Scientists Launch Massive Ocean Cleanup Project Off the Coast of San Francisco

September 8, 2018, 6:29 PM UTC

The San Francisco Bay area is preparing for the launch of a wide-scale project aimed at ridding our oceans of plastic pollution. The system, directed by The Ocean Cleanup, hopes to collect 5.5 tons of plastic waste each month, The Guardian reports.

Scientists and engineers are set to release 2,000 feet of floating booms, which, propelled by wind and waves, will corral plastic into the center of its U-shaped form. A 9-foot skirt beneath the booms stops plastics from escaping underneath, while allowing wildlife to travel below. Finally, a support vessel will pick up the gathered debris every six weeks and ship it to a recycling center.

The project, known as System 001, will begin its test launch off the coast of San Francisco Saturday.

The massive floating device was created by The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit founded by Boyan Slat when he was just 18 years old. Slat, who’s located in the Netherlands, hopes to take on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass of plastic pollutants twice the size of Texas. With approximately 60 devices like System 001 active, The Ocean Cleanup estimates it can remove 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years.

Slat was inspired to start The Ocean Cleanup when he was just 16 years old, diving off the coast of Greece.

“I went scuba diving in Greece and I actually saw more plastic bags than fish around me,” said Slat, according to CNBC. “I wondered, why can’t we just clean this up?”

Since the organization’s launch in 2013, it has raised $35 million through generous donors and crowdfunding campaigns, CNBC reports. The funds allowed The Ocean Cleanup to test more than 270 models and six prototypes before creating System 001.

With a full deployment in every ocean gyre—the slow-moving whirlpools where plastics gather—combined with source reduction, The Ocean Cleanup says it estimates it can remove 90% of ocean plastics by 2040.

While environmentalists are glad for the clean up efforts, many stress the need for prevention of plastic waste and worry about the effect the device could have on marine wildlife, The Guardian reports.

“Exploring new ideas and technologies to clean up ocean pollution is laudable and [the project] may even succeed in removing at least some of the waste,” a Greenpeace spokesperson told The Guardian. “But prevention is far better than cure and in order to tackle the pollution crisis corporations must stop producing so much plastic.”