By Etain Mullan
The 21st century. A time of technological advancements, scientific breakthroughs, and societal change. You would therefore hope that this would be a time of change for the better. This is sadly not the case. We as humans are, amongst other crises, facing global climate catastrophe. The news is filled with negativity, about how we humans are killing our planet and doing nothing about it, but when we do something about it, we are told it is not enough. Amidst all this pessimism, it becomes easy to overlook the positives, the people who are actively fighting against climate change and are trying to give us all a better, cleaner future. One such group are Ocean Clean-up.
Originating in 2013, the Ocean Clean-up is a non-profit organisation based in the Netherlands that is working on technology to rid our oceans of plastic. Their aim is to clean up 90% of the floating plastic currently in our oceans by 2040. Currently there is over 5 trillion pieces of plastic and counting. To achieve their goal, they plan to stop plastic at its source, and remove all the plastic currently in the ocean. To do this they are focusing on two areas: rivers and the ocean.
According to their research, around 80% of the plastic in our oceans comes from around 1000 rivers. Ocean Clean-up has created several interceptors to help prevent this. Their first technology unveiled was the Interceptor Original in October 2019. This is 100% solar powered and is put in rivers to collect debris using a conveyor belt. The entire thing is autonomous and is currently being deployed in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Dominican Republic.
The next technological approach is the Interceptor Barrier. This is a floating, U-shaped barrier placed at the mouth of a small river. It stops and holds all the plastic in place until it can be removed. The barrier is mostly permeable, so water is still able to pass through and the flow of the river is not disrupted. This barrier is a variation of one used with their Interceptor deployments. Accompanying this are the Interceptor Tenders. These small, powered barges use conveyor belts to scoop up the trash, which is then, when offshore, put in a dumpster.
The final technology is the Interceptor Trashfence. This is a fence that captures trash in rivers, particularly at hard-to-reach places. According to their website, the fence was “inspired by avalanche protection systems and specialised for flash flood environments.” The fence is currently used in the Rio Las Vacas, in Guatemala, one of the world’s most polluting rivers.
To clean the ocean the large garbage patches, spanning millions of square kilometres, must be cleared. The largest is the Great Pacific garbage patch between Hawaii and California that has an estimated 3.6 trillion pieces of plastic and is still expanding. Due to the more open and large space compared to rivers, the Ocean Clean-up created their System 002 Interceptor. This creates an artificial coastline and uses a barrier to gather plastic and concentrate it all into a retention zone, allowing for the plastic to be more easily collected and removed.
As well as seeking to clear our oceans of plastic permanently, the actions of the Ocean Clean-up also hope to help sea life, allowing for them to thrive again one day.
These approaches do, however, come with their own issues. The Ocean Clean-up is still years away from reaching their goal, and the systems are imperfect, requiring upkeep and repairs over time. A lot of trial, effort and patience will be needed moving forward to maintain new and improved technological systems.
In the grand scheme of things this will only contribute a small part to tackling climate change. As individuals we must change our own attitudes as well as those of governments and big cooperation’s. We can help by spreading the word about projects like this, projects that are truly for the betterment of our future and our planet’s future. Every action towards stopping climate change, no matter how big or small, matters.
NOTE: All photos are from the Ocean Clean-up website