• Megan Parfitt

The Ocean Cleanup System

It is easy to focus on all the negatives when talking about the climate, and don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of them. However, research shows that some positive news can engage further audiences and mobilise sceptics [1,2]. So here is a glimmer of hope in a sea of shortcomings.

Image Reference [3]

Ocean Cleanup has been developing technologies to remove plastic from the ocean since 2013 when they were founded [3]. This organisation has contributed massively to our understanding of how plastic is affecting our ocean. In 2015 they completed a mega expedition where they produced the first high-resolution map of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Understanding the scale of the problem was key to designing technologies that would eventually start the clean-up process. The mega expedition revealed that the concentration of plastic had been heavily underestimated, in fact, there was around 80 million kg of floating plastic debris [3].

In 2018, System 001 was launched to conduct extensive testing on the garbage patch. A fracture that caused a section of the system to detach meant that System 001 had to return to shore. Although this was not the plan, it allowed for learning opportunities which were essential for future system successes. System 001’s analyses found that it was ineffective at retaining plastics. The engineering team at the ocean cleanup developed solutions to these problems which lead to the next design, System 001/B.

The next big milestone was System 002. In 2021 System 002 entered the GPGP as the first large-scale cleanup system. The test campaign for this system was successfully concluded after 12 weeks, proving that The Ocean Cleanup’s systems can successfully harvest plastic [3].

Alongside these large milestones was a team continually looking to create the most effective techniques to provide a solution to the GPGP. All of the knowledge gained from previous models and testing has been applied to an even greater technology, System 03.

System 03 is three times the size of System 002 and can capture larger quantities of plastic at a lower cost per kilogram [3]. This bigger and more efficient system is believed to be ten times as effective as System 002. Models suggest that a fleet of only 10 System 03’s would be needed to clean the entire GPGP, making it much more economical than the 50 System 002s needed to clean the same area. The transition to System 03 is going to be a gradual 4-stage process, slowly making changes to the current System 002 model. This will allow The Ocean Cleanup to continue to clean the ocean during their upgrading and testing.

Some organisations and individuals have raised concerns about how the Ocean Cleanup will affect sea life [4]. However, The Ocean Cleanup state that mitigating measures has been included to deter marine animals from being negatively affected by the system. As their main goal is to make the ocean a safer place for marine life, it makes sense that they would take steps to ensure this is true throughout the process. As it is not just plastic in this area of the ocean, close monitoring and testing are being implemented to ensure animals do not accidentally get caught up in the system. Offshore monitoring and underwater cameras notice nearby marine life or if there are any animals caught in the system such as dolphins, the crew then respond accordingly, or the cleanup is halted. Although it is likely that some marine life will be negatively affected by The Ocean Cleanup in the short term, the long-term impact will undoubtedly be beneficial due to the reduction in plastic and marine debris. Furthermore, the slow speed of the system is designed to be safer for the environment and minimises any negative side effects [3].

The aim of The Ocean Cleanup is to remove 90% of floating plastic from the ocean by 2040. Not only by using System 002 and System 03, but also by stopping the sources of plastic that end up in the ocean, attacking both the problem and solutions.


[1] Positive news makes readers feel good: A "silver-lining" approach to negative news can attract audiences [Internet]. Taylor & Francis. [cited 2022Oct30]. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1041794X.2016.1171892?casa_token=CmaYxkJA32EAAAAA%3ADdw_vffr-iA3C43hOrqw0C0MLwxnj952v27K7NHiJoMxLSPw4HvPWgOfG96aHAVHU-BIaDupN4lA

[2] Schuck ART, de Vreese CH. Reversed mobilization in referendum campaigns. The International Journal of Press/Politics. 2008;14(1):40–66.

[3] The Ocean Cleanup. 2022 [cited 2022Oct30]. Available from: https://theoceancleanup.com/

[4] Helm RR, says: AL, says: PHILIPBROWN, says: EJ, says: RRH, says: BT. The ocean cleanup struggles to prove it will not harm Sea Life: Deep sea news [Internet]. Deep Sea News | All the news on the Earth's largest environment. 2019 [cited 2022Oct30]. Available from: https://www.deepseanews.com/2019/02/the-ocean-cleanup-struggles-to-prove-it-will-not-harm-sea-life/