When plastic is disposed of, it is hoped to be recycled for better purposes; most elementary classes teach their students how to be “eco-friendly” so their planet can thrive, and they watch films or listen to presentations about the benefits of recycling. Despite these truly noble efforts, according to findings from the BBC World Service, out of the approximate 288 million tons of plastic waste produced on the earth per year in the past 30 to 40 years, 10% of that goes through drains into the ocean. Eighty percent of worldwide plastic waste comes from land-based sources. If not all, most of that waste has been produced by humans.
According to Professor Richard Thompson of Plymouth University, the best solution to remove plastic waste (especially plastic waste in the oceans) is to simply prevent it from getting there.
Twenty-year-old Boyan Slat, Founder and CEO of Ocean Cleanup, thinks we can do one better. The idea came to him at age 16 while diving in Greece. He noticed that there was more plastic in the ocean than there were fish. He was right to a greater extent than he probably realized at the time. According to Nicholas Mallos of the Ocean Conservancy, “the amount of plastics is roughly one third the total biomass of fish–1 lb of plastic for every 2 lbs of fish.”
When Slat was 19-years-old, a first-year studying Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft University in the Netherlands, he came up with the idea of a solar powered floating boom with a processing platform. The device is comprised of an array of barriers that would catch and concentrate plastic, then would move it to areas where it could be extracted.
Currently, there is an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Unfortunately, because so much of the debris can be found within the darkest depths of the ocean, this particular device wouldn’t be able to catch all of it. But, Slat and his associates have estimates that within 10 years of its development, almost half of it has a chance of being removed.
Boyan Slat was fortunately able to host a Ted Talk, and once his video explaining his cause and his abilities went viral, he was able to raise about $2 million with Crowdfunding campaigns and recruited several volunteers from around the globe to help him.
Now, announcing deployment in 2016 via the Seoul Digital Forum in South Korea, the solar powered boom will be the world’s largest floating structure at 2,000 meters. It will be deployed off Tsushima, an island between Japan and South Korea, and is expected to be operational for two years. If this endeavor is successful, progressively larger booms will be deployed in other locations. All associations involved hope to use the recovered plastic as an alternative energy source.
– Anna Brailow