Associate Editor
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The Inertia

The Ocean Cleanup project, a highly ambitious effort spearheaded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat, is set to launch its first full-scale system early next month with the goal of reducing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by half in five years.

It’s been a long road to get to this point for Slat and his crew. Nearly six years, $31 million raised and counting, 273 scale model tests, six at-sea prototypes, and a comprehensive mapping of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with 30 vessels and an airplane.

System 001, as its called, will be deployed from Alameda, California on September 8th – an event that will be streamed live on The Ocean Cleanup’s website. It will then be carted out to its temporary resting place in the heart of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where it will capture plastic debris for future removal. The goal is to monitor the success of this first system and ultimately deploy an entire fleet of about 60 systems over time to the Patch.

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“After fleets of systems are deployed into every ocean gyre, combined with source reduction, The Ocean Cleanup projects to be able to remove 90 percent of ocean plastic by 2040,” explains the company on its website.

To be clear, The Ocean Cleanup hasn’t been without its detractors.

Some in the scientific community have gone so far as to call the project “a fool’s errand” saying if anything it just skims the surface of a monumental problem.

For their part, Slat and his team have taken criticism in stride and hummed along unabated. But in an August 17th blog post, Slat formally responded to what he viewed as an unfair characterization and pseudo-scientific analysis of survey data conducted by a blog called Southern Fried Science.

“While I believe it is always good to be skeptical (realizing we don’t know everything, we actively welcome it), it goes a step too far when critics risk deceiving the public to prove that their viewpoint is right,” wrote Slat.

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Still, Slat is confident the Ocean Cleanup will prove successful. “While the need for a cleanup is clear, the engineering behind developing an efficient system that can survive at sea for decades is hard,” he wrote. “It took years for our skilled team, which currently consists of scientists and engineers with around 400 years of offshore engineering experience between them, to develop the technology.”

For a quick video about how the tech operates see here:

Given the scale of plastic pollution worldwide, The Ocean Cleanup is anxious to get to work. “We really see the urgency in starting the cleanup because there’s so much harm that could happen with this plastic that’s floating out there,” COO Lonneke Holierhoek told Forbes. “We are in a big hurry.”

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