FAQ Plastic Collection Concept

The PGS plastic collection concept has generated a lot of interest and questions, since it was first launched in June 2017. Following a feasibility study, completed in 2018, by the independent coast and sea consultants SALT, we now have a few more answers. Our next step will be to seek funding for a pilot project to research the realities of plastics in the water column and test out our concept in the field.

Here are a few of the most common questions we have received so far and a few answers.

What have you done to progress this idea? PGS secured funding from ‘Innovation Norway’  and used this to commission the consultancy firm SALT to do a desktop review of the potential and feasibility of the large-scale plastic collection concept. Their report was completed in August 2018. Its conclusions have highlighted areas where the proposed solution might be useful and suggested topics for further testing.
How will it be funded?  PGS is currently seeking funding partners to set up a pilot proof of concept
Where will you do this? As it is a large-scale plastic collection system, it will be most efficient in areas where there are large amounts of plastics. The report concludes that pelagic microplastic densities are too low for efficient surface plastic collection in the surface ocean, but densities may be higher in certain areas or during certain seasons, or during flush-out events. These areas include the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean and the West Coast of Africa.
How will you locate the hotspots of plastic waste? The pilot study aims to include research on technology to locate plastic debris on the ocean surface or in the water column. Providers of drones, UAVs and sensors capable of detecting floating or suspended debris will be invited to join the vessel to test their technology during the pilot.
How will the plastic be processed and recycled? That part is not decided yet, though we hope to find partners who have interest and expertise in recycling and processing of plastic waste. For the pilot we plan to bring collected waste onboard for sorting and analysis to determine the characteristics of the waste, calculate abundance and distribution, and to identify the possible origins of the waste.
How will you ensure wildlife is not trapped or injured? The feasibility study found that, with careful planning and certain mitigations in place, it is possible to conduct operations without significant impact on flora or fauna. The equipment will be towed at slow speed (~2.5 knots) which will minimize the risk of entrapment by allowing marine mammals and fish to avoid the approaching vessel. Deployment of the collection equipment will only be done at times and in areas where the density of plankton and micro-organisms is low. Trained marine mammal observers onboard will monitor the area and provide advice.
Will you tow the plastic collector at the same time as shooting seismic? No this is not possible. These are two quite separate operations with different equipment onboard and incompatible towing configurations.
What are we going to do with the plastic once it's collected? After sorting and analysis onboard, the plastic will be compressed and stored prior to delivery on shore for processing and recycling in a suitable facility.
How will you separate the plastic from other things like sea life or just other rubbish? During the pilot, there will be manual or semi-automated sorting prior to analysis and characterization of the waste. Learnings from this will guide future design of fully automated systems to manage the collected plastic. Avoiding or minimizing harm to marine life will be a key objective in the design and engineering of the waste collection and processing system.
How much plastic are you able to pick up using this purpose-built equipment? We don’t know. As reported in the feasibility study there is a severe lack of knowledge and data on the abundance and distribution of larger plastic items (macroplastics) in the oceans, so our key objectives for the pilot will be to conduct large scale sampling to increase our knowledge, and to test the collection efficiency of the concept. 
What’s in it for PGS? The oceans of the world are our working place and PGS works with industry in a number of ways to improve understanding, technology, and practices in order to reduce impacts on marine ecosystems. We see this as a complementary activity. If the concept is proven and there is a market for it, this may in the future also represent a business opportunity.
Do we have any idea how much plastic material is actually in the water column? Not entirely. Current knowledge and estimates of the abundance and distribution of plastics in the oceans is based on a limited number of surveys in a limited number of areas. We hope to add significant data and knowledge from a pilot survey.
How much of the setup in the YouTube animation is conceptual and how much needs to be properly designed and built? It is all theory so far. We’ve refined our initial concept following a desktop feasibility study and now plan a detailed technical feasibility study that includes theoretical considerations of engineering and hydrodynamics. We are also engaging with potential partners and suppliers for the boom arrangement, bubble curtain and collection unit as well as further dialog with potential funders. Our next step will be to seek funding for a full-scale pilot test, based a single seismic vessel towing a boom and skirt arrangement with a bubble curtain that lifts plastic to the surface for collection in a permeable collection bag.
Who will pay to build the required hardware? We are looking for funding partners