I wanted to take a look at an organization that is working to solve the problem of plastic waste and consider their claims to sustainability. These organizations are examples of how anyone can start initiatives for change and how much positive work can be done.

There are a few projects that work against the plastic pollution that covers our oceans.  One of these organizations is the Ocean Cleanup.  Their goal is to remove the plastic that has been polluting our oceans through systems that they have created that are free-floating and run by solar power. They estimate that their system can clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years.  Even though our plastic use will inevitably continue at the rate we have been using it, it is a helpful system for reducing our plastic footprint in the ocean.

The idea for the ocean cleanup began in 2013 and passed the “feasibility phase” and began raising money in 2014. They then did research on how much of the plastic was near the surface of the water using a Multi-Level Trawl to measure microplastic concentrations at 10 increments of depths at the same time. Their results were shared with the scientific community in 2015 with a follow-up study published in 2016 showing that plastic pieces bigger than 0.5mm, or a grain of sand, primarily resides near the surface of the ocean. This helped the project, confirming that their system would have a large impact on the removal of plastic.

In 2015, the models of the system were tested to determine the loads and improve design to allow the system to be operable during storms. In 2016, a prototype was launched in the North Sea to further pinpoint weak areas and improvements to be made using their surveillance videos. More recently, there have been two more prototypes deployed in 2017 and 2018.  These feature a free-floating system that is being tested for storm endurance. They then deployed airplanes to fly at low speed and low altitude to measure the amount of plastic seen aerially to get a better understanding of how much plastic makes of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  They found that the patch spreads to be about 3 times the size of France and that 92% of the mass is in larger objects (over 5 mm).

In 2018, the first system was finally launched from San Francisco to tackle the plastic between Hawaii and California. Its progress was monitored closely to identify the timelines the system needs to travel around the ocean and the potential problems that arise.  There was a structural malfunction of the cleanup system that forced them to return the system to port on January 17, 2019. They plan to fine-tune the issues and make upgrades for an upcoming relaunch. After the system is proven to be efficient, they plan to launch their 2nd system followed by the full fleet of 60 systems to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The company constantly updates their website letting people know where they are in repairs and launches, and this transparency is beneficial to them and the public and a part of our definition for sustainable practice. By visiting their website or YouTube page, you can see videos to update the public and explanations of their trials, failures, and successes all step by step. This not only is good marketing and PR for the company, it also raises awareness about the problem and motivates others to help in the cause.

Take a look at their website the Ocean Cleanup for videos on the background, problems, and the solutions they have made!

Financially, they are striving to make the cleanup fleet self-sustainable but offer companies or individuals to sponsor the cleanup systems. Their website claims to aim for a ‘zero waste’ operations. On their website, we can see that they strive to be energy neutral with their design by making their system run fully on the natural ocean currents and powering any electronics with solar energy.

There are many organizations with the idea to clean up the plastic out of the ocean. This is a great step, and the Ocean Cleanup’s corraling mechanism seems the most promising and most sustainable. Another big problem to think about is where this plastic will go: it could be recylced; however, this is not a permanent fix for our environment. There needs to be ways to eliminate the plastic waste as efficiently and most sustainable as possible.

“Something is sustainable if it’s initiatives, actions or impacts serve to meet the social and economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own through:

  1. reducing resource use, encouraging re-use, and minimizing waste while protecting and restoring the health of natural systems and biodiversity, reducing pollution, and addressing global climate change
  2. equitable economic development that empowers people to meet their own needs rather than exploiting them
  3. an elevated and dignified standard of human well-being for all people including but not limited to improved health and access to basic human rights.

Best practices for meeting these objectives include using an inclusive, transparent process; that employs systems thinking; encourages individual action; and assessment using measurable indicators.”