Marine biologists view The Ocean Cleanup with skepticism

Global plastic production has more than doubled in recent years. However, only a fraction of this is recycled. The majority are either burned or buried permanently. But this is also not really a viable solution. And yet a not inconsiderable part of the waste ends up in nature. This can be seen in the oceans, for example, where small plastic particles have now spread to the last corner. The Dutchman Boyan Slat has therefore been pushing his idea of ​​the Ocean Cleanup for several years now. The idea: Huge safety nets should collect plastic from particularly hard-hit areas. This waste can then be brought ashore and recycled there. The first prototypes are now actually in use. These don’t work perfectly yet. In any case, great progress has been made in recent years, so that certain amounts of plastic waste are actually removed from the sea.

Ocean Cleanup has removed 100 tons of plastic waste from
Image: The Ocean Cleanup

The effects on ecosystems are still unclear

But marine biologists aren’t entirely thrilled with the project. In fact, the criticism has increased recently. It was pointed out that not only waste ends up in the nets, but also numerous living organisms. Several security devices are integrated. The organization has also worked with fishermen to ensure that as little bycatch as possible ends up in the nets. However, there is as yet no scientific evaluation of the effects of the networks on ecosystems. This shouldn’t be easy either. Because only prototypes are still in use, which are constantly being changed. It is clear, however, that the nets must be pulled by two diesel-powered tugs. Collecting plastic in the ocean, therefore, causes significant climate emissions. This too is sometimes viewed critically. The Ocean Cleanup is therefore working together with shipping company Maersk on more climate-friendly drives.

Simpler solutions can be more efficient

The biggest question, however, is whether nets in the oceans are the most efficient way to tackle plastic pollution. Many experts assume that it is wiser to start a little earlier. For example, waste collection actions on the beach can be carried out without great technical effort. In addition, there are now solutions that free the rivers that flow into the oceans of plastic waste. This is also easier to perform than an operation in the middle of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In addition, the problem is tackled in a more targeted manner. In fact, only one percent of the plastic waste in the oceans ends up in such landfills. It is still partly unclear where the rest will end up. But clearly, it could make more sense to collect the waste before it spreads. And more importantly, avoiding plastic waste is better than collecting it again at great expense.