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John Sargent Lecture: The Plastic Problem

Event organised by Central Dredging Association

05 March 2019

This event has now ended

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Every year, millions of tonnes of plastic enter the ocean. Ocean plastic pollution impacts the environment, the economy and humans.

A significant percentage of the plastic that enters the world’s oceans drifts into large systems of circulating ocean currents, also known as gyres. There are five gyres in the world’s oceans –the largest of which is the so called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, halfway between Hawaii and California. Once trapped in a gyre, the plastic will break down into micro plastics and become increasingly easier to mistake for food by sea life - and so it enters the food chain. Plastic pollution is conservatively estimated to have a yearly financial damage of 13 billion USD.

Technology-based solution

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is stretching over an area twice the size of Texas and contains 80,000 metric tonnes of floating plastic. Since the plastic is so dispersed, going after it with vessels and nets would not be feasible. This is why The Ocean Cleanup has developed a passive cleanup technology, to first concentrate the plastic, so you can scoop it up and bring it back to shore for recycling. The Ocean Cleanup’s passive technology is designed to work with the natural forces of the ocean to collect plastic debris. The system’s two main components are 1) its buoyant u-shaped floater, with 2) a screen attached, hanging 3 meters below the surface.

The system is pushed forward with the wind, currents and waves, while plastic is mainly pushed forward by the currents only, as it sits just below the surface. The system is therefore moving faster relative to the plastic, and thus captures it.

On September 8, 2018, The Ocean Cleanup launched their first ocean cleanup system from San Francisco out into the North Pacific, en route to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This deployment gives The Ocean Cleanup an opportunity to test the technology at full scale. The system will be monitored closely, and the lessons learned will be implemented in the design of the next following system, before starting the scale-up to full fleet. The Ocean Cleanup aims to launch 60 cleanup systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and in doing so be able to remove 50 % of the patch, every 5 years.

Image courtesy of ©The Ocean Cleanup

For more information please contact:

Shelly-Ann Russell