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19-Year-Old Student Plans to Clean Up the Ocean

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By Jill Ettinger, EcoSalon

Kids these days. Texting with one hand, solving the world’s problems with the other.

Meet Boyan Slat, a 19-year-old Dutch student who has plans to remove more than 7 million tons of plastic waste currently polluting the world’s oceans. Slat created the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a non-profit organization that’s helping to develop his novel idea, which he revealed at a TEDx event last year.

The Ocean Cleanup Array is a device Slat developed that includes an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms capable of being delivered to large areas of the ocean where plastic debris has accumulated, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a gigantic floating area thick with plastic waste that may be as large as twice that of the U.S.

Among the challenges in dealing with these plastic islands is that the debris is often dispersed over hundreds or thousands of miles, and can be found floating just beneath the ocean’s surface—so the areas are not necessarily visible to the naked eye. But the new technology seems to be capable of working with these conditions and removing the plastic in a low impact and feasible method. Once in the troubled area, the Ocean Cleanup Array would work much like a funnel, forcing plastic towards the platforms where it would be filtered out and later recycled.

Slat’s idea came about through a school paper he wrote that analyzed the plastic particles common in the oceans for size and amount. The paper won him praise and prizes, including Best Technical Design 2012 at the Delft University of Technology.

If dispatched to the oceans, the technology could help to save the lives of countless marine animals and fragile ecosystems impacted by the plastic debris. As well, it could reduce human health risks by eliminating common causes of toxicity in fish including DDT and PCBs.

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