The Ocean Cleanup develops and scales technologies to rid the oceans of plastic. Tackling such an ambitious challenge requires acting where we can have the greatest impact on plastic pollution. In the oceans, this means focusing on the largest accumulation of floating plastic anywhere on Earth – the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean.
As we enter winter, it is time to bring our system back to port for scheduled evaluation and upgrades as part of the ongoing transition to the larger and more efficient System 03. We are scheduled to head back out to restart cleaning the GPGP in March 2023.
SYSTEM 002 IN 2022
After demonstrating Proof of Technology the previous year, 2022 was all about cleaning. It was a successful year for The Ocean Cleanup in the GPGP:
System 002: 2022 in numbers
- 8 trips into the GPGP on cleaning operations
- Over 150 days at sea (including transit)
- 153,000 kg of plastic removed from the GPGP in 2022
- 4 consecutive trips with catch totals over 25,000 kg
- 99.9% of catch comprising only plastic
We captured our first plastic from the GPGP in 2019 with System 001/B, and since then we’ve been refining our steering strategy and deepening our understanding of plastic behavior in the oceans. In 2021 we introduced System 002, and having now demonstrated that our system can consistently harvest significant amounts of plastic, we’re currently in transition to System 03 – our largest and most efficient cleanup system so far.
In 2023 we will extend the wings to 1600 meters to produce System 002/C, before conducting further tests. We will then further expand the wings to their full size of 2500 meters. At that point, the transition will be complete, and System 03 will begin operations. We are already seeing the impact of our strategy learnings and the transition to System 03: our final four trips of the year saw our four largest catches, including our current record of 30,980 kg on a single trip.
An unexpected potential issue is capturing too much plastic per trip, and not having sufficient space on board to process it all. For this reason we are exploring the option of having a compressor on board once System 03 is deployed.
The continuity of cleaning operations during this transition was essential in demonstrating that we are moving towards our efficiency targets and progressing our plan for scale-up. Significant milestones such as the extraction that brought us over the 100,000 kg barrier in the GPGP are documented and shared with our growing community of supporters worldwide, aiding the visibility of our mission and highlighting the urgency of the plastic pollution problem.
Boyan Slat, founder and CEO on the 100,000 kg milestone reached
System 002 has continued to perform strongly in the Pacific Ocean during 2022, and the initial signs from the transition to System 03 are hugely positive. Which raises the question: if everything is going so well, why take a winter break at all?
As well as providing an opportunity for evaluation and offshore optimization of System 002, weather conditions over the winter months in the GPGP make this a timely opportunity for a pause.
Winter in the Pacific Ocean is harsh, with strong waves and dangerous storms that increase sailing times and reduce the amount of plastic we can catch, making our operation less efficient. Stronger winds cause larger waves, meaning more plastic is lifted over (or pushed under) the wings of our system. Harsh weather also limits implementation of our plastic hotspot computational modeling; even if we can identify an area of high density plastic, our vessels may not be able to move the system towards it if there is a severe storm nearby.
Our research and data gathering operations are also affected by the rougher seas; tagged plastic is more difficult to accurately track, and plastic behavior becomes harder to predict using our modeling. This means data gathered during these periods can be less reliable. Operations such as our Ground Truth research expedition (where we tested various monitoring methods to see how closely our modeling reflects real-life plastic behavior) would be much more challenging in winter conditions.
During the time System 002 is offshore, we will be continuing to make modifications and test the efficiency of the all-new components we are implementing, such as new larger floating fenders, specifically chosen to address the issue of overtopping we identified earlier this year; another measure to increase capture efficiency and reduce our cost and carbon output per kilogram of plastic removed.
We will also be continuing to study the data gathered during operations to refine our strategy to ensure the positive trends for 2022 are continued. We are deepening our research in plastic monitoring using both traditional methods involving tagged plastic and innovative AI object recognition technology – all designed to ensure we understand how plastic behaves in the ocean, and can most effectively aim our cleanup operations towards it. We will also be researching and implementing new protection and mitigation measures to safeguard marine life during this time. The winter break provides the best opportunity to take stock of our operations in 2022 and evaluate how to improve both strategically and technologically in 2023.
PRIORITIZING THE MARINE ENVIRONMENT
We are committed to maximizing our net positive impact on the marine environment. In that light, we place particular importance on one particular figure from our 2022 data: 99.9%. This is the amount of our total catch that consists of plastic, leaving a level of bycatch of 0.1%. While this is not perfect and we are working hard to reduce it further, we believe this data shows that our mitigation measures and animal protection procedures are working effectively so far. We have also seen a reduction in bycatch rates during the year (see our January 2022 mid-term evaluation) as we implement new learnings and modifications.
Our environmental performance is a result of the measures we have taken since we began our ocean operations. Our systems move very slowly, meaning fish and marine animals can easily swim away, and our crew always has the option of triggering the emergency release to free any animal which has become trapped in the Retention Zone; although this results in the loss of any plastic which has been captured, we keep this option available for any serious encounters.
Upgrades to be implemented during the transition to System 03 include more underwater cameras to allow us to more closely monitor encounters with marine life, and increasing the number of openings throughout the system to allow animals to swim out. We will also be trialing various new deterrent and mitigation measures during 2023, working with our in-house and third-party marine biologists to ensure that we continue to reduce any type of bycatch to the minimal level possible.
During this winter break, we will be reviewing and improving these mitigation measures and procedures. Maximizing our net positive impact on the marine environment and the wildlife that inhabits it will continue to be our top priority when we return to cleaning operations in 2023.
COUNTING DOWN TO SPRING
System 002/B returned to port in Victoria, Canada on 13 December 2022 to begin its idle phase for the winter. The Ocean Cleanup has made real progress in the GPGP this year, demonstrating impact and scalability that shows ridding the oceans of plastic is a realistic objective. Our crew will be working hard during the winter to optimize System 002 and prepare us for a return to the open ocean in March 2023.
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Danish offshore support vessel operator Maersk Supply Service will continue providing marine support to The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit engineering and environmental organization working to rid oceans of plastic pollution.
The Ocean Cleanup’s mission is to develop advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. To achieve this goal, the company’s aim to stop the inflow via rivers and clean up what has already accumulated in the ocean. Its ultimate goal is reaching a 90% reduction of floating ocean plastic by 2040.
Maersk Supply Service has provided marine support for The Ocean Cleanup since 2018, with its anchor handlers Maersk Launcher, Maersk Transporter, and Maersk Handler, and crew supporting various test phases of the offshore operation in the Pacific Ocean and the North Sea.
The first collection of plastic waste was turned into new, fully recycled products in fall 2020. The relationship between the two companies has now been extended for three more years.
“As a responsible maritime operator, we are committed to ensuring that the oceans can remain a healthy environment for generations to come. We are therefore very pleased to not just prolong but broaden the partnership agreement initiated back in 2018,” says Mette Refshauge, VP, Corporate Communications & Sustainability at Maersk.
Besides Maersk Supply Service’s support with vessel operations and offshore project management, Maersk will now support The Ocean Cleanup with logistics end-to-end handling services, ranging from worldwide shipment from different locations to airfreight, container and special transport, customs clearance, and warehouse and storage management.
“We will have a transport and supply chain manager fully embedded in The Ocean Cleanup´s office in Rotterdam. That program manager will serve as the single-channel for them to engage with the full range of Maersk’s supply chain and transport services globally and will help The Ocean Cleanup to develop their own supply chain management capacity over time,” adds Mette.
“Maersk’s support over the last three years has been invaluable to furthering our mission. We are grateful to not only renew this partnership, but to strengthen it with their end-to-end logistics service. This contribution to our mission will not only help us clean more plastic from the ocean, but it will help us to effectively deploy more Interceptors river cleaning systems, and develop our next products made of certified plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Lonneke Holierhoek, Director of Science & Operations at The Ocean Cleanup.
As part of the partnership agreement, Maersk will also assist The Ocean Cleanup in deploying scientific sensor technology aboard Maersk’s own fleet to map plastic floating in the oceans and help the organization have a better understanding of the severity of the problem they are working to solve.
Separately, Maersk Supply Service announced it was launching a Plastic Policy to increase its focus on how it can reduce plastic waste from its own operations and supply chain.
“Our seafarers sail the ocean every day and see the increasing problem with plastic polluting our oceans. As a responsible maritime operator, Maersk Supply Service is committed to ensuring the oceans remain a healthy environment for future generations to come. We look forward to continuing the collaboration with The Ocean Cleanup and providing project management and marine support over the coming years,” says Steen S. Karstensen, CEO of Maersk Supply Service.
Maersk Supply Service’s new Plastic Policy has three navigating principles:
1. Use the company’s marine expertise to help come up with solutions to rid plastic from the oceans
2. Avoid unnecessary plastic in its operations
3. Engage with suppliers, partners, customers, and employees to find solutions to minimize plastic use. The company said it will be transparent about its results and learnings
Karstensen said: “Plastic waste in our oceans is an increasing issue. With the new Plastic Policy, we commit to how we will work to reduce our plastic footprint and actively take part in solving this global environmental problem. We will do this in partnerships and close collaboration – with our employees, suppliers, partners, customers and industry peers.
“A great takeaway from the collaboration with The Ocean Cleanup is the willingness people have to find solutions that are both impactful for the marine industry and are bettering for the environment. We believe that we can make a change and we can do more together.”
Support the Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup, founded by Boyan Slat in 2013, has recently started making sunglasses made from plastic removed from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch during our operations in 2019.
“Designed in California by Yves Béhar and made in Italy by Safilo – this is probably the most stylish way you can help rid the oceans of plastic. And, should the time come, they’ve been designed to be easily recycled,” the company said, describing the sunglasses.
All proceeds from the sale of these sunglasses -EUR 199 apiece – will go towards the continuation of the cleanup.
“When we return to the patch…we estimate that we can clean an area equivalent to 24 football fields of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from the proceeds of just one pair of sunglasses. If we sell every pair, that means we could clean half a million football fields worth of ocean,” The Ocean Cleanup said. Find more details about The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses here.