Ocean Cleanup Of Plastic Pollution In The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Breaks Four months into its testing phase, the Ocean Cleanup's plastic-catching device isn't catching as much plastic as intended.

An Engineering Wunderkind's Ocean Plastics Cleanup Device Hits A Setback

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We've been checking in every so often with Boyan Slat. He's the CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. That's an environmental organization he founded to develop technology to clean up plastic in the ocean. Now, we spoke with Mr. Slat back in September, just after his team launched a floating device designed to clean up that Great Pacific garbage patch. You'll remember that's a small island of trash between California and Hawaii. This is what he told us then.


BOYAN SLAT: Now the real test starts. And we're now, you know, in the next days few - and weeks will really decide whether we can prove the technology because that's really what's required to scale up and rid the oceans of plastic boy.

MARTIN: Boyan Slat is with us now via Skype. Welcome back. Thanks so much for talking to us once again.

SLAT: My pleasure. Thanks.

MARTIN: Could you just remind us of what the goal is here?

SLAT: Yes. So halfway between Hawaii in California is this area that's about twice the size of Texas, contains 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic. And we hope to clean it up, removing about half of this patch every five years. We just launched this first system really to prove the technology, and if that works well, we hope to scale.

MARTIN: So could you just describe the device itself for people who haven't had the opportunity to see it yet? It's like, what is it? It's like a boom, like a big rope or what is it?

SLAT: So the device is a 2,000-feet-long floating barrier that's in a U-shape. And underneath there is a 10-feet-deep screen that's designed to capture the plastic that's not exactly at the surface. The plastic gets drawn towards the center like a funnel. And that way we first concentrate the plastic before we take it out.

MARTIN: So we've been hearing there have been some troubles. What's been going on the past couple of weeks?

SLAT: The pulmonary results have been that, on one hand, we have been able to see that the system is indeed propelled by the wind, that it can catch and concentrate plastic. But so far, we've seen two main issues that we hope to resolve in the coming months. The plastic occasionally drifts out of the system. And just last week, we noticed that a 60-feet-long end section of the cleanup system has separated from the rest of the system. So therefore we decided to bring back the system. It's on its way to Hawaii now for both repairs and upgrades.

MARTIN: Do you have any sense of what is working as you hoped, and do you have any sense of what the problem is?

SLAT: I think we are relatively close to getting it working. We have been able to already catch and concentrate plastic with the system. It's just that it's - sometimes the plastic is also escaping again. So likely what we have to do is we have to speed up the system so that it constantly moves faster than the plastic. And with regards to this material failure, likely we have to locally reinforce the system a bit. But I'm confident that the team will be able to design the appropriate solutions for this, and they'll have the system back in the patch in a few months from now.

MARTIN: All right. Well, we'll check back in with you then. That's Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. Thank you so much for talking to us once again.

SLAT: My pleasure. Thank you.

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