In 2012, 17-year-old Boyan Slat proposed an ambitious plan to clean the oceans from plastic pollution. While diving in Greece, he came across more plastic bags and human trash than any other thing. “Why can’t we clean this up?” he wondered to himself. After extensive research, he created a system which uses the sea’s natural currents and winds to remove the tons of plastic which pollute our waters and kill an unimaginable amount of marine creatures and birds each year.
It’s not new news that human-created garbage is one of the greatest environmental challenges of our times. What we see contaminating beaches or floating on the ocean’s surface is just the tip of the iceberg. Much more lies unseen beneath the surface and in the open ocean. A great variety of species, from birds to big mammals, are being threatened by this debris, which they consume while feeding and consequently die because they are not able to digest it. Human action is imperative in this matter if we want to preserve these species and restore balance in marine life.
The Ocean Cleanup proposes attaching an array of floating barriers to the sea bed. By using the ocean’s natural currents, these would passively capture drifting plastic. Boyan, recognized as one of the 20 most promising young entrepreneurs worldwide (Intel EYE50), said at a TEDx conference in 2012: “I wondered, ‘why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you? By attaching a system of long floating arms to the seabed, the oceans could basically clean themselves.'” By using solid barriers, instead of nets and vessels, the system seeks to avoid capturing sea life. The lighter-than-water plastic collects in front of the floating barrier. With high projected capture and efficiency, Boyan’s team estimates that within ten years half of the plastic within the Great Pacific Patch could be removed.
In June 2014, after more than a year of further scientific research, The Ocean Cleanup released a 530-page feasibility report which addressed the viability of the method. The next step involves building and testing large-scale operational pilots, which will be initiated when the 2 million dollars needed for the execution are reached through a crowd-funding campaign.
Now 19-years-old, Boyan Slat emphasizes: “Although a cleanup will have a profound effect, it is just part of the solution. We also need to close the tap to prevent any more plastic from reaching the oceans in the first place.”
For more information on the Ocean Cleanup click here.