Meet “Wilson,” the Trash Cleaning Pipe

Over-hyped? Or better than nothing? Or both?


(Composite image by author.)

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, mostly plastic.

Ashley Torres, Business Manager

The plastic in the ocean is a hazard to every living thing on Earth – nobody really disagrees with that. But what do to about it, is where the arguments start.

Human lives, sea life, and businesses like ocean tourism and the fishing industry are all affected by the excessive amounts of pollution in the ocean. An estimated 150 million tons of trash, most of it plastic, is in the ocean and is growing everyday.

But a team of young scientists and researchers have taken it upon them to help stop that problem.

The Ocean Cleanup Foundation has released a new form of technology- a giant 2,000 ft. pipe called Wilson, that sits on the surface of the ocean waters. This pipe is located in San Francisco, California.

The pipe works by collecting plastic and other trash with its 3 meter net underneath the pipe. A boat will then come every couple of months or so to pick up the trash from the pipe.

The purpose of this to clean up the ocean and recycle any trash collected to make into new products.

It also was created to tackle a giant trash pile, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that’s twice the size of Texas, floating in the ocean between Hawaii and San Francisco. This trash pile is just one of the five in the ocean but the largest of them.

For the past five years, Ocean Cleanup Foundation has researched and tested out the pipe and has raised over $30 million for this project via crowdfunding.

Although it is predicted by the foundation that the pipe will pick up 50 tons of trash by 2019, skeptics say it is wasted effort for something that costs so much but does so little. At that rate, roughly 50 tons a year, would mean nearly 3 million years to clean up the Patch, much longer than all of human history.

“It’s much more effective from a cost and prevention effort to stop trash from entering [the sea] in the first place,” one of the critics of the project, Eben Schwartz says. He also commented that 7 to 10 times more trash can be collected with an active group of volunteers in that amount of time, with (he estimates) half the cost of what it took to build the “Wilson.”

CEO of Ocean Cleanup foundation, Boyan Slat says he hope to achieve a “future to be better than the present.” Wilson will continue to collect trash in hopes of a cleaner ocean.

You can check out their website, for yourself.