The Garbage Patch Kid

The Ocean Cleanup’s System 001. Photo courtesy: The Ocean Cleanup.

The Ocean Cleanup’s System 001. Photo courtesy: The Ocean Cleanup.

Ever heard of System 001? If you guessed a solar system in a galaxy far, far away, you are incorrect. If you guessed it’s the first operating system for Tandy computers – nope! System 001 is the world’s first ocean cleanup system!

The massive 2,000-foot-long, U-shaped, ocean clean-up machine was built in San Francisco and the contraption headed out to sea earlier this month. Its destination is the remote garbage island otherwise known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that floats in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California. The garbage covers an estimated surface area of 1.6 million square kilometers which is twice the size of Texas. The Ocean Cleanup team, which is behind the System 001, estimates the patch to weigh 80,000 tons. If you can imagine the weight of 500 jumbo jets, you’d be close to guessing the weight of this enormous pile of floating trash. The kind of plastics range from abandoned fishing nets and ropes to rigid polyethylene or polypropylene.

Studies done on some of the recovered plastics from the patch prove that some were dumped into the ocean in the 1970s. The big plastics break down into smaller plastics and are often mistaken for food by marine animals. Not only does this have dire consequences for sea life, but also for humans as the plastics make their way up the food chain.

When the System 001 reaches the patch in a week or so, it will hang out for a year floating around it in a circular current to gather as much plastic as it can. It looks like a ginormous pool skimmer, complete with a 10-foot deep skirt to collect the garbage. If all goes to plan, the first batch of collected trash will be returned to land in six months to be recycled.

The idea behind the massive ocean clean-up machine belongs to a fellow by the name of Boyan Slat, a 23-year-old Dutchman who said he became concerned about the state of the oceans when he was 16. Since then he has raised more than $30 million to launch The Ocean Cleanup organization.

Some scientists don’t believe the idea will work and that the giant snake of the contraption will end up as another piece of marine litter as it cannot possibly work on the scale imagined.

But time will tell. And we’ll be keeping close tabs on clean-up news because, if it works the way the team hopes, it will do a big part in helping our oceans.

The next task, of course, is keeping plastics out of the oceans for good.