At the age of 18, Dutchman Boyan Slat (*1994) designed a giant plastic fishing arm resembling a floating noodle that would create an artificial coastline when implemented. The design envisaged a 600-metre-long installation moving freely in the sea and weighted down by weights to fish plastic waste out of the oceans - controlled only by wind and the ocean current. An artificial barrier is created that can thus concentrate the waste. In 2013, more than 100 researchers tested whether the device designed by Slat would work in the so-called Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge plastic waste vortex in the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii, as part of a feasibility study. Despite numerous doubts from uninvolved experts, they confirmed that the project was worthwhile. In 2015, the company announced that a prototype would go into operation off the coast of Tsushima (between Japan and South Korea) in 2016. In 2016, a prototype also went into the water off the Dutch North Sea coast. Based on the data obtained, further prototypes followed in 2017 and 2018, which were adapted in design and material. In the course of the research, the system evolved away from a large and moored system towards a fleet consisting of smaller drifting systems.
The aim of the project is to collect and recycle the plastic waste in the oceans. The aim is to reverse or reduce negative impacts, e.g. the extinction of species by endangering habitats. Removing plastic waste also prevents the formation of microplastics.
The company now has about 90 employees. Since 2015, »The Ocean Cleanup« has also been working on a system for cleaning rivers. In addition to cleaning the oceans and the associated removal of the rubbish, »The Ocean Cleanup« is also working on steps for processing the collected plastic. Together with the international classification society DNV GL, a standard for proving the origin of plastic collected in the ocean was created in mid-2020. The standard confirms the authenticity, origin and quantity of the plastic and discloses the complete process of collection and processing. With regard to both the cleaning of the oceans and the rivers, there is criticism that other substances such as organic material would also be removed from the ecosystem.