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article imageCleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch harder than it looks

By Karen Graham     Dec 18, 2018 in Technology
A floating device sent to corral a swirling island of trash between California and Hawaii has not swept up any plastic waste — but the young innovator behind the project said Monday that a fix was in the works.
On September 8, a floating boom, 600 meters (1,968 feet) in length was towed from the San Francisco Bay to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, launching what is called a floating "Ocean Cleanup Array," the creation of Boyan Slat, an Aerospace Engineering student at TU Delft in Holland.
However, the 25-year-old Slat says the speed of the solar-powered barrier isn’t allowing it to hold on to the plastic it catches. “Sometimes the system actually moves slightly slower than the plastic, which of course you don’t want because then you have a chance of losing the plastic again,” Slat said in an interview with The Associated Press.
A crew of engineers has been sent to the U-shaped boom and will work on widening its span so that it catches more wind and waves to help it go faster, he said. Slat said the team had expected to run into issues like what is happening. "What we're trying to do has never been done before," Slat said. "So, of course, we were expecting to still need to fix a few things before it becomes fully operational."
Tweaking the system to overcome the issue
Currently, there are over 80 engineers, researchers, scientists, and computational modelers working with the system. Drones are used to observe how the array changes over time, says Arjen Tjallema, the technology manager for the project, according to NPR.
Coca-Cola  Walmart and other big multinationals have pledged to help reduce plastic pollution in the...
Coca-Cola, Walmart and other big multinationals have pledged to help reduce plastic pollution in the world's oceans
"Plastics are entering the system, but what we also see is on some occasions plastics also leave the system again," he said. "We are now with the whole engineering team trying to find out why that happens." The plan is to change the configuration of the device to allow the wind to propel the tube more quickly across the water.
"We've given ourselves a year after launch to get this thing working," Slat told the AP. Yet, with saying this, Slat also knows there are skeptics that are criticizing the project.
George Leonard, the chief scientist at the Ocean Conservancy, told NPR in September that only 3 percent to 5 percent of all the plastic flowing into the ocean actually winds up in these immense gyres.
"So if you want to clean up the ocean," Leonard says, "it may, in fact, be that the open ocean is not the place to look." Leonard thinks the project could end up diverting resources from finding a way to keep plastics from reaching the ocean in the first place.
However, Slat, while acknowledging the skepticism, told the AP there's "no real rational argument" not to push forward with the project. "For 60 years man has been putting plastic into the ocean," he said. "And from that day onward we're also taking it back out again."
More about Pacific Ocean cleanup, garbage catcher, Currents, ocean gyres, plastic waste
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