• Michele Zampa

Cleaning up the Oceans

According to the chief scientist of the UN environmental programme, Jacqueline McGlade, a giant garbage patch stretching roughly 5.8m sq miles can be seen from outer space (Nelson, 2015). Over the past few years, there has been an outstanding development in the attempt to clean our oceans. Only this time it might be just more than another attempt - we might have a solution: a 21 year-old, Boyan Slat, seems to have found a way not only to mitigate, but also reverse the ugly trend of polluting our waters.

Slat has engineered a cleaning system attached to the seabed which would allow the ocean to “clean itself.” How? By using oceanic currents to do the job. There are 5 main areas in the oceans, called gyres, where plastic tends to concentrate. As those areas are positioned on what Slat calls an “angle,” the current there tends to rotate. Such a rotation in turn would allow the plastic to get pushed to the center of such areas and become 10,000 times more concentrated. The currents would funnel all the debris into a v-shaped array of vulcanised rubber, after which the garbage would be collected at regualr intervals by large vessels. By positioning Slat’s cleaning system there, the currents would do all the work, and do so more effectively than any other system that has ever been implemented in this endeavour before. While current efforts will take roughly 79,000 years to get the job done, it is projected that this system would do the trick in 20. Currently, Slat and his team are planning to make the project effective by 2020.

Although the best solution to this worldwide problem is to not have the problem in the first place, Slat provides some positive news. According to the young engineer, most of the plastic in our oceans has not turned into what he calls “microplastic” (you guessed it, they are micro pieces of plastic). Rather, most plastic waste seems to have remained more or less whole (i.e. plastic bags, plastic bowls, you name it) and therefore easy to clean up using Slat’s system. Furthermore, most of the debris is recyclable. Slat states, "Tens of companies – large corporations – have shown an interest in buying up the plastic and that is our holy grail; funding the clean-up using revenues created by the plastic we extract” (Nelson, 2015).

Slat had the idea for his cleaning system when he was 16 years old while he was swimming in Greece. Upon his shock in encountering that there were “more plastic bags than fishes,” he simply wondered why something wasn’t been done in this regard. Personally, I thought that was the most shocking aspect of the whole thing (without getting pas my excitement for the project itself): a 16 years old who sees a gigantic issue and five years later comes up with a way to solve it, as easy as that. Food for thought.


Nelson, Arthur. (2015). World’s largest ocean cleanup operation one step closer to launch. Retrieved March 04, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/13/worlds-largest-ocean-cleanup-operation-one-step-closer-to-launch#img-4

This 21-Year Old Is Cleaning Up Our Oceans. (2016). Retrieved March 04, 2016, from http://rise.huffingtonpost.com/watch/21-year-old-cleaning-our-oceans

Read more about this project at: http://www.theoceancleanup.com/

#Ocean #Pollution #Cleanup

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