A massive plastic-cleaning device invented by a 24-year-old Dutch teenager is headed out to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for an ocean cleanup.
Boyan Slat was so appalled by the pollution in our oceans that he started to campaign for them to be cleaned up. For a long time, few people took him seriously. Here was a university drop-out with a far-fetched idea that surely could never work. But this weekend, backed by major investment and some massive engineering, a vast plastic collection system will be towed out of San Francisco Bay.
For five years, The Ocean Cleanup, an organisation founded by Slat, has been trying to create a system that can clean plastic out of the world’s oceans. Until now, the focus of plastic litter campaigns has been on beaches, with volunteers all over the world lifting bags and bottles from shorelines.
Never before has anyone gone further by trying to clear the stuff from the middle of an ocean and, despite sea trials and computer modelling, no-one knows if the experiment will work.
Some experts worry that the effort is a distraction from the more pressing task of stopping more plastic getting into the sea in the first place, and that the operation may cause real harm to marine life.
But Boyan and his team believe that the sheer scale of plastic out there demands that action be taken.
Slat says that stopping plastic pollution needs to be a global priority but that his organisation believes cleaning up what’s out there already must be done as well. Yet he knows the world and the scientific community are watching as the system begins its first real test.
“It’s still not proven technology, and in the next months it has to do what it has to do,” he told Business Insider.
It’ll take three weeks for the system to be towed out to the Great Garbage Patch some 2,000km off the coast of California. The first sense of how it’s performing should be clear later this year.