After a series of setbacks, a system for catching plastic floating in the Pacific between California and Hawaii is now working, its Dutch inventor says. Boyan Slat, a university dropout who founded the Ocean Cleanup nonprofit, announced Wednesday that the floating boom is skimming up waste ranging in size from a discarded net and a car wheel complete with tire to chips of plastic measuring just 1 millimeter, the AP reports. The results are promising enough to begin designing a second system to send to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of floating plastic trash twice the size of Texas, Slat says. But he sounded a note of caution, saying "if the journey to this point taught us anything it is that it's definitely not going to be easy."
The floating boom with a tapered 10-foot-deep screen is intended to act like a coastline, trapping some of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that scientists estimate are swirling in the patch while allowing marine life to safely swim beneath it. After it was towed out to sea last year, the barrier did not catch any trash in its first weeks of operation because it was moving at the same speed as the plastic. That problem was overcome by using an underwater parachute anchor to slow the boom. Also, late last year, the barrier broke under the constant pummeling by wind and waves, requiring four months of repairs before being relaunched in June. The organization wants to continue developing the plastic traps, scale them up, and deploy more to the Pacific so they can gather thousands of tons of plastic each year. (Some of that plastic isn't coming from land.)