Ocean Cleanup Set to Launch

Ocean Cleanup    Workers assemble “System 101” on Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point. Ocean Cleanup is preparing systems like the one shown here to help rid the massive Great Pacific Garbage Patch of half its debris over a five-year period.

Ocean Cleanup (OC) announced that it finished the six-month task of assembling “System 001” at Alameda Point last Friday, Aug. 31. Tomorrow, Sept. 7, the company will transfer the system from Seaplane Lagoon to the offshore supply ship Maersk Launcher. Then on Sunday the Launcher, with System 001 in tow, will sail out the Golden Gate on its way to help clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). 

Located halfway between Hawaii and California, GPGP is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. OC faces a challenge more complicated than simply vacuuming a garbage patch floating on the top of Pacific Ocean waters. In fact, calling this accumulation of debris a “garbage patch” does not accurately describe what awaits OC.  

The United States Department of Commerce’s National Ocean Service (NOS) tells us that GPGP is not a large and continuous patch of easily visible marine debris such as bottles and other litter and is not akin to a literal island of trash that should be visible with satellite or aerial photographs.

Instead of attacking the non-conventional garbage patch with conventional vessels and nets, OC is deploying a “passive system,” which the company says will remove half the massive garbage patch in five years. OC describes System 001 as “a 600-meter- (1,969-foot-) long floater that sits at the surface of the water with a  tapered 3-meter- (10-foot-) deep skirt attached below. OC says that the floater provides buoyancy to the system and prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath.

“Natural forces move the system faster than the plastic,” OC states on its website. This allows System 001 to capture the plastic located in its center. Then every few months a vessel acting as a floating garbage truck will arrive and remove the plastic that the system has accumulated. OC plans to then recycle the collected debris. 

On its website, OC states that it designed its floating systems to capture plastics ranging from small pieces to large debris like discarded fishing nets. OC will equip its systems with navigation lights, GPS, satellite communication equipment, cameras and marine tracking devices and solar panels to power the electrical equipment on the system while it is out at sea. OC points out that solar energy powers all the electronics on its systems.

The company says that it hopes to use a full-scale clean-up arrangement, consisting of some 60 systems, like the one it is launching on Saturday, to rid GPGP of half it debris in five years.