale-up of our fleet, please contact us.