Boyan Slat sits inside a four-foot diameter section of tubing. The tubing is part of an enormous, plastic-trapping, floating boom system. (Ocean Cleanup)

Boyan Slat sits inside a four-foot diameter section of tubing. The tubing is part of an enormous, plastic-trapping, floating boom system. (Ocean Cleanup)

A researcher examines a piece of fishing net. Forty-six percent of the Pacific Garbage Patch is old fishing gear. (Ocean Cleanup)

A researcher examines a piece of fishing net. Forty-six percent of the Pacific Garbage Patch is old fishing gear. (Ocean Cleanup)

It’s a tedious task. But Ocean Cleanup researchers count and measure plastic bits from a sample of ocean water in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (Ocean Cleanup)

It’s a tedious task. But Ocean Cleanup researchers count and measure plastic bits from a sample of ocean water in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (Ocean Cleanup)

A test section of the floating boom that will be used to corral plastic litter is towed out into the Pacific Ocean. (AP)

A test section of the floating boom that will be used to corral plastic litter is towed out into the Pacific Ocean. (AP)

Plastic trash surrounds a seabird on a Pacific Ocean beach. (Ocean Cleanup)

Plastic trash surrounds a seabird on a Pacific Ocean beach. (Ocean Cleanup)

Catch that Trash!

Posted: November 5, 2018

Would you like a vacation cruise in the heart of the Pacific Ocean? Don’t pick this route. It’s littered with garbage!

Ocean currents have carried old fishing nets, plastic bottles, laundry baskets, and other trash to a remote spot in the ocean between California and Hawaii. The area is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The garbage is scattered over a region twice the size of Texas! So a young man named Boyan Slat started a project to clean it up. He says now is the time to remove plastic. As time goes by, large pieces of plastic will break into smaller bits. Tiny plastic pieces are much harder to clean up.

People working with Mr. Slat use a nearly 2,000-foot-long floating boom. This kind of boom isn’t a loud noise. It’s a giant, floating trap—like a huge swimming pool noodle! A boat tows the boom into position in the garbage patch and releases it. As the boom drifts with the currents and wind, its sides are drawn together. It forms a U-shape. Garbage gets trapped inside it. You can think of it like a giant Pac-Man chomping on trash. Of course, the boom doesn’t actually eat the garbage like Pac-Man would. The garbage must be returned to land. Every few months, a vessel will fish out the collected plastic. People back on land will recycle it.

Can the boom really clear up the patch? Will it stand up to rough waves? Time will tell. Mr. Slat says he and his team will pay close attention to whether this experimental system works well. Experienced marine biologists (scientists who study sea life) will follow to make sure sea life is not harmed by the boom.

If this test system works, Mr. Slat and his team hope to eventually deploy many more. They believe that 60 booms drifting in the area could clean out half the garbage patch over five years. But others have doubts. Even if people do clean up parts of the garbage patch, new trash flows into the sea every day. Catching up won’t be easy!