Ocean Cleanup struggles to fulfill promise to scoop up plastic at sea By Reuters
By Gloria Dickie
VICTORIA, Canada (Reuters) – Docked at a Canadian port, crew members returned from a test run of the Ocean Cleanup’s system to rid the Pacific of plastic trash were thrilled by the meager results — even as marine scientists and other ocean experts doubted the effort could succeed.
In 2013, the non-profit was launched amid a lot of media attention. It hopes to remove 90% floating plastics from the oceans by 2040. But the group’s own best-case scenario — still likely years away — envisions removing 20,000 tonnes a year from the North Pacific, a small fraction of the roughly 11 million tonnes of plastic flowing annually into the oceans.
And that amount entering the ocean is expected to nearly triple to 29 million tonnes annually by 2040, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/press-releases-and-statements/2020/07/23/research-finds-plastic-flows-into-the-ocean-expected-to-triple-by-2040.
In-kind donations like A.P. Moller–Maersk was able to fix assets in excess of $51 million, or 43 million euros at the end 2020.
During 120 hours of deployment last month, System 002 — or “Jenny” as the crew nicknamed it — scooped up 8.2 tonnes of plastic, or less than a garbage truck’s standard haul. Joost Dubois from Ocean Cleanup described it as “on top of our estimates” but stressed that this was only the testing phase.
“I think they’re coming from a good place of wanting to help the ocean, but by far the best way to help the ocean is to prevent plastic from getting in the ocean in the first place,” said Miriam Goldstein, director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress think tank.
Plastic can be expensive and difficult to retrieve once it has entered the open ocean.
The Ocean Cleanup’s first target is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest swirling mass of marine debris spanning 1.6 million square kilometers in the North Pacific between California and Hawaii. They estimate that the area contains at least 79,000 tonnes plastic.
If the flow of plastic into the ocean continues unabated, the seas will contain more plastic mass than fish by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum https://www.weforum.org/press/2016/01/more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-ocean-by-2050-report-offers-blueprint-for-change.
Boyan, an 18-year old Dutch inventor, initially envisaged using a floating autonomous system to eliminate plastic. Wilson was the first system. It floated ineffectively along with garbage, until eventually it broke. System 001B was a later version of the system. However, the team calculated that they would require 150 systems to clean the patch.
The Jenny system uses two Maersk fuel-powered vessels to transport the wide, horseshoe-shaped catchment network across the ocean. A camera underwater helps to ensure that marine life is not entangled.
Dubois claimed that Jenny has “outperformed every other thing we have done.” He spoke of six weeks of trials during which Jenny picked up plastics with a diameter as low as one centimeter.
The Ocean Cleanup hopes eventually to deploy 10 to 15 expanded-range Jennys — powered by 20 to 30 ships — to operate round the clock 365 days a year at the garbage patch. Organizations claim that this effort would recover anywhere from 15,000 to 22,000 tonnes of plastic annually, but it would be costly hundreds of million of dollars.
This group regretted its dependence on climate-warming, greenhouse gas emitting ships. The Ocean Cleanup is purchasing carbon credits to offset the heavy fuel use and noted that Maersk is experimenting with less-polluting biofuels https://www.reuters.com/article/us-maersk-emissions/worlds-largest-container-shipper-maerskaims-to-be-co2-neutral-by-2050-idUSKBN1O40QW. Dubois stated that “preferably, we would have done some thing without any carbon footprint.”
Maersk stated to Reuters, that Jenny required large vessels due to the remoteness and harshness of the location.
Robin Townley from Maersk’s special project logistics, stated that they see value not only in the results of Ocean Cleanup, but also in the process of iterative learning.
“WHAT DO YOU DO WITH ALL THE TRASH THAT YOU COLLECT?”
Slat is frequently sickened by seasickness and does not venture into the open ocean.
“The plastic that is already in the ocean — accumulated in those garbage patches — is not going away by itself,” Slat told Reuters. If we are to have clean oceans, it must be eliminated.
Slat’s vision has long been criticised by marine scientists. Marcus Eriksen co-founded the 5 Gyres Institute. It is a California-based plastic pollution research group.
He pointed out that the funding for the group comes from “the actual companies making the products and packaging.” The preventative stories are not appealing to them as it can have a detrimental impact on their bottom lines.
Coca-Cola has been ranked number one in plastic pollution by environmental organizations. They help fund Ocean Cleanup’s solar-powered “interceptors,” which are used to collect plastic in Asian and Caribbean riversways, before it reaches sea level.
Ben Jordan, Senior Director of Environmental Policy at Coca-Cola, stated that they want to contribute towards the solution of plastic waste. Although we are progressing, there’s still much more to be done.
Coca-Cola has committed to reduce the use of new plastic https://www.reuters.com/article/us-environment-plastic-coca-cola/coca-cola-turns-to-100-recycled-plastic-bottles-in-u-s-idUSKBN2A921L in its packaging by 20% in the next four years.
Eriksen claimed that river cleanup was more important, but he is not pleased with the company’s involvement in plastic packaging production of 3 million tonnes per year. “It’s exactly that sort of greenwashing narrative.”
Another confounding problem is the effort. The other problem is: “What to do with all the rubbish you’ve collected?” Eriksen said.
This small haul of plastic from System 001B was used for $200 sunglasses that were then sold via the Ocean Cleanup website.
Dubois indicated that Ocean Cleanup will continue to collaborate with consumers brands to reuse plastic from the System 001B, but “we might have to incinerate some.”