18-year-old Boyan Slat had a dream: removing every bit of plastic from the oceans. A decade later, he is 27 and has founded Ocean Cleanup – a non-profit organization that aims to clean up to 90% of the plastic waste floating in the world’s oceans before 2040.
In 2018, his first prototype device to catch the plastic was a failure. A year later, the next prototype could only catch a fraction of the amount of plastic needed to meet the deadline. But in 2021, Ocean Cleanup’s latest device named Jenny or System 002 has stunned the world with its performance.
The installation has cleaned up nearly 20,000 pounds of plastic garbage from the Pacific Ocean. The latest device is the first step towards Slat’s dream coming true, and he was elated by the machine finally working.
The Principle Behind Jenny
Between California and Hawaii, lies the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch – an area teeming with plastic trash. It is so large that researchers had deemed it impossible to clean up.
October 8th, 2021: the final test extraction of System 002, and the moment we knew that cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is possible. pic.twitter.com/79e1SiNz4h
— The Ocean Cleanup (@TheOceanCleanup) October 11, 2021
Jenny is a U-shaped device that is about 330 meters long and floats on the surface. The attached nets catch the floating plastic which is then stored in the device. It takes several weeks to fill up after which a waste ship will come and pick up the garbage. After the device has been emptied, it will be returned to continue its duties in the Ocean.
The waste ship will carry the trash to shore where it will be recycled. Ocean Cleanup makes sunglasses out of this collected plastic. The profits will be used to further fund the clean-up program. Moreover, the organization also has hopes of partnering with popular brands to be able to market more recycled goods.
There Is Still A Lot Of Work Left, Says Slat
Slat claims that 10 devices like Jenny will be enough to reduce the size of the Garbage Patch by 50% within 5 years. A single Jenny can extract somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 kg of plastic trash. This includes all kinds of floating trash like fishing nets, microplastics, and large containers.
This is what 9000kg of ocean plastic looks like inside the retention zone and on deck.
It’s no longer in the ocean, and next week, we’ll bring it to shore so it can’t pose a threat to the environment ever again. pic.twitter.com/Syl5uypND6
— The Ocean Cleanup (@TheOceanCleanup) October 14, 2021
Jenny’s design also makes it friendly to animals. The device’s sailing speed is around 1.5 miles per hour, so animals can easily avoid them while swimming. Moreover, it has guidance systems, escape routes, lights, and cameras to help the creatures. Crew members continuously monitor how marine life interacts with Jenny.
However, Jenny cannot capture any plastic that is not floating near the surface. Research indicates that there is nearly 30 times more trash at the ocean’s depth. Moreover, it also cannot stop plastic trash from being thrown into the ocean in the first place.
Also, the boats pulling Jenny run on fossil fuels which are harmful to the environment. For now, Ocean Cleanup states that carbon credits are being bought in hopes to offset the boats’ emissions. Slat also states this is one of the major concerns that the team is working on. But, for now, Slat says that it is proof that the ocean can be cleaned up.
Image credits: Ocean Cleanup Project