'World's first' Ocean Cleanup system to launch from SF Bay this Saturday

The millions of tons of garbage in the ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. But this weekend an ambitious cleanup effort called the Ocean Cleanup project is set to launch. 

This week we spoke with the project’s CEO and founder, Boyan Slat, who dreamed up this idea when he was only 16-years-old.

The “trash collector”, for lack of a better term, is being built in Alameda. The goal is for a full fleet of these machines to reduce the garbage patch by 50 percent in five years. 

Slat said he estimates that if they deploy 60 of these 2,000- foot garbage collectors, they could achieve that goal. But so far only one of 60, which would be considered a full fleet, has been under construction at Alameda Point since March.

“It’s kind of like a giant Pac-Man,” Slat said as he described the “giant” floating, long U-shaped barrier. “It’s driven by the wind and the waves and then we are able to coral the plastic.” It has a non-permeable screen underneath the system that isn’t expected to catch marine life, according to Slat. 

When Slat was SCUBA diving in Greece, he said he saw more plastic bags than fish and thought, “Why can’t we clean this up?” From there, he figured coastlines would be a very effective way of catching plastic. “If you go to the beach, you see a lot of plastic. It’s out of the ocean. The thing is there’s no coastlines in that garbage patch.”

That’s where the idea of the “artificial coastline” came from.

But is it cost effective? Slat considers the project relatively cheap compared to the damage being done. The system costs a “few million” the development itself had raised $31.5 million as of 2017 since being founded in 2013. 

Most of the funding for the Netherlands-based project has come from the U.S. and Europe, some from the Bay Area. 

Slat said he knows it’s a risky operation, but acknowledges their study that said 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic are in that ocean patch, weighing in at about 250 million pounds. 

“We need to deal with new plastic and prevent more plastic from entering the ocean in the first place. There is this legacy of 60 years of pollution that has already been done. It doesn’t go away by itself.” 

This Saturday, the world’s first ocean cleanup system will launch from San Francisco Bay. It is expected to pass the Bay Bridge around noon followed by the Godden Gate Bridge around 2 p.m. 

You can watch in person or they will be streaming it live on their website: www.theoceancleanup.com/