Possible Solution to Cleaning the Ocean

Take a look around, odds are you’re surrounded by plastic. It’s in our kitchens and in our bedrooms, it keeps our food fresh and our medicine safe. It is, in many ways, a miracle product, cheap to produce and virtually indestructible. Yet plastic’s blessings are also a curse. That water bottle we use once and throw away will be with us for generations. There are campaigns to limit this plastic plague with bans on bags and straws and yet around the world, it continues to pile up, seeping into our rivers and streams and turning our oceans into a vast garbage dump. But one young Dutchman has come up with a plan which he says will save our seas. His name is Boyan Slat, he has no formal training and his hyped, multimillion-dollar device has made him something of a sensation. 

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Boyan Slat claims he can clean up the ocean with his invention. Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons

 

In an old naval base just outside San Francisco, engineers have spent months assembling a curious contraption, the brainchild who dropped out of college to take center stage in a grand new venture. It’s just 2000 feet of plastic piping, affixed to a 10-foot nylon screen, but Slat’s lofty promise? That he can clean up the world’s oceans. Senior at Woodstock, Chris Carroll, said “As much as I want the ocean to be clean, I don’t think this would work.

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This project is supposed to clean up a big chunk of the oceans trash over time. Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons

His idea, as he lays out in this animation, is to tow his device out to an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest of five ocean whirlpools where much of the world’s plastic accumulates. Art Teacher at Woodstock, Ms. Thompson, said, “I myself use the reuse and recycle method because I know the value of this planet and being just one person can make a difference.” Despite what you may have heard, the garbage patch isn’t an island and it’s even difficult to see with the naked eye. It’s a vast soup of floating debris, much of it tiny and below the surface. If all goes according to plan, it’s designed to use the wind, waves and water currents to skim the plastic, and corral it into an area where it can be removed, the first phase of an ambitious goal. 

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The Garbage Patch is filled with plastics and flows in a pattern shown above. Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons

In early September, Slat was due to take his system out to sea. It’s fitted with an array of gadgets to alert ships to its presence and to allow Slat and his team to monitor its progress in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Critics were already calling Slat’s multimillion-dollar project misguided. He has to get many engineers, construction workers and scientists to help him craft what once was all a dream as a kid.

Slat came up with the idea as a teenager eight years ago on a diving trip off the coast of Greece. He was horrified by how much plastic he saw in the water and began collecting and analyzing it and thinking of ways to clean it up. He laid out his vision to clean up the ocean at a TEDx Talk when he was 18. It went viral and a self-styled savior of the seas was born when he got the likes of many in the crowd. Graduate from Cherokee High, Travis Jones, said, “I saw the Ted Talk with him in it and the crowd loved his idea and he got a lot of money to help him.” 

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Slat shared his idea at a TEDx Talk where he blew up and gained lots of attention. Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons

A rally around his genius plan followed, and Slat raised more than $30 million for his Ocean Cleanup, money he used to market his message and carry out research including a survey to map the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For the past five years, a team of engineers and scientists have been feverishly modelling, testing and revising Slat’s idea. Slat also talks about the ignorance of our ancestors to think that plastic would be life changing. There are only three things you can do with plastic: put it in a landfill, burn it or recycle it. For decades, we thought recycling was the best answer, and we were told to throw our plastic, our paper and our aluminum cans into those familiar bins, to be picked up and carted away. According to Roland Geyer, an environmental scientist at the University of California, 90 percent of the plastic we used never made it into one of those bins at all. The other ten percent ended up in places like Recology, a recycling facility in northern California. Ms. Smith, an environmental science teacher at Woodstock, said,” I like the idea that the young man had, and I do think we didn’t have enough knowledge of the harm of plastic when first invented.” Many solutions will be approaching in the future as the problem grows bigger. This is just one of many things slowly damaging our environment, but yet again is not recognized by much of the world.

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Landfills are one of the three designated locations for plastics. Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons

 

 

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