There are many people all over the world making significant contributions toward helping to preserve our environment. Choosing the one most deserving of recognition is very difficult indeed. However, last fall I read about a student in the Netherlands that has come up with what seems to be a feasible and viable method for clearing much of the over 30 million tons of plastic and other debris that finds its way to our oceans every year. That student is 19 year old Dutch student/ inventor, Boyen Slat, now founder and CEO of The OCEANCLEANUP.
Boyen Slat had always enjoyed working out solutions to puzzles, and while pondering this one, it came to him – rather than chase plastic, why not harness the currents and wait for it to come to you?
At school, Slat developed his idea further as part of a science project. An array of floating barriers, anchored to the sea bed, would first catch and concentrate the floating debris. The plastic would move along the barriers towards a platform, where it could then be efficiently extracted. The ocean current would pass underneath the barriers, taking all buoyant sea life with it. There would be no emissions, and no nets for marine life to get entangled in. The collected ocean plastic would be recycled and made into products – or oil.
The high school science project was awarded Best Technical Design at Delft University of Technology. For most teenagers, it would probably have ended there, but Slat was different. He set up a foundation, The Ocean Cleanup, and explained his concept in a TedX Talk: How the Oceans can Clean Themselves. Then, six months into his course, he made the decision to pause both university and social life to try make it a reality.
On 26 March 2013, months after it had gone online, Slat’s TedX talk went viral. “It was unbelievable,” he says. “Suddenly we got hundreds of thousands of people clicking on our site every day. I received about 1,500 emails per day in my personal mailbox from people volunteering to help.” He set up a crowd-funding platform that made $80,000 in 15 days. Read the entire BBC News Magazine article.
According to Bloomberg Business Week , in June of 2014, Slat, together with a team of about 70 scientists and engineers, released a 530-page feasibility study (pdf) that explains the technology and explores questions of legality, costs, environmental impact, and potential pitfalls. The Ocean Cleanup also kicked off a campaign to raise $2 million to construct and test large-scale pilots.
On September 15, 2014, Slat’s team announced that the funding goal had been achieved in 100 days, with support from more than 38,000 donors in 160 countries. They expect the first pilot to be deployed within a year, and they plan to have a fully operational offshore cleanup array in three years.
(c) 2015 Jerry Verlinger – reprinted with permission.