Ever found yourself going for a paddle in the sea whilst on holiday, only to see more cr*p in the water than actual fish?
Well, you’re definitely not alone because the oceans are freakin’ full of it! Trash that is. With huge amounts of it being plastic.
So, what’s so bad about that? Well, plastic is what’s known as non-biodegradable which basically means that once it finds it’s way into the world’s oceans, it’s going to stay there floating around for centuries. For example: a single plastic bottle takes 450 years to break down. Think of all the poor fish that could kill in that time?
It’s easy to forget that leaving that one takeaway Tupperware container on the beach to be swept up by the tide is contributing towards the most polluted seas the world’s ever seen.
All pretty dramatically bad right?
Well, unfortunately, that’s just the beginning… The amount of plastic found in the oceans totals more than 5.25 TRILLION pieces. That’s a lot and it’s increasing. This means that smaller fish are being strangled and killed by things like plastic beer rings and larger fish are swallowing tonnes of the stuff, which in turn wrecks their insides and kills them as well. It’s not just fish either, birds that live and feed on the world’s coastlines are being affected too. To be honest, it’s all pretty dier and it’s pretty much all our fault. Well done the human race!
What’s worse is up until recently, scientists have deemed that because of societies reliance on plastic and the sheer amount of it already in our seas, any attempts made to try and clean it up are at best… completely impossible.
Even if the world completely stopped using plastic right this second, there’s apparently already too much of it that any major attempts to reduce this level would take thousands of years. It also means that although your local beach clean-ups are laudable, they’re also pitiful!
That’s where this guy comes in…
His name is Boyan Slat, he’s a 23-year-old inventor/entrepreneur from The Netherlands and he’s potentially designed one of the most groundbreaking machines in the history of the world. Intrigued? You should be…
His story is a relatively simple one. Whilst diving in Greece at the tender age of 16 in 2011, he noticed that despite searching for tropical fish, most of what he found was plastic everywhere. Something he felt was impossible to ignore.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that Boyan has been avidly into engineering projects since he was just two years old and he even set his own Guinness World Record by launching 213 water rockets simultaneously when he was fourteen. A pretty cool record to have to your name if I do say so myself.
It means that it’s hardly surprising that he immediately wanted to do something to tackle the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.
Just a mere two years later (2013), Boyan founded a non-profit entity called ‘The Ocean Cleanup’, of which he is now the CEO. No prizes for guessing the purpose of this organization!
The Ocean Cleanup has received well in excess of $30 million, a large part of which enabled Boyan to begin launching expeditions in order to carry out deeper research into the problem.
And, contradicting all of the naysayers, he’s so far successfully designed a machine that has the potential to not only make a serious impact on the plastic problem but eventually eradicate it altogether.
The story has always been ‘OK, we can’t clean it up – the best we can do is not make it worse’. To me, that’s a very uninspiring message,” Slat stated.
It’s not a minute too soon either, as the first area of the ocean he plans to tackle is also one of the most startling.
Ever heard of the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch‘? If you haven’t then don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it. It is basically a collection of plastic first discovered in 1997 by Charles Moore, clumped together through ocean currents that are now believed to be an area as large as France… times two.
It spans 617,763 square miles and contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic. It’s responsible for the deaths of more than 100,00 whales, dolphins, and seals annually.
When you compare it to the size of a country, then you start to get more of a mental picture of just how big the problem is. It’s got to the point that the plastic and trash is so concentrated together, that you could actually walk on parts of it. Leading to people claiming it as a newly formed country. Pretty ridiculous right?
Well, due to what Slat refers to as a “technological breakthrough”, he hopes that at a cost of less than $320 million, his invention will remove a massive 50% of total trash in just five years. That’s a long way from cleaning up the oceans being ‘virtually impossible’. Take that scientists!
So, the machine itself… what actually is it?!
Its design involves massive booms that collect trash using the oceans natural currents to its advantage. These booms act as an ‘artificial coastline’, catching floating debris and sweeping it into the center which is then collected by a boat and taken back to shore to be dealt with through the necessary channels.
That “technological breakthrough” Boyan refers to is the fact that he no longer believes that these booms need to sit on the ocean floor, instead, they are to be suspended with large anchors that float in deep water. Which in turn means that they are able to move around on the water surface, shifting with the currents and taking in more trash.
The original idea was to build a single machine that extended out as far as a massive 60 miles! But now, Boyan has decided that it would be far more beneficial to construct up to 50 of them expanded to a much smaller 0.6 miles. The reasoning is simple: if one breaks down then there’s still another 49 in operation. Makes sense right?
The original prototype (brilliantly named “Boomy McBoomFace”), has already been deployed in the north sea and taken back out again in order to be developed and improved. Now the plan is to go full steam ahead with the finished article this year.
It’s incredibly exciting but of course, there are those that doubt it’s potential success. After all, Slat’s claims about the results these machines can deliver are bold, to say the least. But I’d rather look at it as an opportunity for a better world, than worry about whether it will go wrong. Because at the end of the day, at least we as a species are finally trying to do something about it on a significantly larger scale right. That’s a far better outlook than where we were a few years ago right?
It’s not enough to see this is as the solution though. Up to 90% of the world’s plastic items don’t end up being recycled and scientists actually think that almost every single piece ever created is still in existence somewhere, in some form. Which, is both amazing and devastating to think about at the same time because it means that whatever plastic you’ve thrown on the ground without even thinking about it, is still cluttering up the world somewhere.
So really… we could do with addressing the plastic issue before it actually reaches the oceans in the first place. Companies have begun taking big steps to ensure that their plastic waste is recycled and even reused for products they sell. But this attitude needs to spread across the world. Something that each and every person can help with in some way.
Hats off to Boyan though, what an incredibly inspiring attitude for someone so young. What do you make of his invention Acidheads?
Let me know in the comments!