Cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: An Attainable Target?

The problem, at face value, is clear, visceral and enormous, but solutions have very much remained theoretical in reality. The task of cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area comprising two mass collections of debris converging and bound by the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, is the antithesis of simple. The eight years of construction and prototype testing, coupled with the millions of dollars invested in The Ocean Cleanup’s strategies to combat and monetise ocean waste is illustrative of the obstacles arising from such a venture[1]. Now, for the first time, Boyan Slat’s decade-long passion has met the realms of tangibility, in what is the first successful system for the extraction of an 80,000 tonne, 1.6 million square kilometre-wide plastic depository[2].

With some 2.41 million tonnes of buoyant, resilient plastics entering the world’s oceans through rivers each year, much of this makes its way to the five existent ocean gyres.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is bigger than France; it is a waste reservoir comprised of combined global inaction, irresponsible consumerism, and flawed waste management[3]. These plastics, of which around half persist at the marine surface, transported by converging currents and finally mass accumulating, pose a threat to ever-dwindling marine life and the food chains which balance entire marine and non-marine ecosystems, all whilst perfectly illustrating our world’s continued plastic waste crisis. 

Scuba diving in Greece in 2013, Slat was shocked to see more plastic in the waters than fish. Disbelief transformed to decisive action and, some eight years on, the project is ready to rid the patch of waste[4].  Coined ‘Jenny’, the project is the very first successful large scale ocean clean-up system of its kind. A half-mile long, funnelled, U-Shape installation, guided by two boats, catches large and small debris from the seawater, before taking it ashore for recycling. In Jenny’s final test run, the team found the system scooped 19,841 pounds of debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch[5]. For the first time, The Ocean Cleanup has attained a true glimpse of tangibility; its goal of removing ninety percent of floating ocean plastic by 2040[6]. With such hope for the prospective success of the project, this venture is not without its criticisms, however.

Concerned scientists ponder the damage caused by what is similar to surface trawling and the consequent effects on fish and other marine life present in the ocean gyre[7]. Furthermore, concerns arise around the carbon footprint required for a clean-up of this magnitude. The slow-moving ‘Jenny’, however, is said to be ‘animal friendly’, towing roughly at 1.5 knots, a speed at which most animals can swim away. This, coupled with mechanisms, such as escape routes and lights to guide disoriented animals cater for the protection of sea life. A deliberately marine-conscious emphasis illustrates to the fullest extent the project’s multi-faceted approach to protecting the natural balance of the ocean, human health and the species which occupy and circumnavigate an area that has become less a hub for teeming life and more an unmanaged waste site for humanity’s careless disregard for nature and its inappropriate use of resources. The footprint of the project comes as little concern to project managers of the clean-up, who assure that the Maersk ships deployed as part of the project are offset with ‘South Pole’, a climate mitigation company and that the plastic catchment system is, in itself, entirely powered by natural currents. The innovative enthusiasm of Boyan Slat’s near-decade-long work has been seen to both overcome and counteract criticisms and setbacks arising from the multi-million dollar project. 

Looking forward, not only does The Ocean Cleanup represent the passionate dream of cleaner ocean surfaces, but the wider hope that scientific innovation, increased investment, and growing sentiment towards the protection of the Earth’s oceans and environment are an avenue through which some of the greatest threats to nature may be solved. The question of whether such innovation can offset the continued and sustained damage, being further exacerbated by growing populations and consumer demands, remains one to be answered.

  1. Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (2021, April 22). The National Geographic. Retrieved 14 October 2021, from
  2. Lebreton, L. (2018, March 22). Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Accumulating Plastic. Scientific Reports. Retrieved 15 October 2021, from
  3.  (Lebreton, 2018)
  4.  Boyon Slat: The Man Who Went Out To Clean The Oceans. (2017, October 23). Julius Baer. Retrieved 15 October 2021, from
  5.  Pyrek, C., 2016. Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Contemporary Pacific, 28(1), pp.268-270.
  6.  The Ocean Cleanup. (N.D). The Ocean Cleanup. Retrieved 14 October 2021, from
  7.  The Dream of Scooping Plastic From the Ocean Is Still Alive-and Problematic (2021, October 19). Molly Taft, Gizmodo. Retrieved 14 October 2021, from

Author: Marcus Grogan

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *