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From oceans to rivers: the new challenge of Ocean Cleanup against plastic pollution

Boyan Slat, a young Dutch inventor and entrepreneur, had already become a world-famous celebrity at 18 years old with his ambition to clean the oceans of pollution, especially plastic waste. This gave rise in 2012 to  « The Ocean Cleanup » project, based on the principle of a huge barrier capable of collecting plastic waste floating on the surface of the oceans.

Difficult experiments at sea


For five years, the Ocean Cleanup team successfully passed small scale tests. At the beginning of 2019, it deployed its first full-scale system, System 001, composed of a 600 m long barrier and a screen three meters deep, off San Francisco. The aim was no less than to clean half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an expanse of marine debris stretching from California to Japan. However, the test failed and was stopped after four months, following damage to the system, exposed to ocean currents and the weather.

A second test under real conditions was carried out in September of the same year with positive results, for the first time not only trapping visible bits of plastic but microplastic particles too. The NGO estimated that in seven months, this new system had collected several tonnes of plastic. The long-term objective is to collect 90% of the plastic present in the oceans.

However, this project has been criticised for reasons of cost – more than €20 million – and its inefficiency, since it does not attack the problem of waste at its source, before it ends up in the oceans.

The Interceptor, a new solution for cleaning rivers

Just recently, Boyan Slat decided to complete his system by targeting freshwater and setting himself a daring challenge:

Our mission is to rid the world of plastic. And to do that, we have to do two things: prevent plastic from entering the oceans and clean up the plastic that’s already there


Ocean Cleanup has fitted out a barge that runs on solar energy to clean rivers. Called “The Interceptor”, this stationary and autonomous barge linked to two huge barriers is positioned across a river and can extract 50 tonnes of plastic a day, and even twice that under the right conditions. This waste is sucked up and then brought on land to be recycled.

Two boats are already operating in Indonesia, at Jakarta, and in Malaysia, on the river Klang at Kuala Lumpur. The NGO aims to position these two boats on the 1,000 most polluted rivers of the world, responsible for 80% of the pollution, from now to 2025.



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