The Ocean CleanUp

Developing advanced technologies to rid the world's oceans of plastic.

Monday 12 June 2017, by Paula Pujol

2 inspired

A. The main facts about the activities of the company.

The Ocean Cleanup is a very special social organization. Its founder was only 17 years old when he set up the entity headquartered in The Netherlands, with a few volunteers; today there are over 60 employees. The research and development foundation was launched in 2013 and has been growing ever since thanks to their successful crowdfunding campaign in which 38,000 donors from 160 countries participated.
The aim of the organization is to save the oceans, to clean the oceans from over 5 trillion pieces of plastic that are currently polluting it. But this task is not easy. Over the past 3 years, they carried out feasibility research, reconnaissance missions and extensive scale model and prototype tests. The initial idea has developed and improved substantially since the first conceptual design. Since it is a new disruptive technology, they believe “the best way to move forward is to look for the things that do not work yet as planned”.
Their idea indeed is to develop a passive system, using the ocean currents and its driving force to catch and concentrate the plastic. By suspending a large sea anchor in deep, slow moving water layer, we can slow down the system enough so that the plastic moves faster than the cleanup system. This will cause the plastic to accumulate against the cleanup system. The concentrated plastic can be then extracted and shipped to shore for new uses.

B. The Ethical challenges this company is addressing.

Plastic entered the mass market in the early 20th century, and its material has become essential for almost every aspect of people’s lives across the developed world. Yet, few though about where all the plastic they were using would end up. Every year around 300 million tones of plastic are produced, a portion of which enters and accumulates in the oceans killing over a million seabirds, hundreds of thousands of marine mammals and even jeopardizing the survival of many species. It is estimated that plastic pollution costs at least US$13 billion each year to industries such as fishing, shipping and tourism, and for the cleaning of the coastlines.
Over the years, due to the sunlight and the waves the garbage present in the oceans breaks down into ever-smaller pieces. Such pieces of plastic can be mistaken by food and eaten by marine animals, causing malnutrition, intestinal blockage, and even death. When marine animals eat plastic, harmful chemicals move up to the food chain, finally affecting our health.
Trash accumulates in 5 ocean garbage patches, the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.

C. What makes you believe this company is really ethical and why you trust it?

The Ocean Cleanup shows a strong commitment to find a solution to such a big challenge with illusion and enthusiasm. Its young founder and CEO, Boyan Slat, is fully engaged with the project and from an early beginning decided to investigate a problem that people thought could not be solved. He started studying aerospace engineering in Delft but months later dropped out to turn his idea into a reality. “In the past, technological advances have often come with a cost to the environment”, he acknowledges in an interview. “What I really hope is that in this century is that The Ocean Cleanup can be used as a symbol for using technology to actually make things better”.
Building a business is not their primary goal but focusing on the achievement of what they aim for, cleaning the oceans. Nevertheless, the organization is operated like a company since it is the easiest way to make their final objective a reality. At the same time, the organization ensures to maintain full transparency: the publication of annual statements, balance sheets and regular updates on this website, are a proof of that.
Some argue that the developed device will not be able to withstand the natural forces of the open ocean and therefore the promise to carry out the largest ocean clean up in history might not feasible. The team has responded to such scepticism and disbelieves with tireless excellent research and constantly testing and improving their prototypes and its technology. The Ocean Cleanup indeed collaborates with prestigious institutes and academics from all over the world to push the boundaries of knowledge in a variety of fields ranging from computer modelling to marine biology.
Although the project is not a reality yet, several national and international institutions have awarded the Ocean Cleanup project for its idea and commitment to address this environmental issue.
The issue of ocean’s pollution is really serious for our planet and humans. It would be easier to accept it and move on, but their stubborn-minded capacity to stick with the cause has won the trust and respect of thousands of people.
But, what really inspired us is the way they manage their financing. The company is funded by a combination of corporate partnerships and philanthropic support in order to obtain the necessary technology and infrastructures but also allowing anyone keen on the cause to collaborate with them.

D.The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how you think this company may improve.

Programs to reverse the current unsustainable situation regarding plastic pollution traditionally have been focused on prevention and recycling. The Ocean Cleanup aims to go one step further, and aims to develop technologies to clean up plastic pollution, but by doing so, the entity makes this problem visible, thereby also contributing to preventive efforts.
The Ocean Cleanup’s greatest challenge is to deploy a pilot in the North Pacific by late 2017, and iteratively improve their design based on results of a series of tests. Expectations place the first operational cleanup system to be fully implemented in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by mid-2018. Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch using conventional methods –vessels and nets– would take thousands of years and tens of billions of dollars to complete successfully. On the contrary, such passive system is estimated to remove half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in a 5 year-framework, at a fraction of the cost.
In parallel to developing technology to extract plastic from the ocean, The Ocean Cleanup also investigates how they can reuse the material once it is back on shore. Initial work on ocean plastic recycling shows their material can be turned into high quality products. By selling their branded material for reuse, they aim to eventually make the cleanup safe-sustainable in the long term.

Bibliography

https://www.theoceancleanup.com

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/26/ocean-cleanup-project-environment-pollution-boyan-slat

Location: Delft (Netherlands)

Sector: Human health and social work activities

Official website: http://www.theoceancleanup.com

Nbr. visits: 36

Nbr. inspires: 2