Engadget reports that the Ocean Cleanup Project recently began the two-week trial period for the ambitious and unprecedented project that will attempt to clean up the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a pile of 88,000 tons of plastic floating in the middle of the ocean. Before attacking that beast, they are testing their system on a smaller patch that is about 240 nautical miles (260 miles) away from San Francisco.
The system is called “Ocean Cleanup System 001” and functions a bit more complexly than just picking up the trash and hauling it to a landfill. Once it arrives to the trial site, the wind and waves will push it into a U-shape. It’s 10-foot-deep skirt will collect pieces of trash as large as a millimeter long as it drifts along on its own. Smaller boats will then come get the accumulated trash and bring it to a recycling center on shore.
The goal is to collect the litter without harming the ecosystem by, for example, scooping up excess amounts of plankton. “We want to catch plastic, not fish,” Joost Dubois from The Ocean Cleanup told CNN. “We’re trying to solve an environmental problem so we need to make sure we don’t create a bigger problem in its place.”
Once the trial period is complete, the system will travel another 900 nautical miles to get to work on the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The trial period will be monitored, as will the first six months at the patch, but experts hope that they will be able to eventually let the system do its job on its own.
Right now, there are approximately 165 million tons of plastic in the oceans worldwide. There are about a billion tons of fish, and experts worry that by 2050 the volume of trash could match that of fish. The Ocean Cleanup Project hopes to avoid this, with System 001 removing 55 tons of plastic every year if all goes smoothly. Those this wouldn’t make a significant dent on its own, they hope to deploy 60 systems that could eliminate 50 percent of the Pacific garbage patch plastic every five years.