Scooped up plastic from the Pacific is spilling back
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