Ocean Cleanup’s giant ‘Pac Man’ to begin testing

A giant barrier designed to collect the ocean’s litter will undergo testing this week, off the coast of San Francisco, California.

Created by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat with the aim of combating plastic pollution, Ocean Cleanup’s 001 is a long floating boom which gently bends to scoop litter found on – or just below – the ocean’s surface.

Courtesy of significant investment from Silicon Valley and elsewhere, Slat was able to bring his design to life – and now the first prototype is being positioned hundreds of miles off-shore in preparation for a two-week testing period.

If tests are successful, it will then be towed towards Hawaii, where it will be put to work to clean up a vast area of water full of litter known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Waste’.

The 600-metre-long boom is completely automated, using the ocean’s currents to move it in the direction of the main litter hotspots.

A simple design, the large tube has a special skirt beneath it that is three metres deep in the centre and two metres deep at the edges. The difference in length encourages the boom to gently curve into a ‘Pac Man’ shape, driven by both currents and the wind.

The Ocean Cleanup team can follow the currents to place the boom next to large concentrations of litter and then allow nature to take care of the clean-up operation. The currents then move faster than the plastic, which subsequently results in the boom naturally collecting the rubbish inside it.

Equipped with a number of on-board sensors, the boom will know when it has reached full capacity. At this point it sends a message to a central office that will then deploy a specialist clean-up vessel to collect the rubbish from the boom using a conventional net. The rubbish can then be taken back for recycling and/or reuse.

Slat hopes to build around 60 booms that will stretch kilometres across the Pacific Ocean to enable a more extensive clean-up operation in the near future.

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