Late in 2014, Dutchman Boyan Slat completed what was said to be the largest crowd-funded campaign in history, generating over two million dollars in 100 days for his non-profit startup, The Ocean Cleanup.
According to Slat, who was 20 years old at the time, “Plastic pollution has been recognized by the U.N. as one of the major environmental challenges facing mankind in the 21st century.” So, in the summer of 2014, Slat set out to develop a plan to eliminate “trillions” of pieces of plastic debris from the world’s oceans.
Previously, as an 18-year-old, Slat and his clean-up plan had been featured on a TED Talk video that went viral (at last count, it is nearing 2.4 million views on YouTube), and encouragement poured in from across the globe. You can watch Slat's TED Talk at the bottom of this post.
Slat’s ambitious plan was to engineer an offshore cleanup array that could use the ocean’s natural currents—or gyres—to collect plastic debris without posing a threat to sea life and maritime traffic. “The oceanic currents moving around is not an obstacle,” Slat said. “It’s a solution. Why move through the oceans if the oceans can move through you?Let the rotating currents do their work.”
Armed with a 530-page feasibility study that was authored by 70 scientists and engineers, Slat raised the funds needed to get the project in the water. His first prototype, which features a long, thin, floating barrier that is anchored to the seafloor, will measure only 100 meters long and will launch this year in the North Sea, off the coast of the Netherlands.
Plans are already underway to increase the barrier’s scale to 2,000 meters and deploy it near Tsushima Island, between Japan and South Korea later this year.
The program’s goal is to clean up 40 percent of the plastic debris floating within the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over the next decade. With the assistance of 14 research vessels and aerial surveys, The Ocean Cleanup recently completed the so-called Mega Expedition, which will help draw a map of the plastic that is polluting the area.
If the program is successful, the plan is to begin the eastern Pacific cleanup project as soon as 2020.