What happened to The Ocean Cleanup — the system that would rid the oceans of plastic? (ABC News)

This came to my attention recently: https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2023-03-17/ocean-cleanup-plastic-pollution-great-pacific-garbage-patch/102075810

“[But] if the plastic density was a tenth of what it is in those [Ocean Cleanup] videos, they’ll just be sailing around at sea wasting fuel and everything else.”

For their part, The Ocean Cleanup say they’re using computer modelling and sophisticated ship navigation technology to concentrate their efforts on the denser accumulations.

But the same issue arises the more they clean up. In other words, the more you clean, the less rubbish you’re going to be retrieving while burning through loads of fuel to do it.

Which leads to the third issue. If you stop, the patch will eventually fill up again.

It’s not going great. Turns out, doing something like this is actually far harder than you’d guess, although, anyone who’s swept leaves in a garden should have a ballpark idea of the level of difficulty required. In short, new plastic is cheap, old plastic is really, really hard to recycle and expensive to do so. Ultimately, the true cost of the plastic (as in, the whole lifecycle cost including disposal) needs to be added to the manufacturers costs or we’ll never see the end of this.

“The trouble is, and the old saying is, if you depend on clean-up, you’ll be cleaning for the rest of your life. You have to get into prevention,” Professor McIlgorm said.

We’re looking at a Wall-E world here. One good thing that’s come out of the work done is river catchers – devices to trap the rubbish before it hits the ocean.

In 2022, The Ocean Cleanup collected more than 153 tonnes of garbage from the ocean. But its interceptors gathered nearly 840 tonnes from river systems.

Mr Slat has said that the interceptors are about “[turning off] the tap” and that The Ocean Cleanup aimed to “tackle” pollution in the world’s 1,000 most polluted rivers.

Professor McIlgorm said focusing its funding on its onshore projects would have a bigger impact at this stage than trying to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Which is interesting and promising. Although, we’re going to have to clean it all up eventually. Sigh.