Young people today, also known as the millennial generation or generation Y, are making waves (no pun intended, ok maybe a little) with new ideas that are meant to make the world a better place. They are in it for social capital, not financial capital. This is a game-changer mentality and is well needed. The World’s ocean, which covers half Earth’s surface, is one of humanity’s greatest resources providing billions of humans around the world with food, transport, production of oxygen and at the same time absorbs carbon dioxide emissions. The survival of all life on Earth depends on a healthy ocean and today it’s unfortunately in dramatic decline. Habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, over-fishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification are pushing the ocean system to the point of collapse.
In comes, 19 year old Boyan Slat, a motivated millennial who loves diving and is on a mission to do what was said to be impossible, possible. He’s plans on cleaning the ocean of a significant amount of plastic debris. Boyan, was diving in Greece and grew frustrated when he found that there were more plastic bags in the ocean then fish. If you haven’t noticed, a lot of the “things” around you are made with or from plastic, a product that does not biodegrade (return to nature). According to the UN, “of the 300 million tons of plastic produced in the world each year about 6 million tons end up in the oceans.” Americans throw away approximately 35 billion plastic bottles per year. People have been convinced by smart marketing that drinking water from a plastic bottle is better than tap or filtered water. Something that’s not true by any means.
Boyan was inspired to clean up the mess we all made. Since the age of 16, he has dedicated his life to this mission, researching plastic pollution and the problems linked to cleaning it up. In 2012, he presented at TEDxDelft. You can watch that presentation by clicking here.
This idea is like no other cleanup idea. Rather than seeing the ocean currents as a challenge as others have, their method leverages the natural ocean currents and winds to effortlessly move garbage towards a collection platform. Solid floating barriers are then used to catch and concentrate the trash from the ocean. There is no risk of wildlife entanglement which is a problem with other techniques such as nets.
Like every new idea, he has faced much criticism from people telling him it’s not a feasible solution or that you can’t clean up the ocean you must teach prevention. Well, as he makes clear, everything is impossible until it’s done. Clearly, prevention is a priority but that does not mean we should not address the fact that our oceans our filled with a catastrophic amount of plastic, primarily collected in the 5 gyres. If you’re not familiar, the 5 gyres are vortexes in the ocean due to the currents. Those currents pull the plastic particles into a collection, some such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being roughly the size of Texas.
There are a number of negative impacts to be concerned about. It directly kills sea-life but also chemical pollutants such as PCB and DDTs it poisons the food chain. Aside from birds, fish, turtles and all the smaller marine life, even the big guys are impacted. In 2013, a sperm whale was found stranded in the Netherlands. A rescue was attempted but the whale died and what they found was a stomach full of plastic. This whale had swallowed 59 different plastic items totaling over 37 pounds. This is a growing phenomenon according to researchers at the Biodiversity Centre Naturalis.
Boyan and team set out for a very intense feasibility study which ended up being over 500 pages in length. You can read it here. Cutting to the change, it was scientifically proven that his concept is feasible! In 2012, The Ocean Cleanup Array has been awarded Best Technical Design at the Delft University of Technology, and became second at the iSea sustainable innovation award by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. According to his website, “Boyan has been recognized as one of the 20 most promising young entrepreneurs worldwide (Intel EYE50).”
You can watch this great video where Boyan presents the feasibility study results and answers questions from the audience. Click here to watch now.
Cleaning the ocean with a project like this is not cheap. This is for all of our well-being, so let’s have money get in the way. PLEASE join the world in supporting this project to help save our precious oceans!
THE OCEAN CLEANUP – What We Do