By Hugh Finlay
Boyan Slat, a 22 year old man from the Netherlands, has come up with an invention that will clear plastic waste from the seas. This is especially important for environmentalists, who are annoyed at the amount of wildlife is being killed by plastic waste. Fish, turtles dolphins and seabirds get tangled in the plastic, or they swallow the plastic thinking that the plastic is food. From this many creatures die. At the moment there are about 5 trillion bits of plastic, such as bags, shoes and bottles in the world's oceans; and another 8 million tonnes of plastic is put in every year.
The Dutch are no strangers to dealing with the sea, having to deal with flooding from the North Sea over the centuries, and they have successfully reclaimed much land from the sea. So it is not surprising that it is a young Dutchman who has come up with an invention to collect the ocean's plastic debris. His scheme, the first of its kind to clean up the oceans, is, not surprisingly, called Ocean Clean-up. He is hoping to put the first working system of his invention into action in 2018, earlier than previously expected, after making a breakthrough in his thinking about how to deal with the plastic problem.
The breakthrough in his thinking is that he will make his plastic catcher act in the same way that the plastic does. Instead of using a stationary barrier, which was to be 100 kilometers (60 miles) long anchored to the seabed, to catch the plastic, he will create "a fleet of smaller systems." These smaller systems will be a kilometer or two long, with anchors 12 meter (40 feet) long. But they will move around the sea with the plastic. Driven by the currents, these systems will go where ever the plastic goes, and catch the plastic while it is moving around. Where ever they go, their position will be known, as they will all carry GPS and other monitoring systems. This will tell their operators where they are. Then this information will then be sent to ships especially designed to pick up the plastic waste from the plastic catchers.
Much of the plastic that enters the ocean accumulates into large patches, and there are 5 such patches in the world's oceans. This inspired Boyan Slat to create a plastic catcher that went where the plastic went. A prototype of the system has been tested in the North Sea and the project is progressing well. In 2018 the project will start cleaning up the most plastic polluted ocean, the Pacific, and then move onto the second biggest patch of plastic in the Indian Ocean. The whole scheme will cost about 200 million euros.