My interest in this subject started many years ago when Adrian and I participated in the annual cleanup effort at Winton Woods Park. This event takes place every April and attracts nearly 200 volunteers. I was astonished at the amount of garbage—mostly plastic–we cleaned up in a matter of 3 hours.
On a much larger scale, The Ocean Cleanup, a company founded by Boyan Slat (from Delft, the Netherlands), has been working since 2013 to develop systems to clean up the massive garbage “gyres” in our oceans. I have seen stories over the years about this young man who made ocean cleanup his life’s mission. Here is his story:
At 16 years of age, Boyan Slat saw more plastic bags than fish when scuba diving in Greece. He thought: “Why can’t we just clean this up?” This question led him to research the plastic pollution problem for a school project. He learned about plastic accumulating in five large oceanic gyres, the largest one being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In 2012, Boyan Slat held a TEDx talk about how to rid the world’s oceans of plastic using technology. The video went viral, and the momentum that followed allowed him to drop out of school and found The Ocean Cleanup.
After many years of research, development, testing, and iteration, The Ocean Cleanup now has technologies to intercept plastic in rivers before it reaches the ocean, and technologies to remove the plastic that is already out there—debris that has been building up for decades.
Plastic, once trapped in a gyre, will slowly break down, fragmenting into pieces called microplastics. Microplastic debris (< 5mm) is not only more challenging to clean up but is also easily mistaken for food by marine life. The time to clean up is now.
The ocean garbage patches are massive. To effectively clean an area of such magnitude, a calculated and energy-efficient solution is required. With a relative speed difference maintained between the cleanup system and the plastic, we can concentrate the plastic for extraction.
The harvested plastic will be brought back to shore for recycling. We have made our very first product – The Ocean Cleanup Sunglasses – using the catch of System 001/B in 2019. Going forward, we do not intend to make our own products, but partner with companies who will use our ocean plastic in their products.
Together with corporations, governments, and individuals globally, we plan on tackling 1000 of the most polluted rivers with our technology, knowledge, experience, and network.
The Ocean Cleanup is a project; our goal is to reach a 90% reduction of floating ocean plastic by 2040. To see all cleanup systems deployed, visit the Ocean Cleanup website theoceancleanup.com