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The Planet

A 22-Year-Old's Ingenious Effort To Remove Plastic Waste From The Pacific Has Raised $31M

by Penn Collins

May 8, 2017

According to The Ocean Cleanup, there are a staggering 5 trillion pieces of plastic waste floating in the world’s oceans. Knowing the herculean effort that will be required to restore the waters of “just” the Pacific, the organization’s founder, a 22-year-old Dutch man named Boyan Slat, has sought a more efficient means of capturing and removing the waste. 

Until now, the prospect of cleaning the ocean involved nets, which are well-known to be destructive to the ecosphere and harmful to marine life. But Slat has been hard at work on a new approach, which he famously laid out as an 18-year-old when he gave a TEDx talk entitled “How the Oceans Can Clean Themselves.”

He speaks to the effects of ocean currents on floating trash, and the tendency of “clusters” of trash to form at the convergence of currents. Using simple floating barriers, Slat believes that the vast majority of floating trash can be contained and collected without having to troll the entirety of the oceans and collect debris in inefficient piecemeal fashion. Below is an artist’s representation of the simple innovation in action: 

The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup plans to start where aerial maps show the highest concentration of garbage. This area, stretching between California and Hawaii, goes by the dubious moniker of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 

In a recent statement kicking off the effort, Slat said, “Our mission is to rid the world’s oceans of plastic, and this support is a major leap forward towards achieving this goal. Thanks to the generous support of these funders, the day we’ll be returning that first batch of plastic to shore is now in sight.”

According the group’s website, since last November they’ve accumulated small donations from individuals and large donations from notable benefactors totaling $21.7 million in donations—a staggeringly fast addition to the $9.8 million The Ocean Cleanup had garnered prior to last fall. 

The group’s website offers a comprehensive look at how the money will be spent, with a pilot device project slated for later this year, followed by a full-scale operation by 2020. 

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A 22-Year-Old's Ingenious Effort To Remove Plastic Waste From The Pacific Has Raised $31M