Boyan Slat, 21, the Dutch entrepreneur who founded the non-profit foundation The Ocean Cleanup when he was just a teenager, has once again made world headlines with the launch of the prototype boom capable of cleaning vast tracts of plastic from our oceans.
Many renowned experts today give the major environmental problems of our time much lip service, like this inconceivably enormous matter of gigantic plastic gyres floating in the ocean. But this young man has put 100% of his efforts into building and testing a viable solution to clean the oceans of plastic. And all the while his critics circle. Believe me there are so many he had to keep them at bay with a 530 page feasibility report. So much pressure at such a young age. This must be the ‘Dutch courage’ I keep hearing about.
You’ve all probably heard of this ‘plastic soup’ and its ever growing threat of invading the food chain via the fish that eat it. According to The Ocean Cleanup project, 8 million tonnes of plastics enter the oceans every year, much of which has accumulated in five giant garbage patches with the largest in the Pacific between California and Hawaii.
Bring forth this wonder of technology
It was an ambitious project to begin with. The goal was to build floating barriers to collect and extract marine plastic from the ocean. The Ocean Cleanup claimed that a 100 kilometre boom could remove more than 40% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in ten years.
History was made this week, on June 27, when that prototype was finally cast off into the North Sea. Its progress will be monitored by sensors for the next year. The undertaking has the full backing of the Dutch government and marine contractor Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V. So they’re not playing around.
The rubber barrier floats trash into a V-shaped cone using the ocean’s natural currents. It’s anchored at a depth of up to 4.5 kilometers by a cable sub-system. It traps the rubbish so it can be collected regularly by boats.
Following years of computer modelling and successful simulations The Ocean Cleanup crew say they’re ready to test their technology in real ocean conditions. The aim is to monitor how the barrier will hold up in rough ocean currents and gale force winds so that the full-size device can be built to endure challenging conditions and still effectively collect trash in a larger area.
The Ocean Cleanup to change the course of history
Boyan was still at highschool when he first conceived of his masterplan to rid the world’s oceans of plastic and now he is on the brink of seeing it come to fruition. To think he drew his initial ideas on a napkin. Today he holds the title of the youngest winner of the Champion of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honour. A fair acknowledgment given he quit his studies in aeronautical engineering to pursue this project.
If all goes according to plan an operational pilot system will be launched off Japan’s coast next year to stop plastic pollution from reaching Tsushima Island. The Ocean Cleanup aims to deploy a full-scale, 100-kilometer-long system between Hawaii and California to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by 2020.
This is shaping up to be the “world’s first feasible concept to clean the oceans of plastic,” as the team puts it. And they would know. They’ve seen successful tests of scaled-down prototypes at the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands. Fingers crossed that this becomes another fortified Dutch success.