Ocean Cleanup, a company funded by a Kickstarter campaign and created by then 17-year-old Dutch inventor Boyan Slat launched its first prototype into the North Sea at the end of June.
The prototype, which is only about a tenth of the size that the finished product will be, will allow plastic to drift naturally with the ocean currents along two 100 metre long angled arms, and drop into a receptacle to be melted and eventually recycled.
Slat and his team of scientists hope that if the prototype goes well and holds up against the rough weather, they will be able to launch the real device into the ocean by 2020 to begin tackling the infamous “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.
Slat has said he hopes to have the patch mostly cleared out of the ocean within 20 years.
That will be no easy feat however, as up to eight million tons of plastic and garbage enters the oceans each year.
Joe Ackerman professor of Physical Ecology and Aquatic Sciences at the University of Guelph is optimistic that this project will work, but says there’s more that needs to be done.
“It’s a great idea and if it works that’s fantastic, but ultimately, we still have to eliminate the problem at the source.”
The majority of garbage and plastic that ends up in the ocean is from littering on land, which ends up making its way into lakes and rivers and eventually the ocean.
Ackerman says that even if the project ends up being unsuccessful, Ocean Cleanup is bringing the public’s attention to the issue which in itself has the potential to do a lot of good.
“Most people would think, well it’s ships or something dumping garbage off in their normal activities,” says Ackerman. “But that means that even people in Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph can be conscious of the use of plastics and how plastics get into the environment.”