Giant boom traps plastic waste from oceans for first time

A pioneering Dutch experiment to try collecting plastic rubbish from the oceans has successfully caught floating debris for the first time.

The buoys have been collecting plastic in the Great Pacific garbage patch
The Ocean Cleanup

Boyan Slat, the founder of The Ocean Cleanup, said that after a failed effort last year, his giant v-shaped boom system had overcome technical challenges to start removing waste.

“We are now catching plastics”, he told journalists yesterday. “We now have a self-contained system in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is using the natural forces of the ocean to passively catch and concentrate plastics.”

The problem with plastic Liz Bonnin at New Scientist Live

The proof of concept comes three years after Slat tested a prototype in the North Sea, in a bid to offer a solution to tackling the hundreds of thousands of floating tonnes of plastic being carried by gyres in the mid-Pacific. Arjen Tjallema of The Ocean Cleanup told New Scientist the feat had proved the sceptics wrong. “This shows our technology is actually capable of collecting plastics. This is a big milestone – there is a feasible solution to the problem.”

An attempt by the group failed last year, after the boom failed to keep a consistent speed on the ocean’s surface, allowing plastic to drift free. A part of the system also broke off, forcing a return to port. A redesigned system was launched in June, and has an underwater parachute to create drag and slow it down.Solving a problem like plastic Mark Miodownik at New Scientist Live

However, while plastic debris was channelled into the boom after this improvement, it escaped by overtopping the yellow buoys that make up the system. Tjallema says the answer was relatively simple – the group simply stuck three of the buoys on top of one another, taking the height to around half a metre above the waves. Waste was collected in the past month.

The group doesn’t say what quantity of debris it collected, but Tjallema says the amount is largely irrelevant as the test was about proving the technology, which now needs scaling up. Slat says the system caught all sizes of plastic, from microplastics to ghost nets, as well as other rubbish. “Anyone missing a wheel?” he joked on Twitter.


First published at the New Scientist – 2 October 2019. See;

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