A giant floating trash collector will try to scoop up ocean garbage patch

By USA Today, adapted by Helpeach staff

Published:08/22/2018 Word Count:676

The Ocean Cleanup Project's system is under construction in Alameda, California. Once it's finished, the system will be as long as five football fields. Photo by: The Ocean Cleanup Project

SAN FRANCISCO, California — Scientists hope a giant floating strainer will help to clean up the ocean. Soon, it will be tested off the coast of California.

Called the Ocean Cleanup Project, the 2,000-foot device has pipes that float on the water with nets below. It collects trash in the middle of it.

The huge device is designed to collect tons of garbage from what's known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The floating trash can harm and kill whales, dolphins, seals and more, scientists at Britain's University of Plymouth say. The animals might eat the trash or get tangled in it.

The project is the work of Boyan Slat. He is 23 years old and is from the Netherlands. He was so disgusted by the plastic waste he saw while diving near Greece that he has worked to clean up the mess.

A Dutch nonprofit group runs the project, which is very expensive. The group has received millions of dollars to help.

How It Works

The cleanup project's system uses connected pipes the length of five football fields that float on the ocean. Nets hang below the pipes.

The system moves slower than the water. This allows the currents and waves to push trash into its center. Floating pieces are captured by the net while the push of water against the net moves fish and other ocean life out of the way.

It has solar-powered lights and systems to keep ships from running into it. It has cameras and sensors to communicate with people.

The system will operate mostly on its own, although a few people will watch from a nearby ship. A ship will be sent out occasionally to get the collected trash and take it to shore. Then it will be recycled.

Expanding The Focus

Scientists say things are so bad that it's worth a shot.

"I applaud the efforts to remove plastics," said Rolf Halden. He is a professor at Arizona State University.

However, he added that we need to stop the tons of plastic entering the oceans each day.

Another concern is that the project targets only plastic pollution floating on the ocean. Scientists have found plastics all the way down to the sea floor.

Project leaders say that cleanup is important, even if success is a long shot.

"The current plastic pollution will not go away by itself," Rick van Holst Pellekaan said. He is a spokesman for the project.

He said the group is considering systems for rivers and other areas. Those would catch plastic before it reaches the ocean.

A report says as much as 9.5 million tons of trash goes into the ocean each year.

Plastic is different than other trash. It does not break down like food or paper garbage.

The trash often comes from countries that have growing businesses but whose waste systems haven't caught up. Several of these countries are in Asia.

Discovering The Patch

Trash patches gather floating trash in areas hundreds of miles across. They accumulate because of ocean currents.

Most of the pollution in these patches is plastic, said a British study published last year.

Slat got interested in cleaning up these areas after his diving experience. He gave a talk on his ideas after he graduated from high school in 2013.

His talk went viral online. A project to raise money for cleanup began. Slat ended up leaving Delft University in the Netherlands to focus on the cleanup.

Scientists have been working to build the cleanup system across the bay from San Francisco. It is weeks away from launch.

The Plan

The cleanup system is scheduled to be taken to a spot off the coast on September 8. It will spend 40 to 60 days there for testing.

If it does well, the system will be taken to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is between California and Hawaii.

The goal is to use 60 systems by 2020. The group believes that will clean up half of the trash in the garbage patch in five years.

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