A deceptively simple way to clean up the world's oceans

A barrier collects rubbish. Image: The Ocean Cleanup.

A year or so ago, a campaigner from the World Wildlife Federation told me that the Next Big Thing in environmental campaigning would be a push to rescue the planet's oceans. 

"Seas aren't under anybody's jurisdiction," she said. "Oceans need international effforts to protect the species that live there. And, that, for the most part, isn't happening." Combine this with oceans' enormous size, and you end up with 70 per cent of the planet covered in what is basically an unregulated dumping ground with no designated caretakers.

It's not surprising, then, that The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit with a new system designed to clear rubbish out of oceans, is able to claim its invention as the "world's first" ocean cleaning system. The idea was bashed out by 100 volunteer scientists, and the subsequent stages of design and development have been totally crowdfunded. 

So how do you clear out swathes of the ocean on little money and no governmental support? Not easily. Take the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" (also, excitingly, known as the "Pacific garbage vortex"): the Ocean Cleanup team calculated that, using nets and boats, it would take up to 80,000 years and billions of dollars to completely clear the rubbish out. The process would also generate lots of CO, which rather cancels out the benefits. 

These figures are almost mind-bogglingly depressing. But then, as they describe on their website, the Ocean Cleanup team had an idea which might just let them circumvent them: "Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?" The ocean is constantly moving the rubbish around of its own accord: could some kind of static sieving mechanism capture the rubbish as it passes without expending any energy?

The project's current design uses a long, floating barrier tethered to a cable on the ocean floor. Because most plastic rubbish is lighter than water, the barrier is able to trap it without catching any sealife. When the team tried out a 40m length of the barrier as proof of concept, they saw that rubbish was indeed trapped, while even tiny sealife like plankton were not: 

A 2,000m long prototype is due to be tested in coastal waters in 2016, but in the mean time the team have crunched some numbers to demonstrate how quickly their invention could clear up the oceans.They estimate that a 100km length of cleanup system, deployed for 10 years, would clear up over 70m kg of rubbish – the equivalent of 42 per cent of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch".This would cost an estimated €4.53 per kilogram of rubbish collected. 

Based on viability testing, the scientists reckon that the barrier would catch about 80 per cent of the detritus it comes into contact with, whiile its chevron-like shape would force it to condense at the barrier's point, like so:

From there, the rubbish could be collected and recycled. 

The project's still about five years from large-scale deployment, but if the science holds, it looks like it could pose a real solution. Now we just need to find that  €320m.

Images: The Ocean Cleanup. 


Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.

At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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