Every year we produce about 300 million tons of plastic, a portion of which enters and accumulates in the oceans.
Due to large offshore currents, plastic concentrates in vast areas called gyres, of which the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California, is the best-known example.
Contaminating the sea
The damage to sea life is staggering: at least one million seabirds, and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals die each year due to the pollution. Even worse, the survival of many species, like the Hawaiian Monk Seal and Loggerhead Turtle, is directly jeopardized by plastic debris.
When marine animals eat plastic, harmful chemicals move up the food chain and consequently end up on our dinner table. Health effects linked to these chemicals are cancer, malformation and impaired reproductive ability.
The problem does not end there. Marine debris causes an estimated $1.27 billion in fishing and vessel damage annually in the region of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) alone. Moreover, the removal of garbage from coastlines costs up to $25,000 per ton of plastic.
The simple, yet brilliant idea
Now the 19-year-old Dutchman Boyan Slat invented a feasible solution to cleanup ocean garbage patches: The Ocean Cleanup. The feasibility report is the result of more than a year of extensive scientific research in engineering, oceanography, ecology, maritime law, finance and recycling.
The solution is actually quite easy and based on the basic principle:
“Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?”
The concept of the Ocean Cleanup consists of an array of floating barriers that passively catches and concentrates the debris; and then the “collection” platform efficiently extracts the debris. The ocean current passes underneath the barriers, taking all neutrally buoyant sea life with it, and thus preventing by-catch.
The Ocean Cleanup estimates the cost of removing 1 kg of plastic at € 4.53. This is 33 times cheaper than conventional ocean cleanup methods, while also being an estimate 7900 times faster.
Considering the costs now burdening the shipyards, the fishing industry, as well as health and environmental aspects, this price point seems quite low.
The idea put into practice
On September of 2014, The Ocean Cleanup successfully completed the crowd funding campaign to start the Pilot Phase; it raised about 2.1 million dollars (U.S) in the process. Collaborations with companies and institutes will be initiated in order to significantly reduce costs, enabling them to perform the large R&D projects with a limited amount of budget.
However, philanthropy will play a very important role for the project’s funding up to the end of the Pilot Phase. Hence any support enabling to sustain their work throughout the next 3 to 4 years would be highly appreciated.