The oceans have become the ultimate garbage disposal to most of the industrialized world. Plastics are a particular point of interest as their lifespan in ocean waters can last centuries before fully breaking down and releasing their toxins into the water. There are countless problems with the number of plastics in the oceans, including marine animal entanglement, ingestion, and poison. This has negative effects on humans too as it affects our already exploited food supply and allows chemicals into our diet. We must realize how important oceans are and how necessary they are to keep clean.
I have been following the story of Boyan Slat for over a year and I am ecstatic to read that as of January 2016, his team is taking the next step in cleaning the oceans. Below is a picture of his device that can do just that and the story that brought his team to this monumental achievement.
At only 19 years old, Boyan Slat of the Netherlands presented his invention, The Ocean Cleanup Array. In June 2014, he provided a 530-page report by 70 authors that demonstrates the feasibility of his project. He created a device that uses long booms equipped to remove up to three meters deep of waste from the ocean surface. The array covers a 100 square kilometer area and can remove trash both in large masses or floating individual pieces. This project started as a high school science fair project and 200 euros of Slat’s own money. It went viral overnight and he received thousands of dollars in donations and hundreds of volunteers. He took a break from university to pursue this full time and complete a one-year trial.
Based on this trial, this invention could remove 7.3 billion tons of garbage from the ocean in ten years – this could remove half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch! However, Slat noted that this number is dependent on us “closing the tap” and keeping trash from reaching the ocean. All of the plastic recovered is being recycled back into oil.
The booms are controlled by the ocean current and the platform that collects and stores the garbage is controlled with solar panels. This leaves virtually no carbon footprint. The device is also environmentally sound as the booms eliminate all bycatch with the exception of a small amount of zooplankton. However, the number of zooplankton killed in a year can be replenished in 7 seconds under natural conditions. Together, these aspects make this design much more environmentally practical then the conventional boat and net waste removal which has a huge bycatch risk and leaves emissions. Also, this method is more financially sound as it costs only $6/kilometer; 33 times cheaper than the conventional methods. Overall, it is more financially plausible than conventional methods because the startup for this project will be only 2 million dollars and ten years; conventional methods will cost billions of dollars and thousands of years at the current rate.
It is exciting to see that one of the Earth’s most prominent environmental issues is being approached in such a positive, feasible manner. This device and the results of the 2016 trial could change our planet for the better. To learn more about this project visit The Ocean Clean Up and watch the video below.