An estimated 300 million tons of plastic are produced and thrown away every year. Given that the stuff doesn’t break down easily over time, this is extremely bad news for the environments in which it accumulates. For example, an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic are estimated to be floating through the oceans right now, threatening marine organisms that can accidentally ingest it or become tangled in it. To clear all that plastic up certainly seems like a gargantuan and costly task, but one 20-year-old believes he has a solution.
The structure he has designed will float, buffered along by the oceans’ currents, and snare plastics and other debris, which will then be picked up via a conveyor belt. At over 2,000 meters (6,561 feet), this debris-trapping system will be the longest floating structure in the ocean. The Ocean Cleanup plans to deploy the floating structure off the coast of Japan in early 2016, where it will be in operation for at least two years.
“Taking care of the world’s ocean garbage problem is one of the largest environmental challenges mankind faces today. Not only will this first cleanup array contribute to cleaner waters and coasts but it simultaneously is an essential step towards our goal of cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Slat. “This deployment will enable us to study the system’s efficiency and durability over time.”
But this is not Slat’s first major enterprise with The Ocean Cleanup. The Mega Expedition, an initiative to create a high-resolution map of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, will launch at the end of August this year. Departing from a port in Hawaii, 50 vessels will be deployed across a vast area between Hawaii and California, spanning some 3,500,000 km2 (1,351,357 miles2) of ocean, which will “collect more plastic measurements in three weeks than have been collected in the past 40 years combined.”