Image courtesy of The Ocean Cleanup
Giant patches of garbage float in oceans around the world, especially in the Pacific. How did they get there? For years, humans have been just throwing garbage everywhere. Chances are, quite a bit of it will eventually end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which a current of floating garbage in the Pacific has been dubbed. Not only does it make oceans look ugly, dirty, and polluted, but it also harms marine life who might mistake the trash for food, then eat it and be poisoned or choke. It is estimated that more than a million fish/birds die each year from garbage ending up in our oceans. And if that weren’t enough, humans also eat the fish, which ate the plastic bag, potentially harming ourselves. It goes around, and comes back around eventually. The ocean is mistaken for a giant garbage dump all too often.
The problem is that even if we stop throwing garbage into our oceans, we’ve got to get what’s already in there out. Plastics don’t decompose, but they do break down into smaller and smaller bits, unfortunately, never disappearing. How can we get out so many millions of pieces of garbage? It’s a real problem. The garbage patch has been estimated to be about the size of Texas. And what about the little pieces down underwater? There are many questions to be answered. But is it worth going to this much trouble over some garbage, anyway?
With more and more waste ending up in our ocean, our food sources are being jeopardized, which can be a problem. A very big problem. Luckily, a Dutch teenager already has the solution. At age 22, Boyan Slat is not the average boy. He has created a barrier system for collecting trash and other waste in our oceans. When he was 16, during a diving trip to Greece, he originally conceived of the idea after he found more plastic bags than fish in the ocean. Since then, his idea has come a long way. Now CEO of an organization called The Ocean Cleanup, which is dedicated, appropriately, to cleaning up our oceans. They hope to collect about half of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a whopping 150 million pounds of rubbish.
But how, you ask? They have come up with a floating curtain, of sorts, which acts like an “artificial coastline,” according to Slat. “Ocean currents in the area, they rotate, so it doesn’t stay in one spot,” he explains. “We are basically making use of that movement to let the plastic hit the barrier, and because the barrier is in a ‘V’ shape, the plastic gets pushed towards the center.” Then, the trash is collected, without using any nets, as those could also become pollutants or garbage in the ocean, and taken to shore for processing and recycling, and is made into objects that are less likely to come back into the ocean. Not only to we get trash out of the ocean with Slat’s concept, but we also get more resources to make new things with. They have built a prototype right in the North sea, off the coast of the Netherlands. They are constantly making sure that there is no “negative interaction between sea life and the structure”. It’s an unlikely, though bold plan. According to the group, almost 98% of the trash in the garbage patches can be collected with their model. “I really think the only way to show that it can be done is to go out there and try it,” Slat said of his plan.