Originally published online at USA TODAY College.
Boyan Slat has invented a concept that could remove nearly half of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the next decade — and he’s not even 20 years old yet.
Slat, 19, has dedicated thousands of hours to working with a team comprised of more than 100 individuals who are working to prove the feasibility of Boyan’s concept: The Ocean Cleanup.
Temporarily quitting his aerospace engineering study, he has focused his efforts completely on continuing to develop a plastic collection and capture method that is not only innovative, but also financially beneficial.
“The ocean is not only important in terms of housing most of Earth’s biodiversity. It is essential as a food source, and also for the global economy,” Boyan said in an e-mail.
“The clean-up operation we developed is certainly more cost effective than the billions spent on a yearly basis in order to pay for damaged ships, the loss of biodiversity, and the clean-up of beaches,” he said.
While scuba diving in Greece, Slat was frustrated with the fact that there was more plastic than fish under the water. When he returned home, Boyan set to work, recruiting more than 70 authors for his feasibility research.
Throughout this journey, he has been recognized as one of Intel’s 20 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs Worldwide (Intel EYE50), as well as awarded Best Technical Design at the Delft University of Technology. He also earned the second place spot for the iSea sustainable innovation award, granted by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment.
Though Slat is making unbelievable progress in both ideology and creation of feasibility research, the war on plastic is far from over. It has barely just begun.
Researchers now know that gyres, which are giant ocean current vortices, are the final resting place for the carelessly discarded water bottles and plastic bags that countless people fail to recycle.
“The North Pacific gyre is by far the most polluted of the gyres, and this is the location where we plan to implement the system after we’ve done successfully completed testing,” Slat said.
“In total, five gyres have been identified where the plastic concentrates. We have several other potential locations for the pilots in mind at this moment, but no decision has been made yet. For now we would like to focus on the start of pilot testing once we have generated sufficient funding.”
Slat believes that attention from both the government and the public will make his concept a reality, and that funding can be found.
“Although we’ve now shown we can clean up almost half the pacific garbage patch in 10 years, we should also make sure no more plastic enters the ocean in the first place,” said Slat. “For this, awareness is the most important part.”
He continued, saying: “To accomplish awareness, we need attention from both the governments and the public. Governments can support this by rules and regulations, but of course, also by release funding in order to clean up the mess we’ve made so far.
“However, everybody can support. This is why we started a crowd funding initiative.”
To learn more about Slat’s innovative initiative, visit www.TheOceanCleanup.com.