Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include information about The Ocean Cleanup’s post-collection stage.
When the original Ocean Cleanup Array plan was presented over a year ago, it was immediately met with a significant amount of skepticism. However, a new year-long feasibility study has confirmed teenage inventor and conservationist Boyan Slat’s claims. What does this mean? If implemented and executed to specification, we might actually be able to remove up to seven million tons of plastic trash from the world’s oceans.
To remind you what it is all about: a few years back, diving off the coast of Greece, a young Slat grew frustrated that he consistently came across more plastic bags than fish. Still in secondary school, he dedicated half a year of research to understand the the problem. This ultimately led to his passive cleanup plan, which he initially introduced at TEDxDelft 2012.
Basically, instead of chasing the trash around the vast expanse of sea, the forward-thinking teenager suggested we, in turn, use the five rotating currents (or gyres) to our advantage. By employing an array of floating barriers, we’ll catch and concentrate the debris, effectively enabling a much more efficient extraction. And as they are using these solid floating barriers, the lack of nets make entanglement of wildlife nearly impossible. Virtually all of the current flows underneath these booms, taking away all (neutrally buoyant) organisms.
Over the next decade, this would remove almost half the plastic from the North Pacific Garbage patch. It’s also an estimated 7900 times faster and 33 times cheaper than the presently employed “conventional” methods.
In the wake of such massive claims, there followed the expected skepticism. But as stated above, Slat has the answers to the major questions and concerns. As most skepticism was summed up by Inhabit’s Stiv Wilson, Slat used the 5Gyres policy director’s takedown as the comparison point for his response.
To save you a lot of time, the report essentially concludes that the design is indeed sound. In addition, perhaps in a show of conviction, patents have been filed for the boom’s mooring system.
The Ocean Cleanup Array also plans to address preventative measures as well as develop spin-offs for implementation in river deltas and other waterways. And what will he be doing with all the trash? He will be exercising countless recycling efforts, including the conversion of plastic into oil. With a team of about 100 like-minded people, it seems Slat finally has the support to take the project from the idea stage to an actual reality.
“In order to bridge the gap between the outcome of the study and the full implementation of the concept, the execution of a series of up-scaling tests ultimately resulting in a large-scale operational pilot is needed. To minimize costs, The Ocean Cleanup will act as a facilitator for the research, outsourcing most of the fundamental research to institutes and collaborating with offshore and engineering companies to cover most of the costs. Based on this approach, The Ocean Cleanup now seeks 2 million dollars for the execution of this next phase, for which it now has announced a new crowd funding campaign.”