Millions of tons of plastic pollute our oceans, and they are helping drive oceanic ecosystems towards collapse. A solution is needed to remove this garbage, to help in clearing and purifying our waters. Unfortunately, current and previous efforts have been unable to meet the ever-increasing need. Commonly, plastic materials reach the oceans via rivers and waterways, and most likely accumulate in one of five areas of high plastic concentration; Gyres.
A 19 year old Dutch student, Boyan Slat, has developed a model for a floating device designed to address this problem, and ideally rid the oceans of plastic trash. Although being hailed as a feasible method by various media sources, the official site for the engineering student had this to say:
“This is an incorrect statement; we are currently only at about 1/4th of completing our feasibility study. Only after finishing that study, we believe such statements should be made. Although the preliminary results look promising, and our team of about 50 engineers, modellers, external experts and students is making good progress, we had and have no intention of presenting a concept as a feasible solution while still being in the investigative phase.”
Although still largely in the conceptual phase, the invention seems to promise a solution to the growing problem of plastic garbage in our waters. The array is designed to be made of manta-ray shaped platforms, with ocean currents pushing the plastic debris into the collector (floating on the surface, since bits of plastic float to the top). The machine is solar and water powered (wave action), and is able to separate plastic at a particle level, from collected animal life and release those back into the ocean. Floating booms would sift plastics from the water with little bycatch.
The self-sustaining ocean array platform will use ocean currents to drive the trash into large booms, located on either side of the device. The platform generates energy from solar panels on the top, and from turbines attached to its anchor. The angle of the booms helps to direct plastic into the device, separating and releasing any marine life. The device is designed to help clear up the earth’s current more than 7.25 million tons of plastic, most of which is residing in the water.
There are five large patches of plastic garbage in the ocean. One in particular, North Pacific Gyre, is said to be about twice the size of the United States. Not only does the plastic hurt the animals and damage the environment, but chemicals from the plastic have become environmentally ubiquitous and impact all of us.
At current estimates, it would take the machine up to 5 years to entirely clean up a gyre. According to plans and estimated efficiency of the model, the recycling benefits of the machine would significantly outweigh the cost of executing the project. While the inventor believes that humans must end their reliance on disposable plastic items and manage their waste responsibility, his creation will make a big difference to the current plastic garbage which already resides in the ocean.
Aside from supporting and informing others about such projects, you can reduce your ecological footprint in your normal life. Although this will not help the problems already bearing down on us, it will hopefully prevent them from getting worse.
How You Can Reduce Your Footprint
- Reuse a water bottle, mug, and bag whenever possible
- Opt out of using plastic straws and utensils
- Whenever you have the chance, pick up pieces of plastic pollution you see littered in your area or community
- Do not buy pre-packed or individually packed foods