By Elton Gomes
Boyan Slat, a 23-year-old Dutch inventor wants the ocean to clean itself up. Even though Slat’s idea might seem utopian, he has an ingenious solution to literally capture waste from oceans around the world. Slat attempts to capture ocean waste by placing huge floating barriers (called gyres), in seas around the globe.
Slat presented this idea six years ago, while delivering a TED Talk. Slat, then an 18-year-old, had learned that getting rid of tiny plastic particles in oceans could take up to 80,000 years. There were two reasons for this: because of the volume of plastic spread across the ocean, and because the plastic is moving along with currents, chasing it with nets would prove to be ineffective.
However, the moving currents was Slat’s eureka moment. Slat claimed that with a barrier in water, moving plastic could be collected in an efficient manner, and it could then be pulled out of the water and recycled.
Slat’s plan involved the use of big, v-shaped buffers that are anchored by floating booms. The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit founded by Slat, claimed that the current will flow underneath these booms, which means that the booms will not obstruct animal movement but will trap plastic and other waste particles. All trapped waste will concentrate at the water’s surface along the barriers where it can be gathered and disposed off easily.
Here’s what happened
In 2011, while diving in Greece, Slat saw that plastic particles outnumbered the fish in the ocean. That was when he decided to spend his entire life attempting to clean the ocean, and even gave up his studies for the cause.
After dropping out of college, Slat founded a nonprofit, The Ocean Cleanup, in 2013. The organisation was able to raise $2.2 million through a crowdfunding campaign. What is more, other investors showed interest and contributed millions to fund research and development.
The Ocean Cleanup claims that it successfully recovers 5,000 kilograms of plastic per month. If an entire fleet of systems is employed, the organisation believes it can collect half of around 40,000 metric tonnes of plastic garbage within five years.
In 2015, Gizmodo reported that the ocean-cleaning system would be deployed in 2016. It was reported that the system would be located near the Japanese island of Tsushima. More recently, it was reported that the technology would be tested in the San Francisco Bay, along the coast of the Farallon Islands.
Why is this important?
The Independent recently reported about a plastic bag that had found its way to the deepest point in the ocean. Along with the plastic bag, thousands of other pieces of plastic were also found. Although plastic is a useful material for daily use, it is primarily made for single use. Approximately 50% of plastic is used only once and discarded. Besides being harmful to the ocean, plastic can be swallowed up by ocean animals, and this can severely impact marine ecosystems.
By using a tailor-made net that entraps only plastic, Boyan Slat’s plan will be of significant help to marine animals. The project’s success would be unprecedented, if it meets the proposed deadlines to fish out plastic from the sea. Most importantly, Slat’s plan is low on cost, uses recyclable material, and depends on the ocean currents—this makes it the cleanest way to get rid of ocean waste.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.
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