In the past few decades, millions of tons of plastic have entered the oceans, damaging ecosystems and entering food chains. “I first became aware of the plastic pollution problem when diving in Greece, coming across more plastic bags than fish. Unfortunately, the plastic does not go away by itself. Hence I wondered; Why can’t we clean this up?” said Boyan Slat, 20 years old and founder of The Ocean Cleanup Foundation.
The Ocean Cleanup Foundation began as a high school senior project when Slat was only 17 years old along with his friend Nguyen Tan. Spending more than 500 hours at work instead of the required 80, the duo created a system to remove plastic from the ocean based on the rotational movement of ocean currents.
The project won many awards, including Best Technical Design 2012 at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. Boyan Slat continued to develop the concept during the summer of 2012, then showing it at TEDxDelft in 2012. The new design won more awards to the young Dutch who, in January 2014 , officialized it and turned it into a nonprofit organization.
There are five areas in the world’s oceans where rotating currents create a huge accumulation of plastic. Moving through the seas to remove this garbage would be costly, polluting and inefficient. So why not let the currents carry the debris out? This is the main idea of The Ocean Foundation Cleanup. As Slat puts it, “Why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you?”
The trash removal would be done by what he called the Ocean Cleanup Array. The system would consist of a processing platform and connected to them, floating ‘arms’ that would cover the radius of a rotating current.
These arms act like giant funnels that force a stream towards the platform due to their angle in reference to the sea current. As the debris enter the system, they would be filtered out of the water and eventually stored in containers until they were collected for recycling .
The concept of using floating rods instead of nets is so that marine life won’t be affected or get stuck in the system, since the buoys are only on the surface of the water and move slowly along with the currents. In theory, the accumulation of zooplankton on the rods would not be significant , but either way, an alternative system of plankton separation was created using centrifugal force and based on density differences.
There is also a concern of the system interfering on the routes of ships and boats, but it’s all being considered in the project.
According to the official project website, one third of all the surface plastic in the oceans can be removed using the method. That is equal to 7.25 billion kilograms of pollution removal. The time it would take to clean each of the five main areas is estimated to be five years.
Despite The Ocean Cleanup being a possible strategy to reduce the accumulation of plastic in the oceans, the project is not the perfect solution. To effectively remove all ocean pollution it is crucial to educate people to decrease the production of plastics and about the importance of recycling.
The viability of the project is something that is still under study, however, the method seems very promising. Recycling the collected plastic would help with the expenses and possibly even make the project financially lucrative.
Currently, a team of 50 engineers, designers, students and external experts are working on the project. Furthermore, The Ocean Cleanup Foundation is recruiting professionals in specific areas such as marine structures engineering and plankton biology.
The project also seeks partners to fund the research. So far, the project has earned more than 60% of its goal through “crowdfunding” voluntary public financing method.
“Human history is basically a list of things that couldn’t be done, and then were done.” -Boyan Slat.
Images courtesy of Erwin Zwert
Via: [Daily Mail]