Cleanup Array concept aims to rid the oceans of plastic waste


September 23, 2013

The Ocean Cleanup Project hopes to utilize the oceans' gyres as a means to collect plastic waste

The Ocean Cleanup Project hopes to utilize the oceans' gyres as a means to collect plastic waste

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Environmental activism is an easy buzzword, but there are few true movers and shakers who are doing something in the realm of pollution reduction. Boyan Slat, an aerospace engineering student at the Delft University of Technology, is working to combine environmentalism, technology, and his creative outlook to rid our oceans of plastic debris. His Ocean Cleanup Project aims to utilize the oceans’ natural gyres (five circular currents in the oceans around the world – two in the Atlantic, two in the Pacific, and one in the Indian) to collect plastic waste.

Plastic pollution in our oceans weighs in at millions of tons, costs millions of dollars annually, kills hundreds of thousands of aquatic animals, may aid the spread of algae and other invasive species, and acts as transportation for other pollutants such as PCB and DDT. Slat’s Ocean Cleanup concept would use sea water processing stations, fixed to the seabed, to collect plastic waste as the ocean moved around it, due to the gyres.

The stations would have large booms, rather than nets, that would be designed to allow sealife and other items with the proper densities to pass under, while the plastics would be captured. This concept has yet to reach proof-of-concept, but in theory the developers say the process works.

Because the platforms would be stationary, utilizing the currents for capturing waste, they could be highly energy efficient, and ideally, self-supporting through harnessing solar energy or currents. This efficiency combined with the practice of selling the collected plastic could allow this concept to be not just economically neutral, but maybe even profitable. “According to current estimations – due to the plan’s unprecedented efficiency – recycling benefits would significantly outweigh the costs of executing the project,” Slat’s site explains.

Slat and his team are still conducting a feasibility study, but if shown to be scientifically possible, the concept has the potential to rid the world’s oceans of 7,250,000,000 kg of plastic in just five years. This prediction is based on Ocean Surface CURrent Simulator (OSCURS) data. According to the project curators, “OSCURS drifter tracking models show the natural rotational period of the gyres' currents is approximately five years. However, since surface currents are largely driven by wind, there is a degree of variability.”

Slat’s concept still has a long way to go until it can be utilized as a real means to cleaning up the ocean, but it's an idea we would love to see come to fruition. The team expects to have the feasibility study published online by the end of the year.

Source: Boyan Slat


As a design project, about a million times more worthy than a cell phone.


the very low concentration of garbage per square mile make me question the feasibility of this proposal. How wide will the booms be, they will need to be tens of miles wide to even begin to make a dent. If made wide enough the booms become a navigation hazard or risk being destroyed by ships.

Tom Swift

Great thought but not efficient unless several floating "funnels" were lined up behind one another as well as being several meters in depth. Rough seas, floating but submerged plastic bits and the potential to be run over by transport ships are all considerations.

A better method would be to deploy manned or autonomous cargo ships to the area of greatest concentration(s) of floating debris. Using both tight nets and skimmers, great swaths of material could be harvested for recycling, sorted and then delivered to the appropriate port. A further advancement might be the ability to power the ships using converted plastic as fuel - provided that solar concentrators could work efficiently at sea.


With plastics being recycled to make a variety of products - pens, clothing, 'wood', etc - it could potentially pay for itself. As stated above, it could be green to make some green.


I agree with Mirmillion, the concept is worth of the effort, however there are many holes. Most do not see that your system does not need to collect all plastic on the first pass, being powered by a self sustaining solar or other power supply it could run for years. The plastic on the bottom needs a different method of collection. The recycling is good if even just for fuel. I do see a vast amount of small organisms being collected with the plastic so a separation method is needed. I wish you good luck in your endeavor.

Randolph Garrison

It doesn't have to be 100% effective on it's "first pass" (and since its stationary, that has to be analogous) or even through a storm and/or turbulence.

It will start gathering debris. That's what counts - and then that debris can be recycled or disposed of appropriately.

It's a great idea. I think the more appropriate worry is if a large "clump" approaches. . .


Nice concept for collecting floating plastic but not cost effective even if factoring in recycling value. The costs of collection devices and recovery of the plastic would far exceed recycle value if any. Better fix is preventing overboard dumping by segregation of plastic waste and compacting or shredding at the point of origin aboard ships and also to minimize all single use plastic packaging aboard ships. Passengers have enough idle time to segregate personal care containers for compacting or returning to shore.


If this works then they can try their hand at collecting all the radioactive elements that are being released from the three melted down cores at the Fukushima plant. That's been going on since the start. Before we know it it will be three years since that happened and it has been dumping radiation into the ocean since the start with virtually no intervention or reduction.

Ooops! Oh, we're not suppose to know about that. Never mind! I hope this plastic thing works out. Really everybody, reactor accidents are very rare an will never happen in the US, the NRC have got that covered. Our plants can't have a disastrous accident with their over sight. So far so good, right?


Biomimicry might be helpful here in scaling up already proven processes. What biological process is able to absorb food over great areas?


Government funding and maybe an xprize if they don't build one soon enough.

I also suggest making the feasibility study open source along with the design unless you really think you can do every ocean yourself.

Ben O'Brien

How will it interfere with surface creatures like whales and turtles? I hope it will not a death trap for unintended targets.


I think you could rule out recycling. Most of the plastics have been broken down by the action of sun and wave motion into a mixed mush, probably further contaminated with things like algae and oil.

Maybe they could burn the recovered waste as fuel, but that's about as much as you could hope for.

New thought: perhaps they could de-polymerize it back into oil?


Here's a link to an article discussing some of the practical constraints in implementing this:

Rick Wilson

Great iniative-there are many many corporations & countries that should be chipping in to support this program -after all they would have produced the system that saw the plastic end up in the ocean. but a good starter would be to go straight to the plasticjunk yard island in the pacific and immediately recycle that !!

Mike Purtell

we already have nets.


I like the idea of cleaning up the oceans, and the idea looks very usable, I do hope that something happens as it would be an asset and not just more junk to clutter up the oceans


The design is rubbish. This article is over a year old and I swapped email with Boyan Slat at the time - the feasibility study was supposed to have been completed over a year ago. Moreover, when the article first appeared, the idea was panned from all quarters for a variety of reasons, not the least being the inability to selectively filter between phytoplankton vital for the food chain and plastic.

Come on Gizmag - you can do far better than this. It's a lazy attempt at best.

Marcus Carr

There is a massive area in the Pacific ocean wher the two currents meet that apparently is the size of Texas so a modified version could start munching or collecting and converting into oil and fill parked tanker ships should be a profitable exercise.

John Thirgood

Suggest that you go spend a day or two out in the ocean to get a true sense of size of surface vs. density of plastic clutter vs. operational environment. Hard to appreciate the real engineering problem sitting behind a desk pushing computer mouse buttons.

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