Environmental project of the year or missed opportunity?

July 7, 2019

The Ocean Cleanup viewed through a socio-scientific lens

In January 2019, a 600m float broke down due to equipment wear, likely resulting from an engineering pitfall. This wreck brings to light the uncertainties and criticisms issued towards The Ocean Cleanup.

This project has been widely recognized as a high impact venture, however our scientific team poses the question: is a compelling distraction being delivered as opposed to an effective solution? 


In five years and with a $40 million investment, this ambitious project expects to remove roughly 40,000 tons of waste. Whilst the number may seem extensive, it represents less than 0.1% of the plastic in our oceans, undoubtedly alleviating but not efficient enough. Today, only 4% of the million tons of plastic spilled into our oceans makes it to the surface of these vortices. The rest drifts to our shores or fragments into smaller pieces, known as micro-plastics. Its ineffectiveness also results from the location in which the project takes place, which is far from the epicenter of the problem. 

There are also concerns regarding marine life due to the technical limits of its design. Numerous scientists believe its design will draw marine life to the floating mass as well as some may end up entangled in the debris.

Consequently, Casa Congo believes that this initiative should focus their efforts to tackle the problem at its roots. The Ocean Cleanup should be challenged to allocate a portion of its 40 million dollars of funding to other possibilities than cleaning up in distant gyres. 


Whilst we recognize that The Ocean Cleanup has raised awareness of ocean waste, we see flaws in the message being conveyed. Rather than encourage behavioral change, most people have come to obstinately believe in the capacity of technology to resolve a 50 years’ worth of waste accumulation. So we turn a blind eye to the systemic nature of the problem while praising companies that legitimize themselves by financing the Ocean Cleanup. Technology should be complementary to behavioral education, not merely substitutive, and there is an opportunity to revisit the mechanisms behind impact investing to ensure the right allocation of “money for impact”.


Today, there is an urgency to change our ways of dealing with plastic waste. The current challenge is not how to clean our oceans but how to reduce the amount of plastic that enters our ocean.


Join our movement to take on this challenge with us!



Supported by:

Alix Burgun, Casa Congo - Sustainable Policy 

Luca Marsaglia, Casa Congo - Co Founder

Paul Watson, NGO Sea Shepherd - Founder 

Nick Mallos, Ocean Conservancy - Director Trash Free Seas Program

Marine Conservation Society 

Bruno Dumontet, Expeditions MED - Chef d’Expédition

Jeff Ghiglione, CNRS - Research Director in Ecotoxicology 

Patrick Deixonne, Expédition 7e continent - Founder  

Jan Andries van Franeker, marine biologist 

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