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Mission to clean up ocean plastic sunk due to technical problems

Mission to clean up ocean plastic sunk due to technical problems

Meanwhile, Tel Aviv University researchers create a biodegradable polymer from seaweed that may help prevent future patch expansion.

Last October, I reported that The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit that assembled a floating plastic-capture system to clean-up the Pacific Garbage Patch, had set sail to begin its work.

Three months later, the vessel is heading back home due to technical problems.

The Ocean Cleanup project — in which a floating solar-powered barrier was supposed to suck up trash between California and Hawaii — broke apart and was towed to shore for repair earlier this week, according to

The nautical no-no caused the machine’s 2,000-foot-long flotsam-catching screen to fall off.

It comes two weeks after the device already failed to hold the plastic debris it caught — accidentally spilling trash back into the sea.

“Of course there is slight disappointment, because we hoped to stay out there a bit longer to do more experiments and to….solve the [plastic] retention issue,” Boyan Slat, the 24-year-old inventor who launched the project, told “But there is no talk whatsoever about discouragement.”

Slat, the designer, views the setback related to the barrier breakage as part of a beta test experience.

The first issue, Slat said, was likely due to the device’s speed. In a September interview with NPR, he said the device averages about four inches per second, which his team has now concluded is too slow. The break in the barrier was due to an issue with the material used to build it.

“In principle, I think we are relatively close to getting it working,” Slat said in an interview Saturday with NPR’s Michel Martin. “It’s just that sometimes the plastic is also escaping again. Likely what we have to do is we have to speed up the system so that it constantly moves faster than the plastic.”

For the material failure, Slat said his team will probably try to locally reinforce the system to combat the problem of material fatigue.

Here is a video summarizing the group’s most recent efforts:

The system hauled in 4500 pounds of plastic, which it is bringing back to San Francisco’s harbor to recycle.

Eventually, the non-profit hopes to deploy as many as 60 of the devices into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a 600,000 square mile area where ocean currents cause floating plastic trash to concentrate. The patch is not a solid mass of plastic. It includes about 1.8 trillion pieces and weighs 88,000 tons – the equivalent of 500 jumbo jets.

Meanwhile, a new, sustainable technology has been developed by Tel Aviv University researchers to create a biodegradable polymer from seaweed that may help prevent future patch expansion.

Plastics take hundreds of years to decay. So bottles, packaging and bags create plastic ‘continents’ in the oceans, endanger animals and pollute the environment,” says Dr. Golberg. “Plastic is also produced from petroleum products, which has an industrial process that releases chemical contaminants as a byproduct.

“A partial solution to the plastic epidemic is bioplastics, which don’t use petroleum and degrade quickly. But bioplastics also have an environmental price: To grow the plants or the bacteria to make the plastic requires fertile soil and fresh water, which many countries, including Israel, don’t have.

“Our new process produces ‘plastic’ from marine microorganisms that completely recycle into organic waste.”

Imagine how much more innovation from Israel we could enjoy if they were not the constant target of terror.


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At least they’re doing something productive, versus trying to sell everyone crap to make themselves billionaires.

Right, Al Gore?

In general, “environmentalists” don’t make good engineers.

And of course the 60 vessel fleet of sweepers are going to use what to power their engines?

    stevewhitemd in reply to healthguyfsu. | January 7, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Let them use diesel for all I care. Cleaning up the plastic is a good idea. And you learn as much from your failures as your successes.

    Getting a handful of third world countries to clean up their rivers is also a good idea. Perhaps this technology could be adapted for the lower courses of these rivers? Park a few of these rigs near the mouths of the Yellow, Mekong, Congo, etc.

      healthguyfsu in reply to stevewhitemd. | January 8, 2019 at 7:50 am

      I never said that it wasn’t.

        Tom Servo in reply to healthguyfsu. | January 8, 2019 at 3:01 pm

        If you think about the problem from strictly and engineering viewpoint, there’s a rather obvious solution. Design a ship which would scoop up the plastic, send it all through shredders which turn it into fine particles, mix it with the fuel oil and burn it all to provide power to run the boat and the onboard machinery. The ship could be automated and set to chug out there scooping up and eliminating debris constantly, needing maybe only a once a month human visit to restock necessary supplies and do needed maintenance. Better yet, build 10 or 20 of them and just let them loose. No need to worry about disposal of the debris, that takes care of itself, and any particulate matter left over after combustion can be compacted and sunk to the ocean floor.

        BUT I’ll bet the enviros will have a host of reasons why that is a BAD BAD idea. Even though it would fix the problem completely.

90% of the trash in the oceans comes from a handful of rivers in Africa and India.

These idiots are trying to solve the symptom and not solving the ACTUAL problem, because getting a 3rd world country to clean up their trash instead of throwing it in the river is too hard.

    mailman in reply to Olinser. | January 8, 2019 at 3:08 am

    Having stood on the beech in Chennai in October it is disappointing just how dirty and polluted an otherwise beautiful part of the world is.

    So if you can get 3rd world countries like India to clean up their act you will find a drastic drop in plastic pollution entering the water ways of the world!

    Morning Sunshine in reply to Olinser. | January 8, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    what? I thought it was 90% straws from California. Guess I listened to fake news 😉

Way to go Israel! Also, slight typo … “Imagine how much more innovation from Israel we could enjoy if they were the constant target of terror.” … I think we want to say “if they were not the constant target of terror”.

In principle this is not a terrible idea. At least it’s more productive than carrying signs and screaming insults at anyone who doesn’t agree.

And I don’t begrudge them a few failed prototypes either. Nothing is perfect the first time out.

OTOH, I have no intention of donating any money to them. If they can finance the thing by selling the plastic they bring back, that would be ideal.

I read somewhere that the US is responsible for something like 2% of this garbage patch, but as usual we’re 100% responsible for doing something about it. The world’s cop, farmer, welfare agency, and now garbage man.

These plastics do not take hundreds of years to decay. Most bottling plastic show serious deterioration after a mere 2 months of exposure to salt and sun. The larger the mass the longer it takes since most deterioration occurs on the surface. Therefore breakage thru storms and such greatly accelerates the bio and physical degradation because of increased surface area. Plastic quickly breaks into ever smaller pieces and then drifts fairly harmlessly to the bottom. It sometimes encounters bacteria that actually feed off it. But “fairly” harmless is not completely. It is still an obnoxious substance even if the effects are exaggerated. And as it takes time, and the influx is continuous, the larger pieces are a definite issue. Fishing lines (nylon is extremely tough) , fishing ropes, fishing nets (nylon gain), fishing and anchor floats, cargo nets, tampon applicators, cigarette filters seem to be the common ones we encounter. The cords, net and lines are most definitely a hazard to all sea life. In recent years, all, as in ALL, of the flotsam and jetsam coming in from seaward (there is an influx of debris after heavy rains from shore-ward)is Asian in origin. Chinese, Korean and Japanese. Much intentionally thrown off ship.

i went to a green even here in The Valley, like totally a few years back, for the #Failifornia native plants people, but there was a table there with the usual suspects whinging about the plastic blob.

they had various pictures of dead marine life, mostly avian, that supposedly had died due to plastic.

even better, they had “samples” of the blob in glass jars.

every one had the plastic on the bottom of the jar.

i pointed this out, and asked “how can there be a blob if it all sinks to the bottom of the ocean?”

they shook the jars and said “see? it floats!”

i laughed in their faces, said “Bullshit” and walked off.

I think they need some more women and marginalized minorities on their engineering team in order to increase their inclusiveness and sense of social consciousness, and to produce a more welcoming environment in which to work. That will fix it.

Puhiawa is right. The plastics do break down. They don’t last forever. Photodradradable plastics break down when they are acted on with sunlight. Most plastics at least in the first world are photodegradeable. Even the older plastics will eventually fall apart into little bits.

I spent twenty years in the Navy and I never encountered the swampland of plastic garbage that I keep hearing about. The Pacific is a big place, though. But I can guarantee that if the plastic dump exists, it’s not because we Americans are throwing away straws.

    Milhouse in reply to Arminius. | January 8, 2019 at 11:24 am

    The “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” exists, sort of, but it consists entirely of micro-particles of plastic that are invisible to the naked eye, and I have seen no reason to believe they’re harmful to anything. Yes, fish swallow them; but where’s the evidence that this does them any harm? Not only is this patch not visible from space, it’s not even visible from the surface.

Two tons. They went through all this mess for two tons of plastic, and even that I suspect is ‘dirty’ with weeds and other organic crap. How many *hundreds* of tons of petrol products did they use to drag back two tons of useless garbage?

    mailman in reply to georgfelis. | January 8, 2019 at 3:14 am

    As long as they arent using public tax payer dollars then good on them for having a go. As they say its a BETA of a much bigger system.

I wonder if anyone has done a study on sea life that has become dependent on the floating plastic pollution? Bet they haven’t because that would be inconvenient IF the studies discovered species of fish that had made the plastic home (because all that plastic offering all that cover in the middle of the ocean is bound to create its own ecosystem!!).

    puhiawa in reply to mailman. | January 8, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    We find coral, sea weeds, small crabs,shrimp and barnacles in high density floating plastic and glass. Larger fish, especially mahimahi, would find these to be good fare. So it goes up the food chain. In that at least some bacteria have been found to eat micro-plastic, there is that. Another effect is we are seeing colonization via flotsam as species afix themselves and enter into sectors where they were previously absent.

While I agree cleaning up the plastic mess is a worth while endeavor, instead of “solve the [plastic] retention issue,” we work on stopping China and the rest of the world from dumping their trash in the Pacific Ocean! Isn’t it interesting that there is no plastic issue in the Atlantic, hmmm!

Leave it to Israel to solve the rest of the worlds stupidity, those damn Jews! =)

Well, the big issue is that they did not find the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, because it does not exist. I challenge anyone to find photos of it or satellite photos, or any boats that have gone there and brought back meaningful amounts of plastics.

I have searched for years, and challenged authors, and so for, I have not found or been sent anything.

In every article I have read about this endeavor, it started as going out to the GPGP, but I have not seen anything since about the GPGP. In this and other articles, they never claim to have gotten there, and only picked up 4500lbs in weeks. I can pick up that much in a few days in the Caribbean.

Plastics is a scourge of the ocean, but then we spend our efforts in misdirected ways. As most environmentalists point out, a large part of it comes from sources we know and the efforts should be in stopping the flow.

But also, those that have in their mind that the whole problem is created by a few rivers in a few countries are also misinformed. That study got a lot of legs and repeats, but there is a massive amount of plastic debris on beaches in the Caribbean and US shorelines that are nowhere near these places, and inspecting the plastic shows it is not from those places.

Outlawing straws is another waste of time. Single use plastic, and styrofoam are huge problems (but straws are a miniscule subset of these), and getting rid of that stuff and replacing it with metal, cardboard or paper is doable and would help solve a lot of it. Styrofoam is the worst as it breaks up – not to microplastics but to small ingestible pieces that are toxic.

    Milhouse in reply to GlobalTrvlr. | January 8, 2019 at 11:25 am

    It exists, but it’s invisible to the naked eye, since it consists entirely of micro-particles. I have seen no reason to believe that these particles are harmful in any way, or that there is any reason to try to clean them up.

      GlobalTrvlr in reply to Milhouse. | January 8, 2019 at 1:50 pm

      That MIGHT be true, but that is not what has been sold for years and years. You can Google articles, I have not seen one yet that states it the way you have. And the fact that you have a higher concentration of microplastics in this area – is just theoretical too. There is a scientific looking paper that came out last year, with great graphics and equations that purported to make the case that the plastic was getting denser, but if you crunch the numbers there is not that much plastic that they found. And most of the big stuff was abandoned fishing nets which then snagged a few other items. And of course no pictures that I could find. LiveScience had “scientists” who claim that they visit, but you never see any pictures other than some closeups of things like fishing nets. In some articles they used pictures that were from shore areas where plastic stacked up.

This reminds me of the hysteria over oil leakage from Gulf oil platforms and the massive and expensive cleanup efforts – while ignoring the fact of constant natural seepage.

Put a stick in Rashida Tlaib’s mouth, point her west and drag her across the surface of the ocean.

That’ll clean it up a lot of garbage.

Wait a minute! I thought it was a Dutch boy who figured this out!!

“Boyan Slat, who first set out a vision of his Ocean Cleanup machine in a TED talk six years ago when he was just 17, today announced that he’ll begin hauling trash from the Patch in 2018. . .”

“Imagine how much more innovation from Israel we could enjoy if they were not the constant target of terror.”

Very interesting post. Let me add that I understand the obvious pro-Israel thrust of, and, supportive sentiment behind, Leslie’s comment, but, I would slightly dissent from it, inasmuch as in my opinion, the Arabs’ incessant belligerence and jihadist terrorism hasn’t hampered Israelis from innovating at a very high and productive level. This is evidenced by constant technological exchanges with other countries, frequent acquisitions of Israeli start-ups by western companies and the fact that almost every major global tech company has a significant presence in Israel. The Israelis really are carrying on their technological creativity and inventiveness with a can-do attitude and an equanimity that belies the constant danger that surrounds the country.