A 20-year-old Dutchman has developed a system to clean up the estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic that litter the world’s oceans.
Boyan Slat, founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, said his company will undertake the largest ocean cleanup in the world’s history when his system, the Ocean Cleanup Array, is deployed to its first site in 2016.
It had always been assumed that cleaning the oceans was impossible, due to the vastness of the areas in which plastic is concentrated. Using vessels and nets to collect the plastic from one garbage patch would take about 79,000 years and tens of billions of dollars. Besides, such an operation would cause significant harm to sea life and generate huge amounts of CO2 and other emissions.
A team of 100 volunteer scientists and engineers worked to design and develop the system, which uses long floating barriers attached to the seabed. The system relies on wind and the ocean’s currents to passively gather the plastic.
Slat said he first realized the extent of the plastic pollution problem while diving in Greece, where he discovered more plastic than fish. “Unfortunately, the plastic does not go away by itself. I wondered, why can’t we clean this up?” he said.
The young inventor estimates using the system for 10 years will remove nearly half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive collection of debris in the North Pacific Ocean.
The company is eyeing an area off the coast of Japan for the first cleanup.
“Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today,” Slat said in a blog post on the company’s website. “Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time.”
This story, "The crazy, bold ocean cleanup plan that Just. Might. Work." was originally published by Fritterati.