A Dutch foundation has measured the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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The Ocean Cleanup is a Dutch foundation that was created to address issues like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling mass of plastics and other debris that floats between Hawaii and California. It is one of the most dramatic examples of what happens to litter that makes its way into the world’s oceans.

The Ocean Cleanup is working on ways to deal with this problem, and in order to do that they need to get a handle on just how big the patch is. To do so, they have done surveys by boat and airplane to determine just how much they have to work on.

It’s more than they expected. According to those surveys, the patch is larger and denser than they had previously believed. The foundation hopes to get the actual cleanup underway by the end of the decade. This sounds like a long time, but they need to figure out exactly how to clean it up, and that starts with understanding how large it is and what kinds of refuse is collected there.

Knowing more about the patch will allow the foundation to figure out what techniques are required to remove waste from it, where to take that waste, and how to dispose of it properly, preferably by recycling as much as possible.

Using vessels and nets to collect the plastic debris would take many thousands of years and billions of dollars to complete, according to The Ocean Cleanup. Instead, the foundation is designing a network of long floating barriers that will remain stationary in the water, allowing the ocean currents to concentrate the plastic

But by getting a handle on the types and sizes of debris, Mega Expedition, as the aerial reconnaissance is being called, The Ocean Cleanup will be able to further develop its ideas for controlling the pollution.

Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, says, “The aerial expedition—our final reconnaissance mission—brings us another step closer to the cleanup of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The initial findings of the expeditions again underline the urgency to tackle the growing accumulation of plastic in the world’s oceans.”