The concept, developed with a friend as a school project and first tested during a summer diving holiday in Greece, calls for an array (called The Ocean Cleanup Array) of 24 multi-level manta ray-shaped floating platforms, powered by the sun and wave action, to be fixed to the seabed in a zig-zag pattern. In the calculation worked out with the help of the technical university of Delft ocean currents would drive plastic debris toward the platforms and long, floating booms would sift plastics from the water with “very little by-catch.”
Zoo plankton, valuable to the bottom of the food chain, would not be destroyed, as these could be removed safely from the water using a centrifuge, as Slat explains in a “Ted” talk gone viral on YouTube. An added advantage, he says, is that, as the plastics bind chemicals such as DDTs and PCBs, the environment would be doubly served.
The young Dutchman’s story gets even better. Not only would the scheme rid the ocean of a large amount of plastic waste, save the lives of aquatic animals and reduce the amount of pollutants from entering the food chain; it would also save industry millions of dollars every year. This, Slat says, is because marine litter causes an estimated USD 1 bn worth of damage to marine vessels annually, and countries lose money when tourists no longer want to visit polluted beaches. What’s more, he contends that selling the plastic waste collected could generate USD 500m in cash.
The vision is bold, but Slat understands that outside help will be needed to pursue the project scientifically and pay for the equipment. A team of about 50 engineers, modellers, external experts and students is making “good progress on implementing the plan,” he says, and more input from experienced professionals is needed. Currently, hydrodynamic and fluid dynamics modellers, mechanical engineers, maritime structure engineers, MATLAB users and plankton biologists are being sought. A feasibility study for implementing the plan is said to be about one-quarter complete and a crowd funding campaign is to be announced “shortly.”
Boyan Slat "Ted" talk as a YouTube video