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The Clean Oceans Project; A real solution to ridding the world's oceans of plastic pollution.

The Problem:
As a result of poor or non-existent recycling and waste handling practices, millions of tons of plastic garbage find their way into the marine environment every year, profoundly altering fragile ecosystems and threatening humans at the top of the food chain. Marine mammals, birds, and fish die from ingesting or becoming entangled in this carelessly discarded trash. Plastic pollution also damages coral reefs, litters beaches, discourages tourism, poses a navigational hazard to ships, and destroys fisheries.

The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) is a slow moving spiral of ocean currents where millions of tons of floating plastic pieces of every size, shape, and color tend to congregate. The sheer size and remoteness of the affected areas coupled with the financial and technical challenges of operating in a deep-sea environment have thus far stymied remediation efforts. This problem is not isolated to the Pacific; gyres containing massive amounts of plastic trash have been discovered in each of the five major oceans of the world.

The Solution
TCOP has developed a targeted, multi-phase approach to achieving our goal of locating, removing, and processing ocean borne plastics into fuel. The process utilizes commercially available technology but is unique in its application, and is patent-pending. Remote sensing technology will be used to locate debris field concentrations, while collection systems developed by the oil spill response industry will harvest the debris without trapping or injuring marine animals. Our uunique plastic-to-fuel technology will then generate diesel fuel from the harvested debris to power our vessels.

Learn More at

Learn more at YouTube:

  • Jan 1 2012: Perhaps I'm missing something, but are you suggesting that you want to take stable carbon out of the oceans and then burn it?

    I'm against oceanic pollution as much as the next guy, I just want to make sure that pumping it into the air is really any better.
    • Jan 2 2012: Hi and thanks for your post. The way that the plastic is converted into fuel is environmentally sustainable. That is what makes this project so exciting. Until now, implementing a process to remove marine plastic debris without causing more harm than good, had not been created. One of the most unique aspects of TCOP is that we have devised a method for removing marine plastic from the gyres and converting iit nto fuel to power our project - all without hurting marine life and our planet. Off gas is decomposed in an onboard catalytic system into a smal amount of C02 snd water = ultra clean emissions.

      Learn more at YouTube:
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        Jan 2 2012: Thanks you for sharing the video! (see my edit below)

        It would help if you upload the link together with the topic at the top, so when the conversation pushes this section to the bottom, people can still see this resource at the top :-)

        I am very interested in the idea, and will look online as well. The concept is very promising, and if it works, the team behind the project should get a hmm, Nobel prize for environment restoration (we can start a new category, can't we?)
        • Jan 2 2012: Thanks Karina. We at TCOP understand your passion for the ocean! We share that in common and spent more than three years doing the research necessary to approach this huge problem while protecting the integrity of our oceans and all who live there. I added the link to Nick Drobac's interview at the top. Thanks also for keeping your mind open and for the edit.
      • Jan 3 2012: Thanks for the video, the boat being as much solar and wind powered as possible was the key I didn't know. Yes the carbon in the plastic ultimately gets burned and thus turned into CO2, but it's minimally burned by the collection process, so it's mostly not a new exhaust source and thus it's pretty clearly a net win. Cool!
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    Dec 22 2011: Lets be honest, where are we supposed to put all of our waste and shit? On land? Of course not, pour that shit into the oceans, let the fishies filter it out with their gills and what not. Am I right or am I right?
    • Dec 29 2011: You are right. :(
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      Jan 2 2012: You are kidding, right???

      Plastics are proven to cause cancer, asthma, brain damage, immune system disruptions. They take 500 years to degrade (decompose) and during all that time they continue to cause these problems. But above all, they interfere with hormones, causing miscarriages, infertility and affecting general human behavior. There is no such a thing as safe plastics, as anything from PVC to "food-safe" PET has been found to release harmful molecules.

      In the ocean, the small pieces of plastic float on the surface where fish mistake them for plankton and eat them. In many cases, they perforate their stomach. In the rest we see that it affects their reproduction. We pay more for wild caught fish thinking it is healthy, but we are overdosing on estrogen (look into xenohormone, a plastic hormone almost identical to human hormone)

      For starters, I'd suggest you look at the documentary Plastic Planet (not the most professional out there, but will show you solid facts across the board, available in Netfli )
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    Dec 15 2011: Zelda,

    Thank you for bringing this to TED Conversations. I am just begnning to explore your wonderful website which is a wealth of information on the plastic problem and how it ties into the oil problem. Hope all Tedstsers will thoroughly peruse your site. here is a great link from it that provides an excellent overview of the plastics problem

    I know that you agree that our immediate action, as stewards for the earth and stewards for one another, must be to end our production of vvirgin plastic. I know you wouldn't want togive consumers the wrong idea that being able to create diesel fuel or any other reuses of the existing billions of tons of plastic makes it ok to use plastics of any kind. Work like yours that might totally rid all existing plastics in a one time contiual burn until its gone from our lives forever is important to getting rid of all existing plastic now on earth.

    I have a million questions most of which I am sure are answered at our web site and will look there is your process of conversion "atmosphere safe"? Can you use all types of plastic and if not what will happen to what's left over from the ocean gyres? I know no one has an estimate of the size of the gyres, how much plastic is ther but do you have a "working idea" of what the end cost of your diesel fuel would be? Is it market competitive with present (projected) diesel fuel costs? How may gallons a year can you produce in your start up? Will you be able to include the vast atlantic ocean gyro in your start up plan?

    The work as you describe it is a global work that we should all be supporting. What funding if any is being provided by governments around the world? I think every government bordering the atlantic or pacific oceans should contribute a share of the government fees and revenues from oil to your project and that perhaps there should be a heavy plastics tax .
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    Dec 15 2011: TCOP deserves our commendation for its innovative approach. The new plastic-to-fuel converter seems to hold promise as a game-changer also in land-based recycling projects. But while this ocean clean-up gets going, an equally important corollary is to remove plastics from waste streams. Funding and building plastic recycling plants in poorer countries is a concrete measure that donor countries should consider, and we need to wean people everywhere off their idiotic love affair with the disposable one-liter water bottle. These have become the scourge of waste management.

    As a Navy carrier pilot some years ago I spent a lot of time flying over the oceans. The ocean is criss-crossed by defined sea lanes, much like highways on land, which the ships follow. It's remarkable how you can identify the sea lanes from the air by the floating trash that stays there for a long time. It's illegal, under maritime conventions, to dump floatable trash from ships, but it's routinely done anyway. This input of pollutants also needs to be mitigated, partly through training of ships' captains and officers, partly through tracing of trash and enforcement against guilty shipping firms.
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      Dec 15 2011: Paul,Thanks for referring to the visual image of the astoninhsing vast plastics gyro..and mostly...bottled water containers.The Atalantic alaso has a vast gyro of plastic and I hope it will be included in any clean up.

      People globally can show their good regard for the ocean, stewardship for the worlds fragile fresh water supplies and wean us off oil by giving up bottled water. Every purchase of bottled water feeds the tapeworm of global exploitation and degradation of the eraths oceans and its water. We can end our reliance on oil by boycotting all synthetic fabircs, yes that includes our beloved polartec, another major use of plastics and ultimately oil.

      .Plastics are a major user of oil. Only a small fraction of plastics are recucled and recyling in general is not an atmosphere friendly process.

      All of us who say we care about oceans, atmopshere and want renwable ebergy have to immediately start living a plastic free life.To me, exploring ways to use plastic only feeds the oil monster. It's a technology that furthers dependence on oil. Furthers degradation of the earths atmosphere As Bucky Fuller would say such technology is "obnoxico" doesn't serve life, it doesn't serve earth, it's not about stewardship for spaceship earth.We should be driving towards technologies that help us become oil free in 20 years. That is what a few of us call "wholistica" that emanates from a sustaianable thriveable economy, an economy based on balanve and not endless growth.I am all for a global effort to remove all these plastics from the gyre and I am all for productive and safe reuse of all plastics we have generated as waste . But the goal should be to end all use and manufacture of plastics and we can start that now by boycotting all plastics.
  • Dec 11 2011: Check out this video clip about The Clean Oceans Project on ABC TV in SF. Then go vote for us at Ocean Elders. Thanks for all your interest and the conversation.§ion
    • Dec 11 2011: Can this process convert any plastic to oil? I mean, not all plastics are recycable, but are all plastics convertable to oil?
      And in the video it mentioned that the large version will cost 275000 dollars, but they want to build a solar powered boat to carry it. Would the boat not cost millions in comparison?
      I mean, it could be out in operation already if one would install it on an existing boat, no? (a lot less funding required, which takes time)
  • Dec 8 2011: As Executive Director of The Clean Oceans Project, I want to thank you all for your interest in our work and for your kind words of encouragement. We have worked tirelessly for the last three years to create what we and many others believe is the only viable solution to at-sea detection and remediation of ocean borne plastic pollution. We are hopeful that someone who reads this post and who might be in a position to assist us in securing the necessary funding to launch our program, will reach out to us through our web site -
    Thank you!
  • Dec 6 2011: You can help! One way to help us with our project is to go to the Ocean Elders website and vote for us. We hope to spread the word that removing plastic from our oceans is not only possible, but environmentally sustainable.

    And learn more at YouTube:
  • Feb 2 2012:

    Great, well written article on The Clean Oceans Project from Actuality Media!
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    Jan 2 2012: I'd like to hear more of what your group is doing. It sounds like a good, ambitious goal, but aren't you producing a fuel that will give off gases?

    Isn't this yet one more plastic companies' strategy to stay in the game?

    Isn't your group missing the point?

    The big discovery that has been done in the recent BP oil spill was that the bacteria used actually made all the hydrocarbons disappear. Period. What the assessing research team found after a relative short time (post cap) was surprisingly not a morgue but a normal ecosystem with no traces of hydrocarbons. That is innovation, and that's elimination. What you are proposing is corporations moving now from land to all our open waters to further they mess.My humble opinion.

    [EDIT: the video quoted below explains the process, it actually looks like a green project with a lot of future. No plastic corporations in sight but very sound proposition. I could have deleted this, but I believe in staying in the game. Instead, sometimes one has to "recycle" one's words, apologies if I sounded a bit like mother nature jumping up to defend her pup ocean, sometimes I feel like I am...]
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    Dec 20 2011: I think that it is so important to apply efforts to curtain what will likely become a global catastrophe if it is allowed to go unchecked. Question: Is there anything that me as a layman can do to help the project along on my end? Great work.
    • Dec 22 2011: Hi DeMar,
      I'm the ED for TCOP...thanks for your comments. There are always things that folks can do to support our work! For starters, take your reusable bags to the store, your coffee mug to Peet's or Starbucks, and fill your water bottle at home! Next, refuse the drinking straws when you dine out, and ask your server to pack your leftovers in paper not plastic containers. And if you're feeling generous, you and your friends can make your year-end, tax-deductible donations to our project (we are a non-profit and depend on support from the community to keep our doors open and our lights on!). Visit our website at and hit the 'Donate Now' button, then 'like' us on Facebook at so we can keep you up to date with your progress. Happy Holidays and thanks for caring about our oceans!
  • Dec 20 2011: Thank you Nikolas. I love that you are part of our family of critical thinkers concerned with global issues and wanting to leave the world better than we found it.
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    Dec 20 2011: Sounds great. Hope you make it. Thumbs up :)
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    Dec 15 2011: Zelda and allhere and to join ( I hope)

    Here is a link to information about the Blest machine you will be using in your


    I guess your project encvisions a larger prototype or perhaps an tire vessle at sea stationed near the gyro and doing the conversion of plastic to diesel? In the same way that we have a global space station funded and maintained globally, it would be graet to have a global ocrean international joint venture to fund such a vessel.

    Issee that both your idea and the Blest Technology itself are very much in the eraly stages of development and that most the questions I posted elsewhere here are way too early.

    I love the possibility that the blest system is so portable and relatively inexpensive as a table top model , about $8k. I am wondering if at that price even small towns could afford a blest and make money on the resale of the diesel. I think I may follow up with Blest on that one through their american partner/representative..
  • Dec 9 2011: Thanks for the question. TCOP's methodology can be used to capture any plastic that floats.
  • Dec 9 2011: Could this same principle be used to filter microplastic from the ocean?
    • Dec 13 2011: Hello Aindreas,
      I'm the ED for TCOP and was forwarded your inquiry. If you're in the US, could you call our office and we would be happy to answer your questions. If not in the US, email me directly from our site and I'll do my best to provide you with the information you're looking for. Contact info can be found at I would suggest NOT using Internet Explorer at the moment...we're having technical issues with them and our site is showing up jumbled.
      Nick Drobac
  • Dec 5 2011: Thank you Clean Oceans Project! Amazing idea.
  • Dec 5 2011: I just checked out your website. WOW! It's excellent. You provide great information about the Clean Oceans Project and the gyres. Will your technology be able to capture really small pieces of plastic?
  • Dec 5 2011: This is an idea that could truly change the world. If value can be attributed to plastic waste, all of a sudden it won't be getting discarded anymore...
  • Dec 5 2011: This is brilliant! Thank you Clean Oceans Project!!!
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    Dec 5 2011: Because I have studied and researched this area, The Clean Oceans Project (TCOP) is by far a worthwhile endeavor. Not only will this project clean up the oceanic environment, but also TCOP provides monetary and real world solutions to developing and developed countries. Plastic to Fuel? Brilliant!
  • Dec 5 2011: Plastic trash used to power the clean-up! Amazing idea!!!
  • Dec 4 2011: Finally, a practical economic solution for cleaning up our precious oceans.