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A Plastic Pollution Solution: The Ocean Cleanup Story

Posted by cfeehan on August 19, 2015

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Most 21-year-olds’ biggest concerns include deciding when they’re going to schedule a second nap into their day, which Instagram filter makes them look best, or, if they’re one of the good ones, getting an essay handed in on time. But Boyan Slat, Dutch inventor and environmentalist of the same age, has much more important things to worry about.

He was interested in the environment from a young age, and after a brief stint in university, he took a break to pursue an invention designed to rid the ocean of plastic waste, as plastic ocean pollution causes the world many problems. He founded The Ocean Cleanup in 2013 and raised $80,000 in crowdfunding money in only 15 days, which is when he discovered that other people believed in his project as much as he did. 

His idea was to use long, stationary, floating barriers along with the natural movement of the ocean currents, called gyres, to passively collect the plastic. Why go to the debris if it could more easily come to you?

He did extensive research after designing his barrier and found that most plastics can be found within the top 3 meters of ocean water, which meant that his design was practical. The carbon footprint would be low, the barrier would be resilient in up to 95% of weather conditions and adaptable in the other 5% and no nets would be used, so sea life entanglement would be nearly impossible.

Boyan and his team collected half a ton of plastic from the Hawaiian shoreline and found that the discarded plastic could be turned into oil, and was just as suitable as normal waste plastic. He learned that a single, 100 km array deployed for 10 years would remove 42% of the plastic in the North Pacific garbage patch. The cost to remove the plastic would work out to be around $6 per kilo, which is 33 times cheaper than conventional methods. So Boyan started up a second crowdfunding campaign in order to conduct more research, this time to raise $2 million, and his goal was met in 100 days with funding from over 38,000 funders from 160 countries. That’s a lot of support.

Now, some of this money is being put into action; on July 23rd, 2015, a monumental step in his plan was executed. The 171 ft research vessel ‘’Ocean Starr’’ departed from San Francisco, marking the official start of what Boyan and his team call the “Mega Expedition”. It will be the largest research expedition in history, in which up to 50 vessels will collect more plastic measurements in three weeks than have been collected in the past 40 years combined. These vessels will cover a 3,500,000 km2 area between Hawaii and California, creating the first high- resolution map of plastic in the Pacific Ocean. You can even go online and track the expedition live here!

Boyan Slat has been recognized as one of the 20 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs Worldwide and was crowned 2014 Champion of the Earth, the United Nations' highest environmental accolade. In 2015, HM King Harald of Norway awarded Boyan the maritime industry's Young Entrepreneur Award. I once got a participation ribbon in soccer…that’s still pretty good, right? Man, this guy is a superstar.

Make sure to keep up with the Boyan and his team by following The Ocean Cleanup on Twitter or Facebook – this is one story you won’t want to miss. 

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.