The Ocean Clean-Up- The Largest Clean-Up In History
In 2011, at the age of 16, during highschool holidays, Boyan Slat was scuba diving in Greece and was astounded by the amount of plastic in the sea. After digging deeper into the plastic pollution problem, he discovered that there were no serious attempts to fight this issue. The general belief was that the existing situation is unsolvable, and the efforts were put into education, preventing, and not making the problem worse.
But, the thought of cleaning the ocean stuck with Boyan, and he devoted his high school science project to understanding the problem and researching why a clean up was considered impossible.
“When talking about environmental issues in general, a common response is, well that’s a long way off, that’s for our children to worry about.
Hello, here I am.”
There are five major plastic accumulation zones known as garbage patches, or gyres, where ocean currents converge. The largest among them is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or North Pacific Gyre, discovered in 1987. The vast majority of plastic waste accumulated in these patches will resolve into tiny particles over decades, which will then be impossible to clean up and will end up eaten by fish and birds. Studies show that plastic has become a part of a food chain in the biggest habitat on the planet, the oceans.
After a year of experimenting, Boyan came up with the idea to develop a passive concentration system. His idea was to employ the ocean currents as the driving force behind concentrating and catching the plastic. Instead of going after the plastic, we could make plastic to come to us.
Slat’s proposed solution consisted of 100 km of static floating filters, which act as a barrier to collect waste where the collection process is driven only by natural forces, wind and currents. All the previous solutions involved vessels and nets, which are uneconomical and environmentally unsafe in the long run. He estimated that Ocean Clean up would be 33 times less expensive than standard cleanup methods, and 7,900 times faster. Full-scale deployment would remove 50% of the North Pacific gyre debris in 5 years.
The Ted Talk
After graduating high school, he was invited to present his initial idea at a TEDx conference in 2012.
At first, it seemed that the idea went unnoticed. At the time, Boyan had just started studying Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft, continuing to work on his project alongside. Then in March 2013, his TEDx talk and the idea went viral. In a couple of days, the idea raised enough funds to allow The Ocean Cleanup to recruit an initial team- and The Ocean Cleanup project took off.
In 2014, Boyan founded the crowdfunding campaign, and with the support of over 38,000 funders from 160 countries, The Ocean Clean Up raised over 2 million USD in 100 days. This money allowed for commencing the engineering process as well as a series of expeditions.
Another important milestone in 2014, was introducing the Feasibility Study– the 528-page study, which took a voluntary team of up to 100 scientists and engineers one year to complete.
The feasibility study examined the physical properties of plastic pollution; technical feasibility in terms of fluid dynamics, structural engineering and operations; and described the preliminary testing that had been performed. The research indicated that The Ocean Cleanup Array is a feasible and viable method to remove large amounts of plastic pollution from the major accumulation zone in the north Pacific sub-tropical gyre, commonly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
In 2015, HM King Harald of Norway awarded Boyan the maritime industry’s Young Entrepreneur Award. Foreign Policy included Boyan in their 2015 list of Global Thinkers, Forbes included him in their 30 under 30 edition in 2016, and Reader’s Digest chose him as the European of the Year in 2017. Boyan is a member of the Thiel Fellowship.
The Ocean Cleanup has been recognized as one of the Designs of the Year by the London Design Museum, is the recipient of the 2015 INDEX: Award, won Fast Company’s 2015 Innovation by Design award, and has been chosen by TIME magazine as one of the 25 best inventions of 2015.
In May 2017, The Ocean CleanUp revealed an improvement in their design that will enable the largest clean up in history to start extracting the plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch within the year, two years ahead of plan. The first cleanup system will be deployed mid-2018, after which the process will be monitored and accessed.
Please visit https://www.theoceancleanup.com to discover more about this incredible initiative, its milestones, and progress.