Plastic in the world's oceans isn't limited to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—on average, a square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of plastic, and there are four other major gyres filled with concentrated plastic. Bigger pieces can wash ashore and kill seals, and smaller pieces are often mistaken for food by fish and birds. Because the debris eventually degrades into tiny pieces and sinks toward the ocean floor, it's an incredible challenge to clean up.
A Dutch student, Boyan Slat, began working on a potential solution when he was 17 (he's now 19 and an aerospace engineering student at Delft University of Technology). His Ocean Cleanup Array is designed to use the rotating currents of the ocean to do the work: floating booms and processing platforms, anchored in place in a gyre, would act as giant funnels for the plastic trash as it swirls by. The angle of the booms is designed to force the plastic inside, and the platforms filter the trash from water and plankton. Collected plastic would be stored and eventually transported to land for sale or recycling—potentially making the project financially profitable.
While the device can't remove all the plastic that's dispersed throughout the whole ocean, the designers believe it can remove a large portion of the estimated 7,250,000,000 kg of surface pollution.
Will it really work? Right now, the design is just a concept, but Boyan hopes to make it a reality. Find out how you can get involved here. While the ideal solution would be to reduce plastic use and plastic trash before it even reaches the ocean, a design like this could be a critical part of helping clean up the mess we've already made.
Image courtesy of Boyan Slat