Ef­fort to cor­ral Pa­cific’s plas­tic trash

Ripon Bulletin - - Local/Nation -

SAN FRAN­CISCO (AP) — En­gi­neers are de­ploy­ing a trash col­lec­tion de­vice to cor­ral plas­tic lit­ter float­ing be­tween Cal­i­for­nia and Hawaii in an at­tempt to clean up the world’s largest garbage patch in the heart of the Pa­cific Ocean.

The 2,000-foot (600-me­ter) long float­ing boom is be­ing towed from San Fran­cisco to the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch — an is­land of trash twice the size of Texas.

The sys­tem was cre­ated by The Ocean Cleanup, an or­ga­ni­za­tion founded by Boyan Slat, a 24-year-old in­no­va­tor from the Nether­lands who first be­came pas­sion­ate about clean­ing the oceans when he went scuba div­ing at age 16 in the Mediter­ranean Sea and saw more plas­tic bags than fish.

“The plas­tic is re­ally per­sis­tent and it doesn’t go away by it­self and the time to act is now,” Slat said, adding that re­searchers with his or­ga­ni­za­tion found plas­tic go­ing back to the 1960s and 1970s bob­bing in the patch.

The buoy­ant, U-shaped bar­rier made of plas­tic and with a ta­pered 10-foot (3-me­ter) deep screen, is in­tended to act like a coast­line, trap­ping some of the 1.8 tril­lion pieces of plas­tic that sci­en­tists es­ti­mate are swirling in that gyre but al­low­ing ma­rine life to safely swim be­neath it.

Fit­ted with so­lar power lights, cam­eras, sen­sors and satel­lite an­ten­nas, the cleanup sys­tem will com­mu­ni­cate its po­si­tion at all times, al­low­ing a sup­port ves­sel to fish out the col­lected plas­tic ev­ery few months and trans­port it to dry land where it will be re­cy­cled, said Slat.

Ship­ping con­tain­ers filled with the fish­ing nets, plas­tic bot­tles, laun­dry bas­kets and other plas­tic refuse scooped up by the sys­tem be­ing de­ployed Satur­day are ex­pected to be back on land within a year, he said.

Slat said he and his team will pay close at­ten­tion to whether the sys­tem works ef­fi­ciently and with­stands harsh ocean con­di­tions, in­clud­ing huge waves. He said he’s most look­ing for­ward to a ship loaded with plas­tic com­ing back to port.

“We still have to prove the tech­nol­ogy... which will then al­low us to scale up a fleet of sys­tems,” he said.

The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised $35 mil­lion in do­na­tions to fund the project, in­clud­ing from Sales­force.com chief ex­ec­u­tive Marc Be­nioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will de­ploy 60 free-float­ing bar­ri­ers in the Pa­cific Ocean by 2020.

“One of our goals is to re­move 50 per­cent of the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch in five years,” Slat said.

The free-float­ing bar­ri­ers are made to with­stand harsh weather con­di­tions and con­stant wear and tear. They will stay in the wa­ter for two decades and in that time col­lect 90 per­cent of the trash in the patch, he added.

Ge­orge Leonard, chief sci­en­tist of the Ocean Con­ser­vancy, a non­profit en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy group, said he’s skep­ti­cal Slat can achieve that goal be­cause even if plas­tic trash can be taken out of the ocean, a lot more is pour­ing in each year.

“We at the Ocean Con­ser­vancy are highly skep­ti­cal but we hope it works,” he said. “The ocean needs all the help it can get.”

Leonard said 9 mil­lion tons (8 mil­lion met­ric tons) of plas­tic waste en­ter the ocean an­nu­ally and that a so­lu­tion must in­clude a multi-pronged ap­proach, in­clud­ing stop­ping plas­tic from reach­ing the ocean and more ed­u­ca­tion so peo­ple re­duce con­sump­tion of sin­gle use plas­tic con­tain­ers and bot­tles.

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