The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be twice the size of Texas. (RB)

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to be twice the size of Texas. (RB)

Current puts pressure on the system, pushing it into a U-shape. Wind and waves move the system faster than the floating plastic, trapping the debris. (RB)

Current puts pressure on the system, pushing it into a U-shape. Wind and waves move the system faster than the floating plastic, trapping the debris. (RB)

A hanging screen is fine enough to catch small bits of plastic. But fish are able to swim beneath it. (RB)

A hanging screen is fine enough to catch small bits of plastic. But fish are able to swim beneath it. (RB)

Like an ocean garbage truck, a vessel visits the trap every few months to round up and haul away the trash. (RB)

Like an ocean garbage truck, a vessel visits the trap every few months to round up and haul away the trash. (RB)

Boyan Slat poses with plastic garbage pulled from the Pacific. (Ocean Cleanup)

Boyan Slat poses with plastic garbage pulled from the Pacific. (Ocean Cleanup)

The Ocean Cleanup Plan

Posted: November 5, 2018

Question: Is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch like a floating island of trash?

Boyan Slat had heard about a big pollution problem. And he wanted to do something about it. His idea for a long boom system to round up plastic ocean trash is amazing. People are fascinated by it.

But Mr. Slat understood something important. Before you try to do something about a problem, you should know something about the problem. That’s why Ocean Cleanup first put time and money into learning.

Research is not flashy. It took lots of time and effort to raise money to study the Garbage Patch. Workers collected samples of sea water, measured and counted tiny bits of plastic, and entered lots and lots of data into computer programs.

That’s not the kind of work that attracts attention. But it answered the question. No. The Garbage Patch is not like a floating island. It is scattered. And its real danger to ocean life is the diffusion of tiny plastic bits.

The hard work of learning paid off in the design of Ocean Cleanup’s plastic trap.

Researchers learned things like this about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:

• There are an estimated 1.8 trillion bits of plastic, adding up to 80,000 tons (160 million pounds).
• Eight percent of floating plastic bits are smaller than this letter P.
• Forty-six percent of the Pacific Garbage Patch is old fishing gear.

They designed their system with features like these:

• The floating plastic boom is four feet in diameter.
• A textile screen hangs down 10 feet.
• Ocean life can easily swim under the screen.
• Navigation pods send the system’s location and weather information to other ships.
• Lanterns alert other ships.
• More than 50 sensors check the condition of the system’s parts.
• Navigation and satellite communication pods transmit information about the system’s location, performance, ocean conditions, and weather.
• Camera pods provide a 360-degree picture of the entire project.