A 60-Foot Setback

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The ban on plastic straws is now a reality in many places, with mixed reactions from the public. Some cities are phasing the ban in slowly, requiring customers to ask for straws rather than receiving them automatically with their drinks. (You might have seen this news item about a fast-food restaurant in St. Petersburg, FL, where a customer was so upset over the situation that he reached across the counter and attacked an employee.)

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Overall, though, the onslaught of plastic continues, straws or no straws, and one ambitious attempt to tackle the problem has run into trouble. The Ocean Cleanup System 001, launched in September from San Francisco, was intended to capture plastic debris in the ocean, making a start at diminishing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Its inventor envisioned it as one of many that would eventually be deployed throughout the Pacific. As this article describes, the U-shaped floating barrier drags a 10-foot net underneath it, which snags floating pieces of plastic and holds onto them until they can be picked up and transported to a disposal site.

In December, though, the Ocean Cleanup team announced that the device was experiencing problems. First, it failed to retain all the debris it collected. Then a 60-foot section broke off of the device, which overall is about 2,000 feet long. Some have speculated that the buffeting of the waves is just too much for the structure to withstand. The inventor, Boyan Slat, believes the problem is fixable.

The device was towed to shore, along with the 4,400 pounds of debris it did retain. (The Garbage Patch is estimated to contain 80,000 metric tons of trash, and we add about 8 million tons of plastic to the ocean each year.)

Working as intended, a single Ocean Cleanup System should have been able to gather about 50 tons of plastic per year. The goal was for a fleet of the things to halve the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within five years.

Have you been following the Ocean Cleanup’s progress? Do you think the team behind it will solve the problems and redeploy it? SW_bug_web

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  1. I believe that Boyan Slat is indomitable and with help from other inspired individuals they will solve the technical shortcomings. It might require deployment under favorable seas conditions with a segmented detachment when the ocean is too rough, or something altogether different. I must qualify my statement by saying that it’s belief, not engineering. Where would our understanding of the universe be if we had called it quits when there needed to be some adjustments made on the Hubble telescope?

  2. We can solve any problem we put our collective minds to. This is particularly true for problems like this which we have created because we know what the cause is and we also have a collective knowledge of what the pre-current state looked like and how it functioned before we ‘through a wrench in it’. Like solving most problems, it just takes the willingness to admit you have a problem and the fortitude to do what you need to do to correct your ways.

  3. So, if “we add about 8,000,000 tons of plastic to the ocean” per year, and “a single Ocean Cleanup System is able to gather” 50 of those tons per year, simple math says we need 160,000 of these Ocean Cleanup Systems to stay even, and more than that to reduce the Garbage Patch. If I am reading correctly, the first one only only gathered 2 tons rather than 50.

  4. Of Course! And it is just one part of the solution. How many iterations do inventions have until they work the way we expect? Enough to make them work. The launch was not a failure: it did collect refuse previously not collected.

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