Scooped up plas­tic from the Pa­cific is spilling back

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Cheyenne Mac­don­ald © Daily Mail, Lon­don

The rad­i­cal project to clean up the Pa­cific Ocean us­ing a 2,000-foot­long float­ing pipe has al­ready run into some chal­lenges.

Af­ter four weeks at­tempt­ing to tackle the Great Pa­cific Garbage Patch, the Ocean Cleanup team has con­firmed their de­vice is scoop­ing up plas­tic and is mostly ‘be­hav­ing as pre­dicted.’

But un­for­tu­nately, some of that plas­tic is spilling back out into the ocean not long af­ter it’s caught.

Ocean Cleanup is now work­ing to un­der­stand what’s caus­ing the prob­lem, and mod­ify the sys­tem so it can bet­ter re­tain the float­ing waste.

So far, the team says the ini­tial op­er­a­tions have shown prom­ise.

‘Al­though we are not har­vest­ing plas­tic yet, based on the cur­rent re­sults, we are pos­i­tive we are close to mak­ing it work,’ Ocean Cleanup founder and CEO Boyan Slat wrote in a re­cent blog post.

The sys­tem, dubbed Wil­son, so far has not ap­peared to have any sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­ac­tions with ma­rine life, and has shown it can cap­ture small par­ti­cles within its con­fines.

But, it can only hold onto the plas­tic for a ‘rel­a­tively short time.’

‘There could be var­i­ous rea­sons why plas­tic is not stay­ing in­side the sys­tem,’ Slat said.

‘We have con­cluded that the sys­tem does ap­pear to be mov­ing too slow at times (re­mem­ber, to catch the plas­tic, we need a speed dif­fer­ence where the sys­tem is faster than the plas­tic) or, oc­ca­sion­ally, the speed dif­fer­ence ap­pears to be re­versed, where the plas­tic is then faster than the sys­tem.

‘At the very min­i­mum, the sys­tem needs to be con­tin­u­ously trav­el­ing faster than the plas­tic.’

The team has out­lined a few tweaks that could boost Wil­son’s per­for­mance to coun­ter­act the ef­fects of wind and vi­bra­tions at the ends of the U-shaped pipe.

Ocean Cleanup plans to open up the U-shape by about 60-70 me­ters. This will give it a shorter, wider con­fig­u­ra­tion.

To do this, they’ll have to add more slack to the clos­ing lines that keep it bound in a U.

‘We will per­form the ex­ten­sion in sev­eral stages un­til we will (hope­fully) reach the de­sired ef­fect,’ Slat said.

‘As an in­creased span is ex­pected to have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the sys­tem’s abil­ity to rapidly pivot when a change in wind di­rec­tion oc­curs, we must be care­ful to not in­crease the span too much.’

The team plans to be­gin ex­tend­ing the clos­ing lines this Thurs­day, while con­tin­u­ing to an­a­lyze the data and test­ing other so­lu­tions to im­prove the sys­tem.

The Ocean Cleanup team in ac­tion

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