During the recent visit of the Chinese President to India, a video of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi weaving plastic bottles off the coast of South India in the early hours of this morning went viral.
The Prime Minister’s move also sparked a good debate about plastic waste dumped on the beach and at sea. In the June 2012 issue of Cyberspace, we learned more about the growing plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.
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1.8 trillion pieces of plastic float at the surface of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Here, The Ocean Cleanup is deploying the world’s first technological solution to this growing problem.
The principle behind it is simple: create a coastline where there are none, concentrate the plastic, and take it out. The system consists of a 600-meter-long floater and a 3-meter-deep skirt attached below.
The floater provides buoyancy to the system, and prevents plastic from flowing over it, while the skirt prevents smaller particles from escaping underneath.
As the impenetrable skirt creates a downward flow, marine life can safely pass beneath it.
Here is how the system catches plastic: The system takes advantage of three natural oceanic forces: wind, waves, and currents. Both the plastic and system are being carried by the current. However, wind and waves propel the system only, as the floater partly sticks above the surface, while plastic is primarily just beneath it.
The system thus moves faster than the plastic, allowing the plastic to be captured.
The skirt extends deeper in the middle of the system than on the outer edges.
As the current applies pressure on the skirt, the system naturally adopts a U-shape which enables it to concentrate plastic in its center, like a funnel.
The drag generated by the skirt also acts as a stabilizing force allowing the system to re-orient itself when the wind changes direction. And because the system – like the plastic is free floating, it automatically drifts to the areas with the highest plastic concentration. Fitted with solar-powered lights, anti-collision systems, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas, the system actively communicates its position at all times and continuously gathers performance data.
Periodically, a support vessel comes by to take out the concentrated plastic like a garbage truck of the ocean.
The plastic is then transported to land, recycled, and made into durable products. This is the first of a fleet of 60 systems. Once deployed, the fleet is expected to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch every 5 years.