Ocean Cleanup

Autumn Antonson, Arts & Culture Editor

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For over a century, the problem of ocean pollution has been known about, and yet the amount of
contamination we release into our bodies of water has only increased. The biggest contributor to this
pollution is plastic. Plastic bags, bottles, and other trash floats for hundreds of years, the particles getting
smaller and smaller. Marine life will often mistake the bits of trash for food or will get tangled up, and
over 100 million animals are killed per year because of this problem. Birds, sea turtles, and even large
creatures like whales have washed up on shore with their stomachs full of plastic. Along with this, it’s
estimated that 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs will be gone by 2050, since pollutants also smother the
coral, speed the growth of damaging algae, and lower water quality.
In the middle of the Pacific, a huge patch of trash has gathered due to currents. It’s called the
Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and it’s almost twice the size of Texas. For years, marine scientists have
been trying to work out a way to clean up this massive waste pile, but none have been largely successful.
This patch, and others around the ocean, have continued to grow in size. It’s estimated that around 14
billion pounds of plastic go into our waters each year, which is around 500 pounds per second.
In 2012, 18 year old Boyan Slat presented an idea during a TEDx talk to help clean the oceans.
Because of all the tiny particles of plastic, using basic vessels and nets would take over 80,000 years, and
billions of dollars to clean it all. But Slat suggested putting in a barrier to condense it, making clean up
easier. In 2013, Slat founded the non-profit organization The Ocean Cleanup in order to pursue his idea.
“I think very often problems are so big, people approach problems from the bottom up: ‘If only I do this
little bit, then hopefully there will be some sort of snowball effect that will be bigger and bigger,’” he said
to Adele Peters, staff writer at Fast Company. “I’m much more in favor of the top-down approach to
problem-solving. Really ask, if the problem is this big, how do you get to 100%? Then knowing what it
takes to get to 100%, work your way back. Well, what do I have to do now?”
The technology he has built over the past five years is expected to clean up 50 percent of the
Great Pacific Garbage Patch every five years, using a fraction of the money and energy such a project
would need normally. It is made up of a 600 meter long floating tube, which has a 3-meter screen skirt
hanging below it. The tube it naturally pushed by the currents, waves, and wind, forming a U-shaped
“coast” that traps the garbage in a smaller area. Every few months, a boat will come in and collect the
trash to take it back to land and recycle it. The skirt is long enough to trap most of the trash, but allows
sea life to easily avoid entanglement in the technology. The tube is fitted with solar powered lights,
anti-collision systems, cameras, sensors, and satellite antennas, so that it can communicate it’s position at
all times.
The first model of this ocean cleanup system, System 001, was released on September 8, 2018 out
of San Francisco. Since then, the system has reached the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, prepared and
trialed for the cleanup, and on October 19, the real mission began. Constant updates are given on the
Ocean Cleanup cite, and a satellite updates the system’s location every five minutes so viewers can
actually see where it is.
Once the garbage is collected, it can be taken back to shore and recycled. Slat’s organization
wants to start producing high quality products using this plastic, like phone cases and water bottles, and
popular manufacturers like Adidas have started using ocean trash in their merchandise.
So what can we do?

Even though we’re not all going to go on to solve a huge world problem like Boyan Slat is trying
to do, we can still make decisions in our lives in order to take steps toward greater solutions. At our
school, president of the GSE club, Amina Rand-Mcneil, founded the composting project that focuses on
separating trash into its proper places. Volunteering students take their time to put things into the recycle
and compost so we can minimize our waste.

If you simply think about where you’re going to throw your bottle, or try not to buy plastic as
much, you can begin to limit the source of the ocean pollution problem.

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