Clear your mind. Wipe it so clean that all you see is an expanse of nothingness. There is only you. Now imagine blue. Place yourself in an ocean so big that you can see through the water for miles. You’re floating along the waves, as peaceful as you’ve ever been. As you’re floating along, you spot tiny fish. So tiny, that you almost miss them. Your eyes follow them, where you find a growth of a coral reef. The colors are mesmerizing. You see oranges, yellows and reds. You glance over and find anemones. They’re inhabited by clownfish, who are swimming in and out, scavenging. As you look, the reef grows. There are blue spine, giant clams, shrimps, eels and even reef sharks. You’re suddenly surrounded by so much life, life you didn’t even know was there. You’re in such shock at the beauty, that when you start to see small pieces of trash, it doesn’t register to you that this world under the waves could possibly be compromised by the outside world. But it does.
About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year, and at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are currently in the oceans. This plastic pollution does damage to the environment, economy and health to marine and human life. At least one million seabirds and one-hundred thousand marine mammals die each year due to plastic pollution. The survival of at least 100+ species could be jeopardized by plastic debris.
Globally, plastic pollution causes at least $13 billion each year to industries that include fishing, shipping, tourism and the cleaning of coastlines. The U.S. West Coast spends approximately $500 million each year to clean up their beaches. The cost of removing debris from beaches is on average $1,500, and up to $25,000 per ton.
Toxic chemicals (including PCBs and DDTs) are absorbed by the plastic, increasing the concentration a million times. Health effects linked to these chemicals are: cancer, malformation and impaired reproductive ability.
The Hope & Technology
Boyan Slat (1994), unveiled a plan to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,200,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. Slat’s device consists of floating booms (a temporary floating barrier used to contain an oil spill) and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. The idea of the Ocean Cleanup is for it to act as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where the plastic would separate from fish, and where it will be filtered and stored for recycling.
How He Got Started
After a frustrating dive in Greece, Boyan thought of a way to clean up the plastic that was undoubtedly overpopulating the fish. This ultimately led to the passive cleanup concept, which he presented in 2012. Instead of physically going after the plastic, Boyan devised a system through which, driven by the ocean currents, the plastic would concentrate itself, reducing the theoretical cleanup time from millenia to mere years.
In June of 2014, having lead an international team of 100 scientists and engineers for a year, the concept turned out to be likely a technically feasible and financially viable method to clean up half the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years’ time.
Boyan Slat combines technology and entrepreneurship to tackle global issues of sustainability. He serves as the founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup, through which he oversees strategy and technology development. Slat has been recognized as one of the 20 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs Worldwide and is a laureate of the 2014 United Nations Champions of the Earth Award, the organization’s highest environmental accolade.