Boyan Slat is not your average 20-year-old. Slat, from the Netherlands, is one of the leaders in employing innovative efforts to clean up the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." When he isn't working with his foundation, he is also an aerospace engineering student.
Slat first noticed the issue while diving off the coast of Greece during a vacation when he was just 16 years old. He soon was determined to spearhead the global effort. He wanted to come up with a plan that debunked the myth that this could only be done by the dragging of nets across the ocean, taking approximately 79,000 years to clean what already exists today. He made his intentions to fight this public in 2012.
According to a 2015 study by Jambeck et al., about 8 million tons of plastic currently sits in the oceans. A large part of this pollution sits where the currents collide, in the five gyres.
The 5.25 trillion pieces of trash that are already in the ocean contribute to problems in the environment, human health (due to the toxicity of the plastics), and the economy. Slat's plan turns the "old plan" upside down. Instead of going after the trash, Slat's plan uses what the oceans already do (its currents) to move the trash towards the clean-up.
The Ocean Cleanup (the foundation's name) will use long, floating barriers to passively concentrate the plastic, using the ocean’s currents. The floating arrays would skim the plastic along the top of the ocean, while the sea life and the currents would pass underneath the barriers.
The foundation estimates that a 100-kilometer, stationary array could remove nearly half (42%) of the pollution in the Great Pacific gyre in 10 years.
As for now, a trial system is being created. The trial will be deployed in 2016 and will offer a 2,000-meter-long (6,562-foot) array in this first effort. The array will be launched between the coasts of Japan and South Korea, near the Tsushima island group.
The plan includes leaving this structure in the water over the course of 2 years, catching any debris in its path. Ships will then come through to pick up the skimmed garbage.
Currently, more than 35 cubic feet of trash washes up on Tsushima's shores for each of the 34,000 residents living on the islands (that's almost 1.2 million cubic feet of ocean waste annually). The deployment will allow Slat and his team to study the system's efficiency and durability as they make plans for larger implementations.
The short-term goal, in 5 years, is to place a 62.5-mile-long array in the waters between Hawaii and California. This barrier could be capable of removing nearly half of the garbage found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as one of the major gyres is found just east of Hawaii (the other is located southeast of Japan).