The ocean garbage patches are not solid ‘islands’ of trash. Rather, the plastic is dispersed, forming massive ‘debris fields’. But that does not mean these areas aren’t highly polluted and don’t require cleaning up. The average concentration of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is around 60 kg per square kilometer, and peaks at several hundred kg per square kilometer. For comparison: a few hundred kilometers from the patch you’d struggle to find values of 0.1 kg per square kilometer. A summary of the science of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can be found here and more details on the trash island misconception here.
Quantifying the amount of plastic in the ocean is not an easy feat, and new papers on the pervasiveness of plastic in the marine environment come out every week.
In our article published in Scientific Reports in 2019, we relied on models and statistics to estimate how much plastic was being emitted into the ocean and where it would end up.
In the article, we estimated that 107 and 290 million metric tons of plastic were emitted into the ocean between 1950 and 2015. Over this period, the plastic output increased exponentially, and it continues to increase as global plastic production surges.
Plastic pollution on a beach in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Plastic extracted from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with System 002
Depending on the buoyancy of the plastic, its journey once it enters the ocean differs. Approximately 35.5% of the plastic entering the ocean is considered non-buoyant and can therefore be assumed to sink close to the ocean entry point. The rest (65.5%) is considered buoyant plastic, which will either a) beach onshore, b)sink to the seabed close to shore, or c) escape out into the ocean and eventually end up in the so-called garbage patches. While the latter fraction is the smallest of the three, it remains important as it moves the floating trash out of reach for cleanup efforts operating closer to shore.
The journey of a piece of plastic can be very long, beaching and re-entering the ocean multiple times, all the while slowly breaking down and releasing microplastics. It might also take years or even decades before a plastic piece has traveled all the way to a garbage patch.
To conclude, we need to stop plastic from entering the ocean. But to mitigate harm to the environment and limit the generation of further microplastics it is also essential to clean up the plastic that has made its way into the ocean.
The smaller the pieces get, the more sensitive they are to mixing due to wind and wave turbulence. The measurements showed that even the microplastics stay on or near the surface in turbulent seas. The highest concentrations of microplastics were found directly on the surface and quickly went to trace concentrations when at only a few meters of depth. Larger objects, which comprise most of the mass of plastic in the ocean, are more buoyant and are found almost directly at the ocean surface.
It is important to note that we’re referring to the floating fraction of plastic. Part of the plastic that enters the ocean is of a plastic type that is heavier than water. However, most packaging and fishing gear (the two primary sources of ocean plastic) is made of buoyant types of plastic (Polyethylene and Polypropylene), and most life can be found in the top part of the ocean, which is why The Ocean Cleanup focuses on the floating plastic.
The vertical distribution of ocean plastic in wind condition that are average for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (left) and more windy conditions (right). Derived from Kooi et al., 2016.
Although microplastics are most abundant by count, our reconnaissance of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch revealed that 92% of the plastics are still large objects in terms of mass. The smallest size class we quantified, pieces smaller than 1.5mm, accounts for just 0.77% of the mass.
Compare it to standing next to Mount Everest while holding a handful of pebbles. While the pebbles in your hand are more abundant by count than the mountain (for which the count equals 1), the mountain, obviously, contains more rock than your hand does. As you can see, it’s the mass that counts (pun intended).
So, most of the plastic floating in the ocean garbage patches is still intact as large objects, which is even more reason to go and clean it up – before the 92% breaks down into more and more small pieces.
Most plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is contained in large objects. Lebreton et al., 2018
Microplastics are plastic objects smaller than 5 millimeters in size. They can consist of plastic fragments, flakes, fibers, or pre-production pellets (also known as nurdles). We differentiate between primary microplastics, which are plastic pieces produced in that size (nurdles, cosmetic microbeads, etc.), and secondary microplastics, which come from the degradation of larger objects (found in the form of fragments, fibers, paint flakes, etc.).
Examples of secondary microplastics; plastic fragments stemming from larger objects
Macroplastics are typically categorized as anything larger than 5 millimeters. However, at The Ocean Cleanup, we differentiate between mesoplastics (0.5 – 5 cm), macroplastics (5 – 50 cm), and megaplastics (>50 cm). This is to reflect the wide variation of sizes in plastic pollution. As larger objects left in the environment may slowly break down into smaller pieces, monitoring and documenting the full-size spectrum of plastic pollution and its evolution over time is essential.
Macroplastics being sorted on board the support vessel of System 002, in January 2022
Example of megaplastic pieces caught during the System 002 mission
Of all the size classes, microplastic accumulation poses the greatest risk of harming the environment. Because of their small size, their bioavailability increases, meaning they can potentially impact many more species than larger objects. The ingestion of microplastics can result in physical damage to organisms. Concerns have also been raised surrounding the toxicity of plastic ingestion, as plastic can carry possible harmful chemicals (either through absorption or leaching). Finally, as pathogens and parasite vectors have also been identified on microplastics, there is an increased risk for ecosystems. However, there is still no consensus on how damaging microplastics are to the environment, and their impact depends on the plastic size, environment, organisms, and level of exposure.
How plastic pollution travels up the food chain
Floating macroplastics also have apparent impacts on marine megafauna through ingestion or entanglement. As they degrade over time, they can generate large numbers of microplastics – and like their smaller counterparts, macroplastics can carry chemicals and invasive species. The increasing accumulation of floating plastic ‘rafts’ on the ocean surface provides a gateway for species to move from one continent to another like never before, representing a real risk for biodiversity due to species invasion.
Because plastic is such a persistent material, the ecological, economic and eco-toxicological effects of plastic pollution are all long-term. These include:
Physical impact on marine life: entanglement, ingestion, starvation
Chemical impact: the buildup of persistent organic pollutants like PCBs and DDT
Transport of invasive species and pollutants from polluted rivers to remote areas in the ocean
Economic impact: damage to fisheries, shipping, and tourism
In recent years, the amount of attention focused on very small plastic particles has increased dramatically, but little is yet known about their long-term effects on the environment. The microplastics The Ocean Cleanup is focused on preventing is the so-called secondary microplastics, i.e. plastic fragments resulting from the breakdown of larger plastic debris at land and sea.
For more information, see our Great Pacific Garbage Patch page (under What are the Effects on Marine Life and Humans) as well as our research about the persistent organic pollutants on the plastic.
Not all plastic makes its way to the garbage patches once released into the aquatic environment. During our expeditions and cleanup missions, we have mainly seen and caught HDPE plastics (High-Density Polyethylene), with a smaller fraction comprised of LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) and PP (Polypropylene). Their density is lower than water, which makes them stay afloat and more likely to persist in the ocean for long periods.
Examples of plastic products we find in the ocean, typically made with HDPE, are:
Fishing equipment, ghost nets
Shampoo, conditioner, shower gel bottles
Some types of beverage bottles
Pieces of buckets
Ghost net lifted onboard the vessel in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, during the System 001/B mission 2019
Examples of plastic caught during the System 001/B mission in 2019.
Other plastic types usually wash up on the shore, or sink close to the coast. Examples of these plastic types are:
PET bottles (note: the cap does float)
Styrofoam food- and beverage containers
Textiles made of plastic
With our Interceptor solutions, we aim to catch plastics before it beaches, sinks, or escapes to the ocean. Our ocean systems will tackle the legacy plastic already out there, as it can take decades before plastic pieces make it to the ocean garbage patches.
Since the accumulation zones are located outside of national territories, no single party is seen as responsible for the cleanup of the plastic pollution. Hence, intergovernmental bodies or independent private initiatives are the only entities likely willing to tackle this problem.
This assumes littering is a conscious action. Plastic enters the oceans primarily through negligence; unconscious actions of people that do not think about (or are unaware of) the consequence of the action. Once the consequences of one’s actions are raised to the conscious level, people can make rational cost-benefit analyses of their actions and would probably think twice about throwing their rubbish into the environment. And what better thing can one do to raise the topic into the public awareness than by executing a very visible project like The Ocean Cleanup?
Right now, the oceanic plastic problem is quite an abstract problem. Since the patches aren’t solid masses of plastic they’re difficult to photograph, and, in any case, they are very far away. By lifting the plastic out of the ocean and showing the world mountains of trash coming into port, we remove the abstractness of the problem and bring it much closer to home.
Cleaning plastic from the ocean, as well as all the R&D required to make it happen, also helps to increase the available knowledge of the problem, as our numerous scientific publications have shown. This, in turn, allows us to develop better technologies and policies to also address the prevention-side of the equation.
The moral hazard argument can also be countered by the Broken Window Theory, which says that that visible signs of social disobedience (graffiti, litter, etc.) promotes more of such behavior. People are, for example, more likely to litter when the park they walk in is already littered. By making the ocean clean again, we avoid the idea that the oceans are already full of plastic and that one extra piece of plastic won’t make much of a difference. Saying that the oceans can’t be cleaned up and the only thing we can do is to try to not make it worse is a very depressing message. If the oceans are truly polluted forever, why bother trying to do something about it?
Following the logic of the moral hazard in reverse, it looks like the best way to stop plastic pollution will be to stop collecting litter from the streets and remove any waste infrastructure because these things all give people an incentive to create more waste in the first place. Obviously, that is not true. The data shows countries with the least amount of waste infrastructure have the highest rates of plastic leakage.
As always, it is important to make a balanced assessment between a hypothetical risk in the future, versus a certain impact today.
System 002 successfully completed its 12-week trial in October 2021. We have now proven the technology and will continue to harvest plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In tandem, we will begin working on System 03, a larger design that is aimed to serve as the blueprint for scale-up.
We will never be able to remove every single piece of plastic from the oceans. However, by intercepting plastic in rivers, and cleaning what is already out there, a significant decrease of floating debris in the ocean’s accumulation zones can be achieved. Our aim is to remove 90% of floating ocean plastic by 2040.
Solving the entire problem will require radical changes at the individual, corporate, and governmental levels of society. In addition to these efforts, cleanup of the oceanic accumulation zones is necessary; plastic in these zones does not go away by itself and it creates an ecological risk as it breaks down into more dangerous microplastics. Intercepting plastic before it reaches the ocean, rather than waiting for policy/societal change, will also help in limiting the effects plastic has on sea life, economies, and human health.
The Ocean Cleanup can significantly reduce the concentration of plastic in the ocean garbage patches and work with stakeholders all over the world to intercept plastic in the world’s most polluted rivers. With the application of these solutions, our aim is to reduce 90% of the floating plastic pollution by 2040.
The ocean garbage patches are vast (three times the size of France) and vessels crossing through it are rare – on average there are less than five within its boundaries.
Therefore, we expect minimal interactions with other vessels and will not be interrupting active shipping pathways. By having an active system, we can coordinate with other ships and change course when appropriate. We will put out a notice to mariners in that area, and there will be signs and lights on the ship and on the retention system to ensure it is visible. We will also be able to contact other vessels to inform them of our presence if necessary. If there are multiple systems in the area, we will follow the same procedure.
Because the cleanup systems are meant to stay in the patch for long periods of time, it is important that our systems can withstand the forces of the ocean. We will continually monitor the loads in the system and adapt the speed and span to lower the loads in the case of rough seas. We will also monitor weather forecasts and plan a trajectory to avoid storms, and by understanding the patch climate, we can plan to operate in less critical locations. In the case of a particularly severe storm, the system can be temporarily withdrawn from the operation.
The design of System 002 was informed by data collected during our System 001 and 001/B campaigns as well as during our tests in the North Sea. A simple design with minimal components and high flexibility, System 002 was designed with minimizing breaking possibilities in mind.
We will continually monitor the loads in the system and adapt the speed and span to lower the loads in the case of rough seas. We will also monitor weather forecasts and plan a trajectory to avoid storms, and by understanding the patch climate, we can plan to operate in less critical locations. In the case of a particularly severe storm, the system can be temporarily withdrawn from the operation.
The driver behind our mission to rid the world’s oceans of plastic is to make the ocean a healthier place for all life that benefits from it, so our number one priority is safety for the environment and our crew. While the overall risks of our operations were found to be negligible, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by CSA Ocean Sciences determined that certain interactions are likely with some species of fish, and certain plankton and neustonic organisms with limited mobility, so we must minimize this impact as much as possible.
Because of the lack of data, there is uncertainty on the residual impact our operations will have on these communities; therefore, we aim to help fill these knowledge gaps by collecting data during these missions and sharing with the scientific community. The EIA does note that the long-term impact on fish species should be beneficial due to the removal of large amounts of plastic and marine debris, and that it is unlikely that potentially-impacted fish species will decrease in number.
The system is designed to be safe for the environment; speed (slower than a casual stroll), materials, and shape have all been chosen to minimize the chances of any negative side effects. Additionally, as an extra precaution, the system is equipped with several mitigation measures to deter marine animals from interacting with the system. Using an underwater camera, we monitor the system from the vessels for plastic concentrations and to spot potential sea life nearby. While extracting plastic, crew is present and monitoring the area. If necessary, we can and will halt cleanup operations based on the event severity level.
As we continue to learn more about the technology and the natural behaviors of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we will adapt as needed to ensure we have a minimal impact.
Fish are often attracted to floating structures found offshore, such as flotsam, and oil and gas platforms. This also applies to the plastic that is currently in the ocean, including large ghost nets. By collecting this plastic, fish may gather around our system temporarily. However, because the retention zone is emptied every two weeks, and the entire system may be removed from the water every four weeks, these FAD effects are removed, and the fish disperse.
Learn more about how the system is designed for limited environmental impact in this YouTube video.
Limiting our impact on the environment is at the core of each decision we make. As with any large-scale activity at sea, currently, consuming fuel is inevitable. With System 002, this is primarily related to the vessels operating the system. We are currently looking into ways we can both limit and offset our emissions.
To limit emissions, our partner Maersk is looking into the most fuel-efficient mode of operating the vessels, including a pilot project looking into the use of biofuels only derived from waste products. As our operations continue, Maersk will continue to develop the most fuel-efficient vessel routing and logistics for our scale-up and hope to further incorporate sustainable fuels, with the aim to integrate renewable fueled assets into our operations.
To offset the unavoidable emissions, The Ocean Cleanup is currently working with South Pole, a leading developer of climate protection projects. We have already compensated for the vessel emissions during the System 001 campaign (System 001 and 001/B). We are offsetting all carbon emissions related to System 002, including design, production, logistics, and vessel operation.
The main changes have been the switch from a moored system to a drifting system, and later to an active system. We learned this has many advantages: higher plastic capture efficiency; reduced deployment- and maintenance costs; reduced risk of system damage due to lower forces from wind, waves, and currents to name a few.
From System 001, we learned that the system suffered from fatigue issues, and was not able to keep a sufficient speed difference with the plastic. The knowledge gained from System 001 was implemented into a redesign: System 001/B, a smaller, modular version, that could be adjusted offshore, if necessary. During the deployment of System 001/B, we also learned that slowing down the system (versus speeding it up) created the most consistent speed difference between the system and the plastic, allowing the plastic to concentrate and remain inside the system.
Following our trials with System 001/B, we concluded that we could not effectively scale up with this design. Therefore, with System 002 we developed a new approach that uses active propulsion to continuously move faster than the plastic. With an actively propelled system, we will be able to catch more plastic quicker and more efficiently because now we can – contrary to the passive approach – steer the systems towards areas with high concentrations of plastic.
Our technology has now been proven with System 002. We are currently harvesting plastic with it in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and in tandem, we will work on System 03 – a larger, upgraded ocean system, which is expected to be the blueprint design for scaling to a fleet of systems.
We have conducted an environmental impact assessment for our first ocean cleanup system, System 001, and have done so again for System 002. You can see the document here.
Before we scale up to a fleet of systems, we will reference our original assessment and conduct additional EIAs based on any design changes and the scope of the operations. We will only move forward with deployment once we have confirmation from new EIAs that our activities will not adversely affect the environment.
For a mid-term evaluation of our System 002 operations, see our update here.
It is difficult to determine what positive or negative impact will occur between our technology and floating organisms (neuston), as little is known about the interaction of these organisms with this offshore environment, plastic, and our technology. There is still much to learn, hence the need for continued research. Fortunately, our operations provide a unique platform to conduct regular and systematic research on this under-studied topic, helping us to understand our potential impact on the marine environment and providing greater insights into these organisms. To read more about our preliminary findings in the System 002 campaign, you can visit the update on our mid-term evaluation. See this update, for our most recent research on neuston in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Based on our learnings with the first two iterations and the development work that we undertook after those deployments, we concluded to need to make this pivot to improve our cleanup efficiency, keep it affordable and make it scalable.
SYSTEM 001 – WILSON System 001 was nicknamed Wilson in reference to the volleyball that is Tom Hanks’ friend in the film Cast Away, while he is stranded on a small island in the South Pacific. Wilson is lost in a storm and floats away. His fate remains unknown, however, oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer suggests he could have ended up in the garbage patch between Australia and South America, floating for years in a vortex, or becoming washed ashore on a small island somewhere in the gyre.
SYSTEM 001/B – WILSON′ (WILSON PRIMED)
After completing design upgrades based on the insights from System 001, System 001/B was engineered. System 001/B took on the name Wilson′ (Wilson primed) as a logical step since the prime is used in mathematics to generate variable names for items that are similar – therefore, Wilson′ is a system related to or derived from Wilson.
SYSTEM 002 – JENNY
Continuing the Tom Hanks theme, Jenny was chosen as the name for System 002. Tom Hanks named his boat in the film Forrest Gump “Jenny”, after the girl he was in love with. This boat was driven by active propulsion and caught trash. With System 002’s adapted design and active propulsion, we aim to catch plastic more efficiently and effectively than previous systems.
A complete cleanup of a gyre is unrealistic, but our ambition remains to clean up 90% of ocean plastic by 2040. To ensure we clean up as much plastic as possible, intercepting plastic from rivers, the major sources of ocean plastic, will need to continue to occur simultaneously.
The Ocean Cleanup focuses on the floating fraction of plastics. Since most of it is located between the surface and a depth of two meters, the cleanup system will be designed to clean up only the plastic which is located in this upper layer of the water column. System 002 will be equipped with a retention zone, and screen that extends 3 meters deep.
For more information about the distribution of plastic in the water column, read our update about vertical distribution here (2016) and our research on the fallout of microplastic here (2020).
We are specifically targeting plastics larger than 15 millimeters, but we do not yet know the exact size the system will be able to capture.
Even though sub-centimeter-sized plastic represents a significant share of the plastic count, the mass is made up of larger objects. These larger objects will eventually turn into microplastics if not extracted, so our goal is to prevent that from happening.
To rid the world’s oceans of plastic, we must remove legacy waste and prevent plastic from entering the ocean. Because rivers are the primary source of ocean plastic, this is where we must take action.
The Interceptor Original is the world’s first scalable solution for preventing river debris from entering the ocean. Designed for series production, the Interceptor Original relies on natural forces (river currents and solar power) to extract debris flowing through rivers and ensure this waste never makes its way to the ocean.
While we designed our Interceptor Original to be suitable for a wide range of rivers, our understanding of the differences among these 1000 rivers has shown us that a single solution would not be sufficient to handle all conditions experienced in scale-up. Thus, we are now creating a family of Interceptor solutions, a toolkit we can use to apply the best solution for each specific location. Our toolkit currently consists of the Interceptor Original, the Interceptor Barrier, and the Interceptor Tender. To learn more about our river technology, check out our River page.
The Interceptor Original is a barrier and conveyor belt system that concentrates and extracts plastic from rivers. The flow path is uninterrupted due to the catamaran design, which allows plastic to flow freely into the device and water to continue with the current.
The barrier concentrates the debris as it floats with the current and directs it to a permeable conveyer belt. At this point, the waste is transferred up the belt to an automated shuttle that distributes the waste between one of six containers located on a separate barge. Once full, the barge is exchanged, and the waste is transferred to a local waste management facility. Apart from unloading, discharging, and reinstalling the waste collection barge, the Interceptor™, due to its solar power, does not require polluting and expensive fuels, allowing for efficient operating costs and minimal labor requirements for its activities.
Currently, there are Interceptor Original in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam, with deployments planned for Thailand and the United States (L.A. County). The Interceptor Barrier and Tender have now been installed for testing in Kingston, Jamaica. You can track our Interceptor deployments on our Dashboard.
The Interceptor size is 8M x 24M x 5M with a waste collection (barge) capacity of 50 M³; it is fully autonomous with an off-grid power generation, remote monitoring dashboard, automated extraction control, 4G data uplink to the cloud, and more.
The Interceptor pontoon weighs 45.2 metric tons and the barge with the dumpsters weighs 10.2 metric tons.
The Interceptor Original has 6 barges with a total capacity of 50 m3. When the barges are full they are emptied by local operators. The amount removed per river will vary depending on local conditions such as elevation, slope, annual rainfall, etc.
We also recognize that each river is unique, and our measures may need to be adapted to fit a specific river, such as installing a double barrier or using a different Interceptor Solution. See our Rivers page for more details on our family or Interceptor solutions.
Interceptors are placed in the river only after consultation with relevant public bodies and stakeholders, while considering all applicable rules and regulations. That said, the barrier of the Interceptor does not have to span the entire width of the river – because we can identify the natural plastic accumulation paths in a river, or “hotlines”, we can place the Interceptor in a location that prevents the majority of plastic flowing through the river while still allowing vessels to pass by. If this hotline is not present, we can create an artificial one using a second barrier upstream.
Prior to each Interceptor deployment, we work with local and global partners including expert consultants to scan for environmental and social impacts unique to the specific conditions of each river and to comply with local environmental laws and regulations. We commissioned third-party environmental and social impact scanning (ESIS) with Royal Haskoning, Arcadis, and Witteveen+Bos for the deployment areas in question. With an ESIS we estimate the possible impact on the environment. To date, the assessments have shown the impact to tend towards negligible. In tandem, we are developing monitoring processes to better understand this possible impact – with some pilot efforts currently active. While we are still very much in a learning phase, for each deployment, we will conduct additional ESISs and develop monitoring efforts for verification
Before our operations commence, The Ocean Cleanup takes several steps into consideration of local communities, wildlife, and habitats.
Prior to each Interceptor deployment, we work with local and global partners including expert consultants to scan for environmental and social impacts unique to the specific conditions of each river and to comply with local environmental laws and regulations. We commissioned third-party environmental and social impact scanning (ESIS) with Royal Haskoning, Arcadis, and Witteveen+Bos for the existing and upcoming deployment locations.
These reports are shared with the necessary regulatory stakeholders for each project when applicable, but as they involve multiple third parties, which differ for each Interceptor, it is not appropriate for us to publicly share the assessments at this time. For each Interceptor project, we will conduct additional ESIS assessments prior to deployment. Since the approach and depth of the assessments can vary, we are learning how to best conduct, standardize, and share environmental and social impact scanning. Part of this process includes the development of management plans with monitoring and mitigation protocols, including recording occurrences of animal interaction and collected debris composition. This information is used to continuously improve our technology and methodology to reduce impacts.
Considering that we are still developing this process, our intention is to provide more information here in the future, including a summary of the results of existing impact assessments.
We currently expect that the respective operator of an Interceptor will take ownership of the system. If necessary, ownership can be assisted through sponsorships or low-interest loans. Where local circumstances require a different solution to keep the momentum, we will look into it. For us, the impact is more important than the ownership.
We could have chosen to commit to cleanup only, while others focused on the prevention side. Yet, after two years, we decided to also tackle the other part of the equation. The Ocean Cleanup cannot be successful if the input isn’t halted, especially considering the amount of plastic entering the oceans continues to increase, rather than decrease.
Our ambition is to tackle the pollution problem in the 1000 most polluted rivers by applying our technology, knowledge, experience, and network. We have a toolkit, the Interceptor Solutions, that can work in the majority of these rivers, but we will get to our goal much faster if everyone helps – this means better waste infrastructure, awareness, education, collaboration between initiatives, and more.
We know the goal of 1000 rivers is ambitious, but it is a necessary one.
Prevention is indeed a necessary part of the entire solution; it is one of many options, but it is a much more complex issue, which likely requires a mix of legislative change, infrastructure change, and advancements in materials science. All efforts to prevent and remove plastic from our waterways are necessary, but, as a technology foundation, we have decided to focus on what we know best: technology. Furthermore, we believe this is the path that could yield the fastest results, which is key considering the urgency of the problem.
We kept this project under the radar to avoid raising false expectations. Our objective was to be able to announce a project that was actually working and when we had systems operating, we believed it was the right time to unveil this to the wider public.
During the initial development phase, funds for this project were earmarked by specific donors and were, therefore, allocated as promised. Because we are a nonprofit, we did touch on the subject in our yearly annual report, albeit succinctly, to avoid unnecessary external pressure during this crucial period.
We project that we can remove 90% of floating ocean plastic by 2040, and to truly rid the world’s oceans of plastic we must do two things: cleanup legacy plastic and stop it from entering the ocean. Both are necessary to achieve this mission, so we will continue our efforts in the ocean to ensure we have a safe and healthy ocean in the future.
Because plastic in the oceans is persistent, the only way to reduce the amount of plastic in the oceans is to also clean up the legacy. No ocean cleanup, no clean ocean.
We want to give the plastic collected from the ocean a new life. Our plan is to work with partners to recycle the plastic and transform it into durable plastic products. By recycling the collected ocean plastic into useful products that are made with certified plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we aim to make the cleanup operational costs, to a large extent, financially self-sustainable.
To demonstrate this is possible, we have already transformed the catch from our prototype System 001/B into our first product – sunglasses. To learn more, visit theoceancleanup.com/sunglasses/
Please note: the sunglasses are out of stock as of February 2022.
With System 002 we developed a new extraction method, facilitated by the presence of the vessels. When the retention zone is full, both ends of the system are attached to a single vessel and rotated to allow for the back of the retention zone to be accessed by the extraction vessel. A buoy at the end of the retention zone is connected to the extraction vessel, activating a choke to close off the retention zone opening, allowing the retention zone to be rolled onto the ship deck.
The extraction vessel is equipped with a crane to lift the retention zone while on deck, emptying the extracted plastic onto the deck. Once the plastic is emptied and stored, the retention zone is re-secured and placed into the water to return to cleaning.
After exploring the options of recycling the plastic at sea, our team has determined that processing plastic on land is more practical. Our first catch was made with recycled ghost nets from Mission One made into sunglasses. To learn more, visit theoceancleanup.com/sunglasses/. Please note: We are out of stock as of February 2022 and will not make more products of our own. Instead, we will partner with companies that will be using our ocean-certified plastic in their product lines.
In October 2020, we launched our first product made with plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses. These sold out in February 2022. With this proof of concept, we were able to show that it was possible to make high-quality products from our catch. We want to ensure that the collected plastic continues to be seen as a material with value. By recycling the collected plastic into durable products, we help fund the continued cleanup. We also want to ensure that we have a plan to keep the products out of the environment when they reach their end of life.
We have decided not to be a plastic supplier, but rather we will use the collected plastic as part of a larger-scale partnership with companies who can use it in their products. Our Global Partnership with Kia is a good example. Through this multi-year agreement, Kia will provide funds and in-kind contributions. In addition, their experience in product design, development, manufacturing, and go-to-market strategies will help to create a resource circulation system by integrating part of our catch into their production and value chain process. The end products will be durable to avoid harvested plastics ending up back in the environment. To ensure maximum impact, as our plastic supply is small in comparison to the plastic industry, we take this selective approach with our catch.
In line with our waste management policy, our primary focus is on recycling the collected plastic. We are currently exploring alternatives for the fractions of the waste that cannot be mechanically recycled. Turning waste into fuel for the vessels required for our ocean system operations could be a promising option for this reject fraction, but there are many technical and logistical challenges that we would have to investigate prior to implementation.
We sometimes receive the question: why do some of the plastic pieces shown in our System 002 catch videos look so clean, compared to plastic pollution people are used to seeing closer to shore (i.e., washed up on coastlines).
Many factors influence the growth of organisms on the plastic and the weathering of the floating plastic debris at sea. For example, the waters of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) contain far fewer nutrients when compared to coastal waters. This is because the GPGP is far from land and, therefore, far from key nutrient sources. Furthermore, very little nutrient-rich deep water rises to the surface within this region. Fewer nutrients mean less ideal environment for biofouling – meaning cleaner-looking items.
Additionally, the plastics rub against each other while in the retention zone of the system, meaning barnacle growth on the outside of the objects often falls off.
Regardless, the plastic is not always as clean as it may appear in the catch videos, which generally show the whole catch in one overview rather than zooming in on specific pieces. Biofouling is present on the plastic, especially in cracks and inside. Biofouling is usually more common on parts submerged in the water. The parts that remain at the surface are exposed to more UV radiation and are typically free from biofouling.
Biofouling can be seen under, inside, and in the crevasses of several of the items.
Barnacles in a piece of a basket, extracted by System 002
Additionally, some biofouling is often easier to see when plastic is submerged underwater, as species like sea anemones then spread their tentacles; when they are out of the water, they make themselves smaller and are more difficult to see.
It is also important to note that not all pieces of plastic are the same. It is possible that an object that has been in the water for years has much less biofouling than an object spending only a couple of days in coastal waters due to polymer type and production process. We primarily find fishing gear in our GPGP catch. This gear is made to persist for long periods in the marine environment, often containing additives in the polymers to reduce the amount of life growing on them, ensuring they can stay “clean” and free of biofouling even after decades in the ocean.
As we aim to help tackle the 1000 most polluting rivers, we cannot manage the local waste handling ourselves. There are many challenges to disposing of the waste as facilities and waste diversity vary from country to country; therefore, we implement solutions, in collaboration with partners and governments, according to the current and future waste management capacities of each deployment location. Meanwhile, we continue to investigate solutions to properly treat and dispose of the collected plastic waste in accordance with our internal waste management policy that are affordable, and compliant with local regulations and environmental and social standards. Recycling is preferred, and technical feasibility is being assessed.
Interceptors in operation are helping us to further improve how we approach the treatment and disposal of collected waste while also encouraging local stakeholders to address overall waste management practices and infrastructure.
No, this technology is not a replacement for waste management and infrastructure, nor conscious behavior of plastic production, consumption, and disposal. Governments and many organizations are already focused on improving solid waste management systems. Our aim is to provide an alternative solution which is complementary to the broad range of actions.
Essentially, we are a project, and our goal has always been to put ourselves out of business; therefore, all efforts to care for plastic waste are necessary.
In 2011, then 16-year-old Boyan Slat was diving in Greece and was surprised to see more plastic than fish. Together with a friend he explored oceanic plastic pollution and the difficulties of cleaning it up for a high school science project. Boyan remained fascinated by the problem and continued working on his passive clean-up concept during his freshman year at university. This eventually led him to start The Ocean Cleanup.
Please visit the Careers page to see if we have any outstanding internships available. If you have a specific interest and it is not listed under our vacancies, please send a message detailing your interest to email@example.com.
We do have a newsletter. You can subscribe to it via the field in the footer. You can also stay up to date on our progress by following us on social media. We are active on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube and Facebook.
We do not sell bracelets. However, if you’d like to visibly show your support of The Ocean Cleanup, we offer plenty of sustainable items such as T-shirts, hoodies, sweatshirts, tote bags, reusable bottles, and more. By sporting these, you can help spread our mission of clean oceans. Visit our merchandise page for more details.
We publish research often and have a number of upcoming research papers that will be published within the coming year. To know more about our ongoing research, please visit our Research page, and to see our previous publications, visit our Scientific Publications
Our research shows that roughly 1000 rivers contribute to 80% of the plastic that enters the world’s oceans from rivers. See our interactive map to see the top rivers and see our update on the research results.
Yes, we are. We know that rivers are the primary source of ocean plastic pollution. High-level modeling enables us to classify which rivers are most responsible. On-site monitoring allows us to validate those classifications and understand where we need to focus our efforts. Find out more about more of our research focus on our Research page and our recent publications on our scientific publications page.
Our research shows that roughly 1000 rivers contribute to 80% of the plastic that enters the world’s oceans from rivers. See our interactive map to see the top rivers and see our update on the research results.
In our product FAQ, we have answered a lot of expected questions about our first product made with plastic certified from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. If you still have questions, please reach out to us through our contact form.
Please note: The Sunglasses are fully out of stock since the end of February 2022.
Thank you for wanting to help The Ocean Cleanup. We are open to institutional and corporate collaborations. Please contact us through our contact form regarding potential partnerships or collaborations with The Ocean Cleanup.
Thank you for your interest in The Ocean Cleanup and for wanting to help solve the plastic pollution problem!
There are several steps you can take to prevent plastic pollution, but some depend on recycling facilities in your area. Here are a few tips:
Organize beach, river bank, or land cleanups (you might also be able to find Facebook groups for established initiatives in your area)
Reduce your use of disposable plastics (use a reusable water bottle, use a reusable grocery bag, get into some ‘do it yourself projects’ to reduce packaging, etc.)
Make sure you dispose of trash properly
Reuse and recycle whenever possible
Wash your synthetic clothing as little as possible and use microfiber absorbers when you do
System 002 has led us to proof of technology, which we announced in October 2021. While continuing to harvest plastic with System 002, we will start developing System 03, a larger design that is meant to serve as the blueprint for scale-up. We will need a full fleet of about 10 of these cleanup systems in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to effectively clean it up. After having scaled up in this patch, we move on to the other four patches: the South Pacific, the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, and the Indian Oceanic Gyre.
In the run-up to full-scale deployment, we welcome funders to contribute to having a major impact on our mission to rid the world’s oceans of plastic. Ocean systems are not available for purchase, but those who are interested in participating in the cleanup can sponsor our ocean cleanup systems.
Please contact us through our contact form, if you are interested in sponsoring an ocean system.
If you are an operator who can facilitate efforts to clean your local waterways, a local government who is ready to actively solve your river pollution problem, or a company who would like to fund this groundbreaking technology – with the aim of ensuring that less plastic enters our oceans from rivers – then we would love to get in touch with you about realizing this goal. Please reach us via our contact form.
That said, if there are other solutions that are better suited for your region, we can help to facilitate implementation of alternative options. To learn more about how we want to solve river plastic pollution, possibly with the use of an Interceptor, you can submit an inquiry through our contact form for more information.
First of all, thank you very much for wanting to help us raise awareness and/or funds! You are free to use the content of our website for non-commercial purposes, as long as you clearly state that your activity is independent of, and not endorsed or sponsored by, us. These same conditions apply if you engage in any activity to help fund our projects.
Our logo is not available for external use, but you can use all downloadable information from our website (see image gallery here) to support your initiative. To license content for commercial work, please contact us through our contact form.
When you are ready to make your donation, you can do so via our Donate page, or by making your own personal Facebook Fundraiser.
The Ocean Cleanup’s crowdfunding campaign gave us a great boost at an early stage of our project. In the summer of 2014, it helped us to attract the support of over 38,000 people.
We do not have plans for a new crowdfunding campaign, but we still very much welcome corporate and private donations. You can support us this way through our Donate page. If you wish to sponsor us or give a larger donation, please reach out to us via funding(@)theoceancleanup.com or our contact form.
If you’re planning on crossing a gyre and interested in collecting data, you can download our Visual Survey app to conduct visual surveys during your voyage. The app is available through Google Play and App Store.
For our continued operations in the North Pacific, we will monitor the system and all potential sea life in its vicinity for an extended period of time. If your research vessel would be available for us to use in future research like this or others, please contact us through our website contact form.
Because of our non-profit status, we cannot offer shares. However, as we are fully reliant on private and corporate funding, we are grateful for any donation, big or small, that you would like to make. You can donate through our website on our Donate page.
The Ocean Cleanup is registered as ANBI foundation in the Netherlands (Stichting The Ocean Cleanup). You will get an automated receipt after donating through our Donate page that you can use for tax deductibility in the Netherlands.
It is also possible to support the mission of ridding the oceans of plastic via American Friends of The Ocean Cleanup, Foundation. A registered 501(c)(3) foundation for US donors.
For both foundations, you can contribute via this Donate page. For manual bank transfer/wire transfer details for both foundations, see the following FAQ.
For questions regarding tax deductions for international donations outside of Europe, please consult your tax advisor. If you wish to receive additional information on this topic, please reach out through our contact form.
Account name: Stichting The Ocean Cleanup
Account holder address: Batavierenstraat 15, 4-7th floor, 3014 JH Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Bank Name: ABN AMRO Bank
Bank Address: Gustav Mahlerlaan 10, 1028PP Amsterdam, The Netherlands
For US donors: You can donate to American Friends of The Ocean Cleanup, a US 501(c)(3) foundation supporting the same mission. You can learn more about it here.
These are the details of that foundation:
First Republic Bank
111 Pine Street
San Francisco, CA 94111
ABA #: 321 081 669
Only in case you wire from outside the US please add the SWIFT address
SWIFT address: FRBBUS6S
Account Name: American Friends of The Ocean Cleanup
Account #: 8000 6362 356
If you would like a receipt for your donation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name/business name, address, email address, donation date and donation amount in order to provide your receipt. A tax receipt is only required for US federal & state tax purposes for donations of USD 250 or higher.
Thank you for wanting to give a donation to The Ocean Cleanup in someone else’s name!
You can donate through our donate page, and later use our gift templates (available here, or here with space for a personalized message). Print or share this certificate with a friend or loved one who wants to help save the oceans.
We accept donations in Euro or US Dollar amounts because we can receive these without paying conversion fees. If your account has another currency, you are still able to donate via our website. If you have an amount in mind that you would like to donate, calculate how much that equals in either euros or US dollars. Enter the amount on our Support page and choose your preferred payment method. Your bank/PayPal account will be debited the amount equivalent in your own currency.
Thank you very much for wanting to donate to The Ocean Cleanup.
Your donations can be made to our American Friends of The Ocean Cleanup, Foundation, a 501(c)(3) supporting the mission of cleaning the oceans. You can learn more about it here.
We would love to hear from you, so please send us an email to email@example.com. We will provide you with our wire transfer details as well through email.
If you would like a donation certificate for your donation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name/business name, address, email address, donation date and donation amount in order to provide your donation certificate. (Donation certificates are only required for US federal & state tax purposes for donations of USD 250 or higher)
The Ocean Cleanup has a registered foundation in the Netherlands (Stichting The Ocean Cleanup). For US donors, you can donate to American Friends of The Ocean Cleanup, a US based 501(c)(3) charity supporting the same mission.
If you donate through the website, you will receive an automated receipt.
If you donated by making a bank/wire transfer and would like a receipt, we can make one for you manually. You can contact us via our contact form specifying the following details:
Date of donation
Full postal address
Donation method (ie. Visa, PayPal, Bank Transfer)
Donation made to the Dutch bank account or to American Friends of The Ocean Cleanup
After verifying your donation with this information, a receipt will be created for you. Please note that this is a manual process, and therefore we ask for your patience in advance.
To learn more about tax deductibility, see this FAQ.
Yes. Writing or updating your will is an important personal decision. Once those closest to you are taken care of, leaving a gift in your will to The Ocean Cleanup will make a real, long-lasting impact in helping us achieve our mission of ridding the world’s oceans of plastic.
The Ocean Cleanup is registered as an ANBI foundation in the Netherlands. US donors can also make a tax-deductible donation to American Friends of The Ocean Cleanup, a 501(c)(3) public charity in the US, supporting the same mission.
We recommend that you consult a lawyer when making or updating your will, who can also advise you on the potential tax benefits of leaving a gift to The Ocean Cleanup.
If you would like to receive additional information about including The Ocean Cleanup in your will, please reach out through our contact form.
Yes, you can! We currently accept Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, LiteCoin, and Doge. Please note, due to recent changes in our cryptocurrency policy our previous wallet codes are no longer valid. For more details, please reach out to us via our contact form.
The Ocean Cleanup is not affiliated with any cryptocurrency.
You can donate miles through Flying Blue, KLM’s and Air France’s frequent flyer program. Go to Flying Blue’s site, log in with your account and navigate to donating miles via the menu. You can find The Ocean Cleanup as part of a list of 14 non-profit organizations that Flying Blue has partnered with. Airmiles are highly appreciated and help to facilitate the success of the project by allowing our team to perform the necessary work we have across many borders.
Workplace giving is a simple and effective way to donate to The Ocean Cleanup.
Many workplaces offer employees the opportunity to make regular donations to charitable causes through their payroll system. Some companies will match these donations, doubling your impact. Speak to your human resources department to find out details about your company’s workplace giving program. The Ocean Cleanup is registered on multiple platforms that support workplace and matched giving, including CyberGrants, Benevity, YourCause and Network for Good.
If you require additional information on this topic, please reach out through our contact form.
The Ocean Cleanup welcomes donations from Donor-Advised Funds (DAF). Please contact your DAF provider to initiate your donation to The Ocean Cleanup. If you wish to receive additional information on this topic, please reach out through our contact form.
Thank you for wanting to support The Ocean Cleanup. We are able to accept donations in stock in the United States through the services of the Netherland-America Foundation. For more information, please reach out via our contact form.