Cleaning the ocean of plastic in 5 years

19 year old Boyan Slat may have developed a plan to clean the world’s oceans of plastic in just 5 years – with profit.

No one knows exactly how much plastic that floats around in the ocean, but it’s a lot. And it is a huge problem, causing damage to both ships, and of course the marine life. Part of the problem is also that the plastic is not static, it moves around, and gathers in so-called gyres.

The traditional way for removing plastic is by attaching a giant mesh to a ship. The problem with using a mesh is that it results in a lot of by-catch due to the varying size of debris, plus it takes time and would generate a lot of emissions.

Instead, Boyan Slat and The Ocean Cleanup Foundation are working on a more elegant solution. They suggest using floating booms instead of nets, able to cover a much larger area. These giant booms will float around at low speed – following the ocean currents exactly like the plastic itself. What makes the idea so brilliant, is that virtually no piece of plastic is too small to be gathered by the booms, and due to the low speed, it is very unlikely that the vessel will cause any damage to planktonic species.

And unlike ships using a mesh, the booms will generate no emissions, as they are solar and hydro power based. Slat and his colleagues have estimated the surface-floating plastic in the ocean to be about 7.25 million tons, and all this, he says, can be cleaned up in only 5 years by using 5 vessels.

And best of all: the plan costs less to execute than the income they are likely to receive only by recycling the plastic. “In other words, it’s profitable”, he says.

Though the solution has yet to be tested before we know whether it’s feasible, the Ocean Cleanup Foundation is optimistic. They are currently working on a feasibility study to be published within the coming months, and at the same time expanding their staff.

What do you think, is this the solution to one of our main environmental problems?

Photo by: Global Water Partnership (CC)